logo EuroITV 2009

Workshop: Defining the Architecture for Next Generation Inclusive Television


Notes from the workshop


The objectives of the workshop were intended to be:

1.    To collate and summarise the issues that inclusive design raises for digital and interactive television.

2.    To explore new methods for inclusiveness in the design process.

3.    To further establish a multi-disciplinary community with the aim of influencing research, development and policy relevant to inclusive and accessible DTV.

Each objective was re-presented as a question.  Some priming points had previously been sent to the participants.  In the notes below, these are presented in italics to distinguish them from points made at the workshop.

Topic 1: With regard to inclusivity, is there something special about TV vis-à-vis other information and communication technology (ICT)?

1.    Maximum diversity in the user population.

This is an ICT (perhaps the only one) that is used by everyone from infants to pensioners, with and without disabilities.  It is the main medium of cultural involvement (all be it passively) for large parts of the population.  It has in recent history been the main channel for information and news dissemination and in some populations and segments still is.  Perhaps that will be its abiding distinguishing characteristic vis-à-vis the web: its widespread availability and inherent accessibility.  As ‘television’ transforms and mutates, the notion of universal access to culturally significant resources may become its only vestigial characteristic remaining in whatever replaces it.

2.    Used in an informal, domestic, ‘relaxation oriented’ setting that may make some adaptation possibilities inappropriate.

Of course this isn’t as true as it was; the arrival of computer games and particularly development like the Wii has introduced physical activity into the screen experience, and will have prompted rearrangements of the furniture.

The introduction of interaction devices such as the Wii-mote into the domestic environment presents interesting possibilities for accessibility adaptations.  The domestic context in which television is consumed has changed over the last 20 years or so, as additional receivers have appeared in bedrooms (particularly kids’) and kitchens.  Television’s availability on mobile devices will further erode the primacy of the ‘electronic hearth’.  On occasions where shared viewing is desired, this may well be accomplished by people sharing the same room, but not the same screen (or even the same channel).

Thus the technical possibilities for adaptation to support inclusivity may be opening up, however the extent to which they support or frustrate shared ‘viewing’ will be important.

3.    Synchronised multimodal output (audio, video) together with text, challenges sensory disability.  Changing the modality of presentation (e.g., visual to ‘audio description’) is technically difficult, or results in significant loss of information.

The possibilities for enhancing accessibility in this area are however increasing.  The availability of greater bandwidth supports features such as audio description in broadcast programming.  New developments in internet enabled TV (e.g., the Yahoo Connected TV development reported at EuroITV) open up the possibility to create innovative applications to support inclusion.  This sort of development was very much in line with the title of our workshop.  It will be interesting to see just what functionality Connected TV supports, particularly with regard to accessing and manipulating the received broadcast TV content.

4.    Typically supplied with a sub-optimal input device that challenges both sensory and motor disability.

As mentioned previously, games technology presents interesting possibilities here.  The Xbox 360 gesture recognition system looks particularly promising.  Development of voice control that runs in the TV set, or a games box is also feasible.

5.    Largely closed proprietary system environment that makes independent third party initiatives difficult.

The developments mentioned in 1, 2 & 3 above go some way to ameliorate this, but the proliferation of proprietary operating systems may mean that economic development of accessibility applications may be frustrated.

There have been a number of initiatives to create a standard platform for ‘television’.  Examples include the long running Kendra Initiative, the BBC lead Kangaroo and Canvas projects.  The European Commission appears to be moving towards mandating a standard for broadcast transmission (H.264/MPEG4), whilst the standard Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) has had mixed success in Europe.

It may well be that TV sets and set-top boxes are designed to handle a multitude of different transmission standards, received from terrestrial, satellite, cable (IPTV) and internet (download and streaming).  The unifying factor will be the built-in interface that presents the media assets available in some sort of integrated fashion.  This may be as variably better or worse as proprietary implementations of Freeview in the UK.

6.    Used by multiple simultaneous ‘viewers’, whose accessibility requirements may conflict.

Other games technologies such as immersive VR headsets may be useful to support shared viewing by people requiring extremely close proximity to the screen image.  As discussed in 1 above, the proliferation of ‘viewing’ devices may ameliorate this problem.

Support for different varieties of audio received by individual viewers (different volume and frequency spread, or augmentation of the audio to provide descriptions for visually impaired viewers) utilising wireless head-sets, or interfacing with hearing-aids, are technically possible at realistic cost.

