In December 2016 the TellMe TV online subscription service was established to provide audio described video content. The service has been designed to meet the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired and offers Netflix-style online streaming of content. As an Australian with very few audio described content options I decided to give it a go.
The service has been established by Canadian accessibility advocate Kevin Shaw, which stated in the press release that “TellMe TV is an exciting new destination where 100 per cent of the on-demand programming, including a diverse portfolio of movies, television shows and documentaries, [are provided] in fully described video.”
As a vision impaired person located outside North America, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to access it at all: it’s not unusual for such services to be geoblocked or content hidden from international viewers. After signing up I navigated my way through the content and found a documentary. On the plus side, it worked without getting any geoblocking message. The downside however is the notable lack of modern content.
As promised, the service does indeed provide 100% audio described titles, meaning that for people with vision-related disabilities the more visual aspects of the videos are described by a narrator. While the interface was a little cumbersome to use in my high contrast color scheme, the screen reader picked things up well and it was able to play the selected video. I was pleasantly surprised to see the video start playing given I’m based in Australia, and both video and audio played with no problem.
However, the biggest issue with this service at the moment is the content. It was hard to determine if the lack of modern content was due to the good stuff being hidden from me or if there was just a very limited amount of titles at this time, but most of the movies, documentaries and services I could play were quite old and presumably available as public domain titles. That said, if the service is able to secure the rights to the big movies and TV shows then the interface works quite well, and if the service continues to be available internationally then it has the potential to revolutionise the way in which people who are blind or vision impaired watch TV. As such, it’s my hope the big media companies will step up to support this initiative especially as audio description is hard to come by through traditional media sources. For now though the best option here in Australia remains with Netflix and its small but growing audio described titles.
More information on the service can be found at the TellMe TV website. The service offers a seven day free trial.