by Carl Richardson, Co-chair, Audio Description Project
At the ACB convention in Omaha, Neb., Tom Wlodkowski, VP of Accessibility for Comcast, announced a collaboration with Walmart to sell a fully accessible smart television for blind and low vision viewers of television everywhere. As I watched Tom demonstrate this fully accessible TV, the Hisense XClass, to the convention, it occurred to me that not everyone knew what a smart television was, all the benefits it offers, and that it is one of the easiest ways to access audio description. With a smart TV set, you have access to thousands of hours of video content with audio description. Thanks to the passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, most television sets now come with accessibility features built in.
What is a Smart Television?
A smart television is a TV set that connects to your home Internet service and can give you access to free over-the-air broadcast, over the top content services and streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Max and others, along with access to Internet radio and services such as Amazon Alexa, and much more.
Most of the major brands such as Insignia, Panasonic, Toshiba, Samsung, Sony, LG, and many more now offer many accessibility features. Below are just some of the features to consider when purchasing a smart TV set. Not all TV sets come with all the features and same level of accessibility, so I recommend that you go to your local store to test these features or read the documentation available online.
Smart TV sets now come with some form of voice guidance, where a screen reader will read you a TV guide telling what there is to watch, channel selection, volume level, what time it is, and how to change things in your menu settings, such as sound and display settings, to suit your vision preferences. Please note that each TV manufacturer has a different name for their voice guidance feature.
Appearance of Menus for People with Low Vision
Many smart TV sets now give you the option to change the appearance of the TV menus according to your vision needs. You can control things such as:
- Increase the menu text size;
- Change to a clearer font style, if needed;
- Change color contrast; and
- Increase screen magnification.
Remote Controls for Smart TVs
Remote controls have come a long way and offer much in term of accessibility. They allow you to access audio description with a touch of one button. Many remote controls now have braille markings on them and have one button that is solely dedicated to audio description for free over-the-air broadcast. My favorite feature on my remote control is that I can use it as a microphone to access many of the functions that control the TV set. I can push a button and with my voice simply change channels, find out what time it is, switch between services such as Netflix and HBO Max, access my local Internet radio station, and much more.
Accessing Audio Description
With a smart TV set, it is easier than ever to access audio description with traditional broadcast television than ever than before. You can access it either by going to the accessibility menu on your set and enabling on the feature, or click a button on your remote labeled SAP, AD, or Audio.
For streaming services such as Netflix or Prime Video, play the program and go to audio languages and select audio description. This usually only must be done once. After that, all content within each service that offers audio description should play automatically.
For a full list of all shows that have audio description, you can go to the Audio Description Project’s website at adp.acb.org.
So, as you can see, smart TV sets are a fully accessible and enjoyable way to access audio description! Happy viewing!