Podcast Episode 18 - New FCC Rules For Accessible Television

This week on the IAP, we discuss some new rules from the FCC which are aimed at making it easier for blind and deaf people to use their televisions.

Show Notes & Links


Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.

Mark: Hey, welcome to the IAP. Thanks for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor. If you're enjoying the IAP, share it. Tell someone about it. Hey, even link to it from your accessible website. Mike, how are you doing?

Mike: Mark, I'm doing great this week. How are you doing?

Mark: I'm doing really well. So you have pulled up this article about how the FCC adopts TV rules for the blind and the deaf. You and I were talking a little bit before we jumped on to the podcast here and you had some real interesting thoughts about this. I'm going to let you get started here and your bit excited about this ruling... so why don't you everybody why.

Mike: Yes, just a little bit of background the FCC, The Federal Communications Commission, has adopted rules now so that it's going to make a new requirements essentially or set up cable boxes, TV devices, and I think included are tablets and other things that have menus and guides. For example, you can imagine your satellite receiver and you're flipping through all those navigation menus and stuff. They should be able to audibly read out onscreen text in the menus and the guides. I don't think that any of them do but someone could surprise me and show me when it does. The new things with me about this is that what I see happening is in the future we are going to probably come to some sort of singularity of when these different vendors agree upon the best user interface for menus and guides. That means is that it's going to be similar to web browsers and right now web browsers are conventional. We all know how to use a web browser and we may have preferences right? Some people use Firefox, some people use Chrome, some people use Safari , and that is fine but if you happen to open the wrong one even though it wasn't your favorite you would still find some familiar parts to it. The address bar, back and forth buttons, and things like that you kind of sort of know what to expect.

Mark: Well that's the case like a text editor. If you can use Word, I know you don't like Word, but if you can use Word and you open up another text editor even the icons it's like the icons for centering the text or the way you change fonts or something like that. They are really very standard and you don't have to put any sort of cognitive effort into figuring out how to do those functions on another one. You might have to search for it a little bit but as soon as you see that icon you know what's up and you know what to do.

Mike: Right, and that is where this idea be of usability and accessibility tie in together once again and we see that happening it's a conventional issue. If you make things so that people know what to expect you are going to have an easier time using it whether or not they have a disability. So yes you are improving something for people with disability but you are also improving something for everyone.

Mark: So we are into another case here where we are really making something accessible as creating better design for everyone?

Mike: Yes, I can't see how it's not going to and the example that I gave you before for the show is a simple thing like I remember getting our first VCR back in 1980 or something it was like a million dollars, right?. Well, to set the clock on that VCR and you had to hold combinations of buttons down in certain ways.

Mark: It's awful.

Mike: It was horrible and I was the only person in the family to do it, I was like 10-years-old or something. I joked about that because our parents couldn't set the clock on the VCR but here my mom is all these years later, she will jump into a car and she can operate the touch screen GPS. Which is way more high tech than the push button to set the clock but it's the idea that is conventional and familiar approach to something.

Mark: I mean it's interesting that you say it's much more high tech, which of course it is, but I think that also that's what we have to stop and look at is as the technology increases and you and I have talked about this on past podcasts... that the usability should increase. If you look at the efforts of IBM right now, one of the things the IBM is doing is they are talking about how technology should be responsible for creating something as usable to the user and it shouldn't be anymore that the user has to figure out the technology.

Mike: That is exactly right.

Mark: And it's because technology is in the spot where you can do this and I think if you look at something like Apple, right? That is kind of where Apple won a lot of people over in the beginning as they said, "Hey check this out. Here is our interface it's easy to use and by the way we are giving you a phone and guess what? If you can use our computer our phones are going to be pretty similar." Now you got not only that what you are talking about Mike across all VCRs or all GPSes or all Word editors but you are starting to see the cross multiple devices that runs similarly. Windows right now, your Windows PC, your Windows tablet, and your Windows phone are all with similar interface. You may not feel one way or another about the interface itself but if you get used to using your PC with the Windows 8 interface you are going to jump on your cellphone and it's going to be the same and you are going to jump into your tablet and it's going to be the same. It's really an interesting spot that we are in and it's kind of funny that the older technology is like TVs are the most behind.

