Tuesday 5 July 2022

How I Watch TV On My Phone

Hello Everyone,

In 2019 a photo was shared online of a visually impaired woman out with her cane and using her phone. It had the caption "If you can see what's wrong say I see it" and was shared over 33,000 times where people claimed she was faking her disability because she was using her phone. At the time, a #BlindPeopleUsePhones social media campaign was created to share how it's possible for blind and visually impaired people to use their phones. Technology is our lifeline, accessibility features within them allow us to do the same things as everyone else. A few years later and people still wonder how people with sight loss like myself, use technology. This post is is the beginning of a series, where I share how I (,a visually impaired person) use my phone to do things in my everyday life.

Mobile Phone Accessibility Features:

Mobile phones are one of the many devices out there that have built in accessibility features for people with disabilities. These features allow people with disabilities to use their phones, without being limited to what their disability will enable them to do.  Apple is very popular amongst people in the VI community, it's easy to use and has great accessibility features. A lot of my blind and visually impaired friends have iPhones. For people with visual impairments, IOS devices have accessibility settings that enable them to use their phone independently and do what everyone else does, with a limited amount of sight, or no sight at all. Here are a few popular ones:
  • Voiceover: screen reader that tells you everything that's on your screen from notifications, to messages, links and alt text on photos, Voiceover will read it out loud. It can describe  people, objects, text and graphs in greater detail and has particular gestures you need to make to navigate your phone without looking at the screen. 
  • Siri: is a feature that allows you to find what you're looking for without needing to see what's actually on the screen. You can ask it to open apps, set reminders, turn accessibility features like Voiceover on or off and more.
  • Audio Description: this setting automatically plays a movie or TV show you're watching with the audio description already turned on, so you don't need to find the option on whatever app you're using yourself. 
Recently, Android has started catching up with their accessibility features for people with disabilities. There are more people within the VI community that are starting to use android too. Personally, I've always used Android and like the flexibility and layout of it. On my phone I have the screen zoomed in quite a bit, large bold font  and the screen display on light mode. All Android Devices have audio, vision and mobility features, but different types of phones also have their own accessibility settings as well  For example, my LG V30 had a feature where it would read out the phone call and text messages to me, without needing to have the screen reader feature turned on. Here are a few well-known Android Vision Support Features:
  • Talkback: screen reader that allows you to hear everything on your screen from notifications, apps, text and even your battery life.
  • Magnification: Triple tap the screen to zoom in and make text and images larger and easier to see
  • Lookout: use your phone camera to point at an object and find out what it is
When developing an app, it's important to make sure it works with accessibility features like the ones I've mentioned above. That way, people with disabilities can use the same apps as everyone else around them. 

Watching TV:

One way people use apps is to watch TV. on broadcast-led or independent streaming services. Catch up TV, is when you watch a show or film on the broadcaster's app or website after it's aired on TV. These include apps like BBC iPlayer, All4, My5, ITV Hub and Now TV. There's usually a set amount of time the episodes are available for. Streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ allows you to access their content any time on a range of devices. Majority of these apps have audio description, an additional narration that describes body language, expressions and whatever else is happening on the screen. Growing up, I didn't know how to turn audio description on and always watched TV by sitting in front of it. Later in life I learnt that shows aired with audio described episodes and how to turn it on on video on demand services. I mostly watch shows on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime and occasionally BBC iPlayer, or All4. Here's how:


This is the streaming service I use the most, I have a long list of shows I need to watch on Netflix. Usually, I select the categories option and pick "Audio Description", which shows you all the content that has audio description. I use magnification to read the titles on the images, read the show description and press play. If I've already previously turned audio description on before, it automatically plays if a show has it. Unfortunately, the "Audio Description" section doesn't state what language the audio description is in. Overtime, I learnt that with some international programmes like Korean Drams I need to play the video, press the audio and subtitle button where it has Korean, Korean [audio description] and sometimes English as the language options. If a show only has English audio, I do watch it because I have enough vision to manage without it. If a show just has English subtitles, I'll give it a miss. Yes, I can watch subbed anime, but it's very time consuming. I have to pause the video to read the subtitles each time someone speaks, which means it takes me twice as long to watch a 20 minute episode. Plus the subtitles are white, so if there's a scene with a light colour as the background I can't read them. 


