Subtitle it! Louise launches bid to end digital exclusion

Today I was proud to table an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill which will ensure subtitles, audio description and sign language services are made available on on-demand television services. It is already law for traditional ways of viewing television.

For many tens of thousands of people who live with sensory loss including those who are blind, partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing being able to watch on-demand television shouldn't be a luxury but at present, because of a loophole in the law, it is.

That's why I have teamed up with the charity, Action on Hearing Loss to make on-demand television accessible to people with sensory loss.

Since the 2003 Communications Act which guaranteed the right of people with sensory loss to have accessible services for TV programmes on at a particular time and channel, the way we watch and consume television has changed considerably.

When that Act reached Royal Assent it would be a full five years before BBC iPlayer even launched online. 

And while subtitling is at or near 100% across the Public Service Broadcasters, an abysmal 76% of the UK's on-demand providers still offer no subtitles at all. This despite the fact that some 18% of the UK population use them, according to OfCom.

The principle behind the Communications Act recognised that those with sensory loss should not be denied access to the information and services many of us take for granted. It is a statement of the obvious that that principle still applies; yet because of changes to technology, in practice, those with sensory loss cannot keep up with the changing technology.

That is deeply unfair. Listen to the experiences of Kim, she has had hearing loss since she was four years old and if she wants to watch a TV programme with her boyfriend she finds she can't because on-demand TV isn't catering for her. That is incredibly unfair.

In July 2013 the then Minister for the Digital Economy acknowledged this paradox arguing that if “progress isn’t made in three years’ time – we will consider legislation.

Well, I'm now saying to the Government that time is up.

That's why I have tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill which will guarantee access services for people with sensory loss on on-demand television.

This amendment would give OfCom, the regulator, the power to issue a statutory code to drive improvement. 

There is no reason to believe this will impose a burden: the  current code has a sliding scale for access services provision, so that new and smaller broadcasters are either exempt or have gradually increasing targets.

And no linear broadcasters is ever required to spend more than 1% of their relevant turnover on access services.

Many will be tired of promises from Government. It's now high time they acted.