Mike: Also what I want to bring up was that there are arguments and things that are not high profile. Things that are discussed when it comes to accessibility of user and user devices like using TVs like that. We all hear the news towards about TV shows, movies, and vendors who provide movies, like streaming vendors, like Netflix should have captioning available and that was big news pretty recently.

Mark: Great!

Mike: What you don't hear is how does somebody who needs the media to be more accessible? How do they get through the guides, the menus, and the settings? Because that is still an issue.

Mark: That is really the issue isn't it? If a blind person can enjoy a television show based on the audio pretty well it's so much nicer if they have audio description which would describe the visual aspects of the show as well but if they just can hear the dialogue the same thing you and I. They can get a sense of the story and they can enjoy it. What maybe really be difficult is getting to it. If you and I get to it because we can get through these different schemas that multiple television show because we can read the menus but if you can't see the menu and read it you are in trouble.

Mike: I think an obvious example that everyone who's listening can probably relate to if you seen enough DVDs and BluRays. When DVDs first came out it almost seems like it was a contest between the DVD designers to see who could the make most incomprehensible and convoluted process to get through the DVD menu, do you remember that?

Mark: Yes, it was more about how cool it looked and what video was playing at the background and how it related to that video whether or not it could dance across the screen. Yes, I remember.

Mike: It happened past couple of years and what we see is a lot more consistency and you'll still run across that are kind of wacky...

Mark: Well you know it's interesting that you mentioned that because one of the things that I remember from those early days of DVD menus is that some of them were inaccessible to people without disabilities, right? So in other words you will be sitting there in the couch with your remote and the menu would come up and there would be cool clips of the show playing on the loop in the background but you wouldn't be able to really read or see the menu because of the distraction of that and they didn't have good contrast for a show but not all of them but some of them I can remember being like, "I can't even read it and I got good eyesight."

Mike: Well in spite of the fact that some of them you couldn't read and some of them you couldn't find the menu buttons because you weren't actually text things they were little like hidden icons that you just had to sort of explore around with pad on your remote.

Mark: Then there wasn't even a consistency between what the play button did versus the okay button when it kind of finally came around. There is a lot of confusion around that you will hit the play button to play what you have finally chosen and then only to realize after being frustrated and hitting it several that really you need to hit the Okay or Enter button.

Mike: Anyone who has kids can attest to being so annoyed that you can't just pop in the movie and play the movie... you have to sort of manually navigate through all of the previews.

Mark: The dash back and forth between the kitchen while you are trying to get dinner ready and the TV that lasts like 5 minutes because you are just trying to get to the part of the movie we can play for the child. I remember that and I think that is what really got me in shape back when my kids needed my help with that. It was like doing suicides in basketball camp or something. Don't burn the chicken and get to the next menu.

Mike: I think that my hope is that I can see sort of a time when the manufacturers of these devices say, "Okay, this seems to be the most user-friendly type of interface without certain menu or guides when that is supposed to fill it." I think that the satellite companies are probably in the cable companies or pretty onboard with the consistency at that time. The one that I see that's inconsistent the most is like TV settings and stuff.

Mark: Yes, it's kind of interesting when you think about it and I wonder well my question to you Mike really is do you think that we're really breaking through to a new area of accessibility? And the reason why I asked that is because you have things like cars that have well I don't know the history on it but they sort of developed consistency like steering wheel, gear shifts in the same place, P means park, R means reverse, and a couple of different standard H and whatever the one substitute to it. It's slightly different but for the most part with the exception of the few things and those major controls not the minor ones but the major ones where easy to find. If you got one car you could pretty well get in another car with the couple of where is the windshield wiper kind of things and you could drive around pretty well. You aren't going to hit the gas instead of the brake because those are flip-flopped. But with something like televisions, we never as a society stop to think about the value of making those interfaces consistent. Televisions, clock, radios, and VCRs, all these things that we are talking about so I wonder if where we are with digital accessibility and the way the people are thinking so keenly about that now? If that's going to sort of bring us back in time a little bit to look at the accessibility of these some other things like TVs that worked about now. It seems to me that this FCC adopting these rules is kind of the first step in that look back. So I wonder for a new spot I don't know what you think about?