On Disney + I've mostly watched the Marvel TV shows, Wandavision, Hawkeye and now Ms Marvel. I grew up watching Disney channel, so sometimes watch a lot of shows for nostalgia purposes. I use magnification to zoom in and read the titles of the shows displayed on the homepage and pick from there. For the most part a lot of the content does have audio description, but that's not always the case. That's why, when I select a show I look for the white AD (audio description symbol), which tells me if the show will have audio description or not. For example, Modern Family had the AD symbol and plays with audio description. Whereas Once Upon A Time doesn't have the AD symbol and when you watch it, there isn't an audio description option. 

Amazon Prime:

I'll be honest with you all, I don't watch much on Prime Video. When I last used it I found the layout of the app annoying, there's too many sections on the app and too much to navigate. I've recently started using it again and I think they've made some changes because, it's simpler to navigate now. Usually, I search for the show I'm looking for because I've seen ads and trailers for it elsewhere. However, I'm aware that Amazon Original shows, such as The Marvellous Mrs Maisel do have audio description. I turn it on when I press play on the show I'm watching and it'll automatically play on the show, if that show has audio description. However, not everything that's "included with prime" has audio description. To find out, I usually read through the description and check if it says Audio (1) or Audio with a number higher than that and play the video to find out. For example, the film The Hating Game said Audio (1), which meant it only had one language available. When watching the film, I pressed the audio and subtitles button and saw I could only watch it in English. In contrast, Wheel of Time had Audio (13) in the description and when I played the first episode, English audio description was one of the many audio options. 

BBC iPlayer:

One thing I like about BBC iPlayer is that it has an audio described section, where you can find the audio described version of a show or film you're watching. New episodes that are available are usually what you see first. I usually pick a show that peaks my interest, read the description and watch it. It has a good layout that's easy to navigate with excellent colour contrast. For instance, the show Gentleman Jack has the title in large bold white text near the image, which stands out against the dark background. Back in the day, the app did have an issue where when you selected an audio described episode and all of the other episodes available below it, it took you to the version of the episode that DIDN'T have audio description. Also, it wasn't possible to download the audio described version either. You had to watch it when you had WIFI, not on the tube on your way to work. If I remember correctly, you had to watch the show through the BBC iPlayer website on your phone instead. Thankfully now, BBC iPlayer have fixed that issue and added an "audio and subtitles" button on the video player where you can also turn audio description on and it plays automatically. Not to mention, just search for a show or film and watch it to see if it has AD or not. 


There's quite a few shows on Channel 4's app that interest me, I just need to get around to watching them! I usually search for the show I want to watch, or pick from one of the headings on the homepage. Once, I get to the show's page I read what it's about and scroll to the episodes where there's an AD symbol in the description for each episode if it has audio description. My screen is magnified, so maybe that's why I can't see the AD symbol on the show description section. I press play, wait for the adverts to finish and press the AD symbol to turn audio description on. 

Below is a video from RNIB's YouTube channel explaining why audio description is a must for people with sight loss. 

Sadly less than a fifth of video on demand content has audio description. Although the Digital Economy Act 2017 made it a requirement for streaming services to have subtitles, sign language and audio description, there isn't a law or set target that's been introduced. That's why RNIB have a #DescribeIt campaign, with a petition to ask the Government to compel broadcasters to make their services more accessible. Please sign the petition, so services like NowTV which when I last used it had a number of accessibility issues and no audio described content, can become more inclusive for people with disabilities. 

That's all I've got for this post, comment below how you find any of the apps I mentioned. Along with any show recommendations! 


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