7.    Deeply culturally embedded.

The way that different generations use and consume television is different.  In older generations habitual patterns of television viewing, set during a period of resource scarcity (one TV set per household, limited channels available to be viewed in real-time only) may be maintained, but may not be well supported in the new television environment.

8.    Currently subject to enforced upgrading (digital switchover) that challenges cognitive disability.

There remains a good deal of confusion amongst viewers as to what is changing and what options are available.  Understanding the enhanced functionality and new business models presented by DTV already challenges many viewers, i.e., those who have voluntarily acquired digital sets.  Examples I have seen include; people buying an expensive digital set but not understanding how to enable reception of digital broadcasts, so continuing to watch in lower quality analogue; viewers not understanding how to set contrast, colour saturation and brightness, so despite buying a high quality LCD screen, their viewing was considerably degraded.  The problem here is that viewers will not know what they don’t know – and may not complain about a degraded experience (who to?).

9.    Subject to evolving regulation and legislation that in part pursues an inclusivity agenda.

However this is largely focused on the incumbent ‘broadcasters’.  The new Web television, streamed or downloaded, is largely unregulated.  Whilst some sites have attempted to acknowledge inclusivity aims, these are limited.  There is a danger that inclusivity support may be largely confined to the dying ‘old television’.

Current standards and guidelines tend to be too general and abstract to be truly useful to designers.  Furthermore TV has a number of nuances that distinguish it from the PC on which many established guidelines are based.  Therefore we need to develop TV-specific guidelines and standards.

10.  Under extreme commercial pressure that may make stakeholders wary of the cost of inclusivity innovations.

11.  TV is 'disappearing', as a distinct technology by merging with PC and other multimedia devices.

Younger people use more technology, but typically only have superficial 'how to do it' knowledge relevant to their immediate goals rather than developing deep models of how the devices work.

12.  Measurement of TV usability is much harder than for PC. 

It is much more complex given its two device (screen and remote control) nature and the social factors involved.  Acceptability may predominate over usability per say.

13.  There are vast differences in how people want to watch and interact with the TV.

We need better modelling, not just of user capabilities, but of habits, preferences and goals.

Topic 2: Are there particular TV-centric methods for inclusivity in the design process?

·         Test panels drawn from disability groups.

·         Advocacy in the standards setting process from disability organisations.

·         Expert opinion

Use of interdisciplinary experts, e.g. occupational therapists.

·         User models

o   Modelling slips and repair

o   Model driven approach (accessible UML)

·         Development of new testing methods for quality of service

·         Participation

o   Video scenario presentation

o   Simulation of disability

·         Development of a repository of research

o   Matching cases

·         Measurement of accessibility

o   The effectiveness of what the user does related to what they want to do.

Topic 3: How might inclusivity issues best be promoted in the digital / interactive television industry?

·         Involvement in standards setting bodies

·         Involvement with regulating bodies

·         Involvement with broadcasters

·         Pressure groups and viewers associations

·         Promote technical advantage

·         Legacy accessibility vs. new developments

·         Create a W3C 2.0 gloss

o   With case studies

The standards already developed for the web could be examined, modified or extended, for application to television (particularly interactive television).

·         Encouraging legal regulation (except Italy!)

·         Promote added value

Supporting inclusivity may make other applications or uses of TV technology possible.  E.g., captioning makes public display television (e.g., in railway stations) useable.

·         Develop a consortium to apply for EU funding to promote research in this area

o   Bid for a ‘Network of Excellence’ or ‘Coordination Actions’

It would appear that we have missed the boat for FP7 funding (Call 4, deadline 1st April 09).

Other possibilities might be:

o   Marie Curie Initial Training Networks under the People Programme.  This would involve distinct but linked work on several sites and integrated training on partner sites.   So, for example, each participating university would each have one or more funded PhD students with a common theme, presumably related to TV or domestic technologies.   We would also host training weeks which all students funded by the network would attend.  They also fund some post-doc work. 

o   Under the Research Capacities Programme there is a reference to research infrastructures, expanded in this old but still current document ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/infrastructures/docs/rifp7_workingdoc_291004_en.pdf .   The infrastructure in our case may be a network of innovation for domestic ‘TV related’ developments, maybe with support for independent living as a theme. 

o   Development of standards is another suggestion that we discussed.   However it is not obvious where that could get funding, or whether it could be a thread in one of the possibilities suggested.

Any other suggestions are welcome.


Richard Griffiths

r.n.griffiths@brighton.ac.uk   phone: +44 1273 642477

Workshop Home