Entertainment and virtual assistants

Accessing TV and films

If you are struggling to see or hear programmes on the TV, then audio description or subtitles might be helpful.

Audio description

Audio description is an additional audio commentary that describes what is happening on the screen, describing body language, expressions and movements meaning that even if you can’t see what is happening you can still access the programme. Currently, most major TV providers such as the BBC, ITV and Sky audio describe around 20 percent of their programmes with audio description.

Audio description is free and can be accessed via digital TV (for example, Freeview or Sky). For more information about how to enable audio description for most major TV providers, visit the RNIB website.

If you access your TV programmes via Video on Demand services (BBC IPlayer, Netflix) for example, then some of their content is also available with audio description.

Some cinemas also offer films with audio description. To access this, you wear a headset, which the cinema provides so you are the only person listening to the audio description.


Like audio description, subtitles can be accessed on most TVs or set-top boxes and can be turned on or off with the remote control.

For more information about subtitles, signed TV content, as well as subtitles at the cinema, visit the Action on Hearing Loss website.

Speech guidance

Even something as straightforward as deciding what to watch can present challenges if you, for example, can’t see the menus to access things like the electronic programme guide.

There are a number of solutions.

Both Panasonic and Samsung have added speech guidance to their televisions. RNIB worked with Panasonic to produce a range of accessible televisions with Voice Guidance, which reads out information on-screen including many of the menus. Voice Guidance is available on Panasonic TVs with CS in their model numbers.

Voice Guide is now available on most new Samsung televisions and works in a very similar way to Voice Guidance on Panasonic models. While Voice Guide for Samsung TVs speaks all menu items and information on the screen, it does not currently provide speech output when accessing apps that you can download to your TV, if you own a smart TV such as Netflix, the BBC IPlayer or YouTube.

There are also a number of devices, like Amazon’s Fire TV and Apple TV, which allow the user to access Video On demand services, but don’t allow the watching of live TV. These devices have accessibility features built in. With the Fire TV, it’s possible to search for programmes using your voice, whilst Apple TV has Voiceover, Apple’s screen reader, installed allowing you to access the content on-screen via speech.

Virtual assistants

You may already be familiar with things like Siri, a function that allows you to carry out tasks on your IPhone just by using your voice.

Now, of course, technology companies like Amazon and Google are producing physical devices that can be operated by your voice.

As long as you have clear speech and can hear the responses the device provides, then the Amazon Echo or the Google Home device may be for you.

The Amazon Echo and Google Home can perform an ever widening array of tasks, such as play music, control Smart Home devices such as Smart Thermostats, read the news, set alarms, and add items to shopping lists and more.