Mike: I think you are right to make the comparison to automobiles because you are right, no matter what is your preference if you know how to drive a car you can generally speaking hop into the car and operate the vehicle. Turn signals, wipers, and headlights. You may have to figure out where the switches are for a minute but you get it, you understand?

Mark: Yes, but the major thing is that trying to set the signal, gas, break, steering, and gear shifts.

Mike: Exactly. If somebody we've seen that happen with the electronics like the VCR clock and most electronic devices now that have clock that we set to have a little buttons for hours and a little button for minutes and you just tap the buttons until its right and you are done or something pretty similar. The same thing with remotes. Everybody knows what the little icons are for play, pause, stop, power, channel, up and down volume, and all that it's been very consistent.

Mark: Even the… I don't know if you have noticed but at least many of the remotes that I picked up the volume and the channel toggle or look the same? Volumes are almost always on the left and the channels are almost always on the right. They started to make those consistent.

Mike: This is something back to car for just a second. This is something I noticed years ago this was in the I think late 80s.

Mark: Are you going on the cars now Mike? Because we were able to turn on your spec car this morning?

Mike: It wasn't this morning it was a couple of days ago but yes.

Mark: A couple of days ago so would you it ran for 30 seconds?

Mike: Not that much. I have some issues.

Mark: Not that much, 5 seconds? How long have you been building this car?

Mike: 3 years.

Mark: Alright, sounds like a pretty exciting moment when it turns over at all.

Mike: I am very excited to hear it run and see all the smoke pouring out of the exhaust pipe.

Mark: I didn't mean to step on your point but I just wanted the listeners to know that you got an ulterior motive for going to the car talk right now.

Mike: I'm always going to bring it up. I remember thinking how great this was over the years in vehicles I've been in a lot of vehicles and have driven in a lot of vehicles and owned a lot of them. I always think it's neat when the manufacturers create that ones that can be operated tactilly. Further, I drive in the road I'm going to open the window. If I reach over to the window the power window button I shouldn't have to look to see which ways are up and down, right?

Mark: Right.

Mike: To be able to feel it. The first one that I remembered and I was thinking clearly was in the late 80s. The Ford Motor Company their switches were the down button or off position for dash buttons where dimpled like finger tips. The upside was raised up.

Mark: It was raised up, yes.

Mike: So one of the things I love about some cars is that you get into them and you are like you can run your fingers over the radio buttons and feel our thumbs sort of things like that. The old style of phone keypads, the cellphones they had little bumps identifying which numbers where which or at least in index like a computer keyboard if you learn to type, way back in the old days like I did. Do you know the 2 bumps on the F and J to help get your index fingers in the right position.

Mark: To get you oriented, yes. Well let's say the point because my wife had a Jeep Grand Cherokee and it was the first car that we owned where you could control the volume and change radio stations from the steering wheel and the controls for it where wrapped around the back side of this steering wheel. Generally speaking, if you're blind, you are not going to be driving a car but I wonder if just going back to the good design for everyone that if it was raised up like you were saying and the back of the steering wheel and I wonder if that something that they sort of borrowed from their experience with designing things for the blind and they thought hey people can't see this and they can't take their eyes of the road essentially they are a blind user when they are going down the highway at 85 miles per an hour and trying to do something. What do we do to make things easier to find? Let's bring those into the design of the vehicle. So it's kind of interesting where even if it doesn't apply directly in one place that these sort of user experiences can be borrowed and moved around to make a better experience somewhere else for someone else.

Mike: Yup, they do.

Mark: Alright, well guess what Mike?

Mike: Did we go over today?

Mark: We are at the end of the of another wonderful podcast here and this is a long one but I think it was worth and it's a good topic. I think it's just interesting to me how this sort of simple things that people do or that happen like the rules for TV get you really thinking about how user experience really works and how we can increase it to our efforts with accessibility. I think this was a great topic.

Mike: Yes, me too.

Mark: Yes, alright! Well thanks again Mike. This is Mark Miller.

Mike: And this is Mike Guill.

Mark: Reminding you to keep it accessible.

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog


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