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How Freeview Play developed its new Accessible TV Guide

The Big Hack
Finding something to watch should be easy and enjoyable. But for millions of disabled people in the UK it can be frustrating. Freeview’s new Accessible TV Guide gives viewers with accessibility needs a simpler interface to discover and find content on the service.

For many disabled viewers, the traditional TV guide can be hard to navigate. Simply understanding what’s on is not always easy. And finding content that is accessible can often be a long and complicated process.

For the past two years, Freeview Play has been working to improve this. To tackle these problems, Freeview has launched their award-winning Accessible TV Guide. The first dedicated accessibility solution to launch on a UK TV platform, hosted on Channel 555.

It’s a dedicated area designed to make it easier to find content with subtitles, audio description or sign language.

How the Accessible TV Guide works

It has been designed to be simple to navigate as possible. With a high contrast user interface, screen magnification, and text-to-speech functionality.

The new guide makes it easier for disabled viewers to search and filter TV programmes available with access services like:

  • Audio description for people who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Subtitles (captions) for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment. Subtitles also help users who have difficulty processing auditory information, such as people with autism or dyspraxia.
  • British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation for people who are deaf, with BSL as their first language.

Gavin Ellis, Product Manager for Freeview Play, explains how they developed the guide, prioritising accessibility at every stage.

Building an accessible user interface

Freeview Accessible TV Guide 'Welcome' screen interface on TV

To improve the accessibility of the TV guide interface, Freeview implemented several different features. While the features below benefit a range of disabled people, they benefit other users too.

High contrast display

Helps people with visual impairments or partial sight. Using a high colour contrast between text and background elements in the interface can improve readability for elderly users too. (This is because, as we get older, the contrast sensitivity of our eyes naturally decreases.)

Large text and screen magnification

Helps viewers with low vision, visual impairment and age-related eye conditions.

Text-to-speech for on-screen navigation

Text-to-speech technology can support people with a range of conditions or impairments, including:

  • People who are blind
  • People who have a vision impairment
  • People with learning difficulties, like dyslexia who may prefer to ‘hear’ words in order to process them more easily.

Personalised settings

Disabled people often tell us that it’s frustrating to login to online services or devices that do not remember their accessibility preferences. This can be particularly difficult if a person has mobility or dexterity impairments that make pressing buttons on a TV remote hard.

That’s why we designed the Accessible TV guide to remember each user’s personalised settings every time they turn the TV on.

Accessible TV Guide 'Home' screen showing BBC one programmes with audio description and subtitles

“This is a market-leading product. I know of no other TV platform with this level of accessibility options. Freeview’s Accessible TV Guide gives the option to filter programmes by subtitles, audio description and sign language. It’s easy to follow, and its default text-to-speech function is a welcome original feature to help blind and visually impaired users. As a blind user, the Accessible TV Guide will allow me to read, plan, and access programs independently which has not been possible for many years.”

Gary Thomas, Low Vision Team Leader at the Digital Accessibility Centre

Important accessibility principles

To make sure we got this right, all the way through development, we stuck to three core principles.

  1. Listen to disabled users

At every stage of the project, feedback from disabled users has been essential. While automated accessibility audits are useful, nothing compares to talking to people with a lived experience of disability.

The Accessible TV Guide needs to serve a range of viewers each with their own unique requirements. To make sure of this, we spoke to viewers with a variety of conditions and impairments. We have relied on regular feedback from our partners the Digital Accessibility Centre, RNIB, Scope and Ability.Net, using their expertise to inform our designs.

The first iteration of the guide needed huge design changes for it to work. Without this process in place, we would not have been able to launch a useful product.

User feedback on the Text-to-Speech feature has been especially invaluable. It helped us to refine issues like the length of pauses and where navigation points needed to be. Most importantly, we wanted to make sure we were always communicating how users could navigate back to the previous point in the guide.

  1. Consider accessibility from the start

We knew from feedback that the existing TV guide was not working for everyone. We knew we needed to consider accessibility from the very start of the project.

Once we started to think about what we could do if we built something completely new, innovation came easier. It allowed us to solve the accessibility barriers from the start.

With this mindset embedded throughout, we haven’t been afraid to scrap ideas that weren’t working.

  1. Test everything

User testing has shaped everything we have done on the Accessible TV Guide. At every stage, we incorporated rounds of user testing and worked directly with testers to understand how we can do better.

After our first round of feedback, it was clear that we needed something that could explain the user journey better. That’s why we developed a demonstration video for first-time users of the new TV Guide.

We’re thrilled to have worked with Freeview on the launch of the Accessible TV Guide. We know from Scope’s own research that some disabled people experience significant barriers when it comes to entertainment. We hope this guide will give disabled people more control over their TV viewing and encourage broadcasters to address the amount of content they make available with access services.

Kristina Barrick, Head of Digital Influencing at Scope

There is still so much that Freeview wants to achieve with the Accessible TV Guide. They are already working on new developments to improve the user experience. The biggest challenge next will be integrating the Accessible TV Guide with video on-demand content, which we look forward to supporting.

The new Accessible TV Guide is now available at Channel 555 on the majority of Freeview Play devices. You can find the full list of supported Freeview Play devices on the Freeview website.

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