The way we watch our favourite TV has changed. More than 47% of UK homes now have a subscription to either Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime Video, according to Ofcom. But many of these are still behind when it comes to accessibility.

Instead, our online survey suggests that disabled people are being massively underserved by these services. And feedback from our online survey suggests there are many ways streaming services are inaccessible to disabled people.

Scope’s research panel has 1,700 disabled people and parents of disabled children. This is a great way to test your products and services. Find out more about our disabled consumer research service.

Disabled people feel “forgotten” and “excluded” by video on-demand streaming revolution

People with sensory impairments are often excluded because new service providers do not provide enough programmes with essential accessibility features like subtitles or audio description. In addition, many apps and websites lack basic accessibility standards and fail basic accessibility audits.

Missing out on the latest film or TV series is not just about missing out on the content. It’s about being excluded from the wider culture and conversation.

Text reads four in five disabled people experience accessibility issues with video on-demand services, from Scope for Business by Scope video streaming survey.

80% of disabled people said they had experienced accessibility issues with video on-demand streaming services. That’s four out of every five disabled viewers experiencing issues.

About the survey

We wanted to learn about the accessibility issues that stop disabled people from enjoying equal access to online TV. This article shares some of the feedback we have received from survey respondents.

In total, we had more than 19,900 survey responses from 3,337 disabled consumers. We asked respondents seven questions about their experiences with video on-demand services. This is what they told us.

Please note, we have selected a series of quotes to illustrate the main issues.

The emotional cost of inaccessible services

We wanted to hear about the emotional impact of missing out from the on-demand video streaming revolution.

Text reads more than 2 in 3 disabled people feel excluded or upset by inaccessible video on-demand services, from Scope for Business by Scope video streaming survey.

We asked survey respondents how it makes them feel when a TV programme or film is not accessible to them. A total 66% of users feel either frustrated, let down, excluded or upset by inaccessible TV programs and films.

“[It makes me feel] “Depressed and forgotten.”

“Reminds me how ableist our society is.”

I expect better from all streaming companies in the 21st century.”

“It makes me feel like the opinion of disabled people isn’t as important as that of everyone else.”

My whole family miss out because of me.

“I’m wheelchair bound, brain damaged and a double cornea transplant patient. Life’s pretty s*** to be honest and TV and streaming services are all I have.”

“Degenerative disc disease, stops me from going out as often as I’d like. Disturbs my sleeping a lot, so I use these services to keep me busy when I can’t sleep.”

“It makes me feel like I’m not good enough”

“I am bed bound so my streaming services are basically my companions.”

“Not worthy enough to take part in a discussion about a program other has seen.”

Top accessibility issues that concern disabled viewers

Issues range from inaccessible content to inaccessible technology. TV shows and films can be inaccessible for a number of reasons. Through lack of access services like closed captions or audio description, for example. But content can also become inaccessible if it contains flashing lights or triggering imagery.

Poor colour contrast is an example of a technical accessibility issue which makes an app or website difficult or impossible for visually impaired people to use.

Out of those that did experience accessibility issues, these were the top concerns. Respondents were allowed to tick multiple responses.

Response Number of respondents Percentage of respondents (out of those that did experience issues)
No captions available 668 ­­17.3%
Incomplete or poor-quality captions 645 16.7%
The app or website is difficult to navigate 561 14.5%
Not enough trigger warnings on potentially harmful content 394 10.2%
No audio description available 295 7.6%
Flashing images on content I want to watch 277 7.2%
Not enough content is accessible to me 270 7%
Poor colour contrast 218 5.6%
No sign language interpreter 211 5.5%
Other 194 5%
App or website does not work 137 3.5%

1. Closed captions are unavailable or poor quality

Out of those that experience problems using video streaming services, 34% of people said closed captions are an issue. Either because they are not available (17.3%) or they are poor quality (16.7%).

Issues relate to a complete lack of captions on programmes or the limited range of content available with subtitles. ‘Poor quality,’ in this instance, either relates to closed caption accuracy, syncing, speed or the placement of captions on screen.

And, when closed captions are available, feedback suggests they are often not good enough.

“The lack of subtitling is shocking on streamed TV services. There is absolutely no excuse for dropping subtitles. As a young mother with hearing difficulties I find it extremely hard to catch up on my favourite programmes.”

“I am deaf, all programmes in this modern age should have subtitles”

“I have chronic fatigue syndrome (ME), part of which contains noise sensitivity, so subtitles are a godsend as I can have the volume down low enough not to aggravate my symptoms.”

“[I have] post-concussion syndrome and migraines after an injury more than four years ago. I experience over sensory stimulation easily, and bright or loud things make symptoms worse. Very often I find subtitles help me understand what is being said, or I have to have the sound off or very low (due to a flare-up of symptoms).”

