TV and DVDs

What accessibility features are available on TV and DVD?

Many television broadcasters have an obligation to provide a proportion of their programme content with subtitling, audio description and sign language.

Most DVDs and many television programmes have subtitles available to help people who cannot hear the audio. Most television remote controls have a button to turn on subtitling.

Audio description is a service whereby the action appearing on the screen is described in a voiceover alongside the dialogue.  For example the BBC iPlayer website allows you to listen to audio described programmes on your computer. To access this service visit the BBC iPlayer website and choose the link ‘audio described content’. This is only available through the website version of iPlayer and not through any iPlayer apps or on-demand TV services that allow downloading of iPlayer content directly to your TV.   

Signing on television comes in two forms: sign-interpreted programmes and sign-presented programmes.

Sign-interpreted programmes have a sign language interpreter in the corner of the screen interpreting everything that is said. Sign-presented programmes are created especially for sign language users and the presenters and characters will sign the dialogue. Sign-presented programmes often include subtitles or a voiceover for hearing viewers.

Ofcom (the independent regulator for the UK communications industries) has ruled that instead of providing sign-interpreted programmes, broadcasters can pay towards providing sign-presented programmes. These are then created by the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSLBT) and broadcast on a separate channel.

Digital set-top boxes receive a digital television signal and convert it into a signal that can be understood by an analogue television. RNIB and TVonics have worked to produce a fully accessible talking digital Freeview recorder. The talking digital Freeview recorder has a speech synthesiser built in which can read out the programme guide, letting you navigate it by sound. You can also set programmes to record and play them back through the talking menus.

What should I look for?

When buying or renting a DVD you should find the access information on the back of the DVD case. It is normally alongside the information about the DVD region and running time.

Programme guides should include information about the accessibility services provided, and Ofcom has issued guidance on how electronic programme guides should let users know that the programme provides access services.

This is guidance and not mandatory, but most service providers are happy to work towards it. (S) means the programme is subtitled, (SL) means the programme is signed and (AD) means the programme contains audio description.

In the US, subtitles are called captions; subtitles that can be turned on and off are known as closed captions. For this reason subtitles are sometimes denoted by (CC) and you will see this used a lot in software that provides subtitles.

Most remote controls for DVD players will have a specific button to turn subtitles on and off. This is sometimes labelled by a rounded-off rectangle with three dots along the bottom, but may also be labelled with “sub”, “CC”, or similar references to subtitles or closed captions.

Possible stockists

Please note: the following list is not exhaustive and Sense is not responsible for the content of the external sites, nor do we endorse the products mentioned.

Most high street shops (Currys etc), department stores (John Lewis etc)  and online stores (Amazon etc)

First published: Tuesday 22 May 2012
Updated: Thursday 3 April 2014