Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How BBS Television can be made more accessible for the visually impaired and illiterate viewers

For decades, the Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBSC) has been playing a crucial role in informing the nation and influencing important decisions in the country. It has been one of the most popular sources of news and information for the general population. But in a bid to reach out to the larger audience, it seems to have forgotten those who need additional adjustments to avail its services. As the only national television channel in the country, the BBS TV has the moral responsibility of making all of its contents accessible for the entire population. But with some of its contents not at all accessible for the visually impaired and illiterate segment of the society today, it is not doing justice to the nation as a whole. It sounds unfair why only the sighted and literate audience should have the privilege to access the channel without any hinderance when the nation has all the resources to make it fully accessible for all.

While most of the programs on BBS TV are fully accessible, accessing weather forecast has been one of the biggest challenges for those of us who are either visually impaired or illiterate because the graphical report does not contain the accompanying audio description. Until some years ago, all the weather reports used to be accompanied by audio description. But today, we are left to rely on others for help whenever we wish to know if it is going to rain or be sunny the next day. At least the illiterate lot can physically see the graphical representation on the screen and may get some sense of what it is all about, but the visually impaired people have no way of knowing what it is being displayed.

A visually impaired teacher had once posted on Facebook, “Please turn on your television, tune into BBS channel and listen with your eyes closed. After the news, you will hear a melodious music at the background. Just ask your friends around you what the music is about. They will tell you that it’s the weather forecast”. This is a sad reality for us. Only those who can’t see or read would be able to understand what it means to be cut off from the information which can otherwise be easily made accessible if one has the will to do so. In fact, it does not even require any additional technology or resource to read out the information shown on the graph and record it for public broadcast. If you watch international television channels such as BBC and CNN, you will always find weather forecast reports being read out and explained.

Just like the weather reports, even some of the public announcements and commercial advertisements are not fully accessible for us with part of the information left on the screen for the viewers to read on their own. The voice reading the announcements often directs the viewers to follow the screen for the remaining part of the information such as the contact details of the concerned agencies or individuals who have made the announcement. A visually impaired or an illiterate listener for whom the announcement might be relevant, will miss this critical information, and this might cause him or her to miss opportunities. It is therefore very important for BBS to integrate all of its visual contents with audio descriptions so that they can be accessible to both the visually impaired and illiterate viewers in the country. Such an initiative might seem insignificant, but it can make a huge difference to those of us who cannot see or read what is displayed on the TV screen. Unless we break such barriers dividing us from the rest of the population, we cannot move together as a nation.

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