http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/355326

Internet TV for the blind Special

Posted Jul 27, 2013 by Robert Kingett
TV has become partially accessible to visually impaired people. Internet streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu continually refuse audio description for streamed content. A group of blind programmers set out to level the playing field.
Member of Audience using Audio Description Service at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin
Member of Audience using Audio Description Service at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin
adiarts.ie
Until July 1, 2012, people who were visually impaired could not watch TV independently. Before July 1 virtually no programs on TV had audio description, also known as video description to describe to the visually impaired what was happening on the screen. Many people had to just guess about what was happening when watching or ask a nearby sighted person. Students in school were at a serious disadvantage. PBS was the only broadcaster providing educational content that had audio description. In 2010 however, access to TV became a law, finally forcing broadcasters to provide accessible programming to people who were visually impaired.
Audio Description involves the accessibility of the visual images of theater, television, movies, and other art forms for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired. It is a narration service (provided at no additional charge to the patron) that attempts to describe what the sighted person takes for granted -- those images that a person who is blind or visually impaired formerly could only experience through the whispered asides from a sighted companion.
On August 25, 2011, the FCC was finally able to vote (unanimously) to reinstate video description, effective July 1, 2012. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, USA, the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, TNT, and TBS are each required to provide 50 hours of video-described prime time or children's programming per calendar quarter
The FCC's order applies (at this time) to the Top 25 TV Markets. The markets near the cutoff are St Louis (21), Portland OR (22), Charlotte (23), Pittsburgh (24), and Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville (25). Just over the line are Baltimore (26), Indianapolis (27, formerly 25), San Diego (28), and Nashville (29). Indianapolis was the only area in the top 40 to move more than one position in the last year. In six years, the top 60 markets must be covered, adding 10 more markets per year after that.
With the expansion of this new provision, an area of media is still being ignored. The internet. Many people are migrating away from the TV and to bandwidth, favoring the on demand access anywhere. Unfortunately, for people who are blind, the FCC’s mandates do not apply to streaming media providers such as Netflix and Hulu. The result shows how little internet media is described for blind or visually impaired people. Services such as Netflix and Hulu, both setting the framework for online media, refuse to provide audio description for any of their programming. None of the shows on these services have audio description, leaving blind subscribers to these paid services left out. Both services provide closed captioning for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, only after being sued in court in regards to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Frustrated with the lack of described media online, a team of blind programmers set out to create Blindy.tv, A website to provide blind internet TV consumers with audio described programming.
Blindy.TV is a charitable project created by blind people that believe that the blind should be able to enjoy the same television programming that entertains and contributes to the shared culture of their sighted family and friends. The website dedicates to bring 24 hour, free programming that is sponsored by neither commercial products nor government programs. The current service provides a few channels of audio-only television programming, in several genres, all with audio description.
Blindy.tv provides four channels to choose from.
A comedy channel, playing such shows as South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, I Love Lucy, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Red Dwarf, How to Make It in America, and others.
The drama channel plays shows such as House M. D, Elementary, Criminal Minds, Downton Abbey, Revenge, CSI, Covert Affairs, and NCIS as well as others.
The science fiction channel plays shows such as Star Trek, The Star Wars Clone Wars cartoons, Reaper, A Town Called Eureka, Life on Mars, and No Ordinary Family as well as others.
At the time of this writing, the Brain Channel plays a random selection of described educational programming.
The ETC. channel plays a random selection of everything above including some additional shows such as MasterChef.
There are several ways that people can watch shows. The channels, with an additional audio channel that provides described TV shows, such as Are You Afraid Of The Dark provided by the Accessible Media Industry in Canada, can stream either on the website, on the specially designed Blindy TV desktop application, or using a media player such as iTunes and Winamp.
Blindy.TV contains a wide range of content, and much of it is intended for a mature audience. Some programs, particularly on the Comedy and Drama channels, contain coarse language, descriptions of violence, and occasional descriptions of sexual activities.
The website also provides information on accessing audio description on mainstream TV in the United States.
It is to note however, that many channels on the audio stream do not work at all.
It should be noted too that Blindy TV is meant to provide awareness to the lack of audio description on internet media, not a solution to online described TV. On their website, they passionately write, “we aren't Blindy TV to offend you. We are Blindy TV because we are offended, and we think that you should be, too! Our best efforts leave us with something that sounds like TV, but is not. It is a type of audio-only TV ghetto. We, therefore, do not bring you mainstream described TV, as your media providers should be doing that. Instead, we bring you Blindy TV, as that is the best that we have. We hope that you will enjoy what we have made, but we don't want people to forget that equal access to mainstream media, not some Blindy TV, is the real goal.”
The goal might be a longer reach away than anybody perceived. After all, no one is willingly providing described content on internet media. Companies give various reasons as to why this is, including “we don't have the technical capability.” “No one will use it.” “We don't have enough money to produce the audio description.”
It took a law in 2012 to finally provide access to mainstream television. The internet remains a hub of inaccessible media to people who are blind and visually impaired. Since the lack of accessible media continues to be a barrier, it looks as though Blindy TV will have to continue to be a solution until companies start caring about accessibility. Evidence suggests that if a new law is not implemented soon, Blindy TV will become the mainstream provider for internet TV serving the populace that mainstream providers, streaming and otherwise, should be serving.