“[I have] Autism. Sensitivity to flashing lights. Sometimes I prefer to watch with the sound off, so I need subtitles.”

Need subtitles but even they are not always satisfactory. They often flash by before I can read them. Other times show up too late or are misspelled and make no sense.

“I’m hard of hearing and very reliant on subtitles and captions. But sometimes the font is just too small, or they haven’t thought about the colour of captions (white type with no background and then a snowy scene for example). Or all the text is the same colour, so if it’s a conversation, you don’t know who is saying what.”

2.The video streaming app or website is difficult to navigate

Broad category which includes technical accessibility issues and menu navigation, which is not picked up in an accessibility audit. 

“A lot of these streaming services are hard to navigate. It isn’t always easy to find what you want and the writing isn’t very big on the info about programs”

 “I also get easily confused and find it difficult to work out how to set up and use accounts and services. A friend helped me with Amazon Prime. I have not used other streaming services for this reason.”

“I struggle to find what I want to watch.”

“I mainly have difficulty logging in and navigating sites and services because of visual problems. Without high contrast (black and white) I can’t focus. Also moving images behind text sets of my severe vertigo. I cannot complete log in without help.”

“I’m hard of hearing and have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) so complicated apps and websites make it really hard to concentrate and stay interested.”

3.Lack of trigger warnings on programmes and films

Lack of pre-programme warnings for harmful content. This includes flashing imagery and violent or potentially triggering subject matter.

“It is extremely rare to see trigger warnings”

“I’m triggered by specific violent content which I often have to search for online using websites such as doesthedogdie as the warnings on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video often don’t say.”

4.Lack of audio description

“I frequently find shows on Netflix that I would like to watch, but do not have audio description. This mean that I miss out on things that my friends are all enjoying and using, and as a young person, it makes me feel very alone in the world.”

5. Flashing images on content I want to watch

“Across all streaming services, warnings for flashing images aren’t consistent or prominent enough. I often have my migraines triggered because of this.” 

“I have photosensitive epilepsy and there are frequently no warnings on films with flashing images, which is really annoying if you’re paying for something.”

6.Limited accessible content to choose from

“I have bad hearing problems which are age-related and can only watch programmes with subtitles and a lot of streaming sites don’t cater for that so I just have terrestrial TV at the moment.”

7.Poor colour contrast

“Not enough contrast between captions and film, for example, white captions directly over the film itself meaning the background colour changes using sometime very pale colours so unable to read captions.”

Other accessibility barriers

While they were not listed as an option to our specific issues question, we received a large amount of qualitative feedback on the following topics. They are grouped in order of those that received the most mentions in “Responses with more info.”

1.Poor audio quality

A surprising number of people mentioned having problems with the quality of sound. The majority of responses reference low, poor or variable volume is a problem for them. Several respondents say that good quality closed captions would offer a solution.

“I have hearing loss and although my hearing aids corrects for normal speech, the sound from phones and tablets etc. would have to be so loud it distorts. I only watch with captions.”

“Sound varies so much I am always turning it up or down does not help when you have hearing problems and subtitles are too fast.”

2. Cost

Many responses mention cost as a barrier to online enjoying streaming services in the first instance.

“I can’t afford to pay loads of money out on TV. I do have Amazon Prime but feel very angry as most of it includes extra charges to watch anything good!

“They are all extremely expensive to those of us unable to work. I rely on friends paying for me to access services.”

“I would love to stream more, but they always cost a higher subscription or are not available on my package. I can’t afford to pay monthly subscriptions above my TV, phone, broadband package and licence fee plus all the upfront box costs.”

“I just wish streaming services would have an option for disabled people which is cheaper, but you still get full access like anyone else would.”

3. Internet connection not strong enough to support

Slow internet connection leads to poor streaming quality, and many respondents said shows “buffering” was a problem for them. While not a technical accessibility issue, we know that access to fast internet speeds is not equal throughout the UK. This is also known as “internet poverty”.

“It takes forever for just a 30-minute episode of anything to download and it starts and stops all the time if trying to watch WHILE downloading. Broadband speeds in my area are just not up to it really. I don’t even live in the middle of nowhere but I’m three miles east and west from the nearest towns.”

I’m in a rural area, the broadband speed is far too slow.”

4. Inconsistent service across devices

Many viewers complain that access services (like closed captions) are available on certain devices but not consistent across all of them.

“Different platforms work differently depending on which device you are using. ITV Hub is a particular issue, subtitles not available when using Hub on many TVs. Subtitles are available when using tablet or mobile phone but disappear if you try to cast it to the TV. It used to work when “mirroring” instead, but now only the subtitles show (no picture). It means I have to watch ITV programmes on a mobile phone.”

When users experience a problem and raise a complaint with the company, they feel their voices are not heard.

“[When websites] have moving images behind text this sets of my severe vertigo and I cannot complete log in without help. (BBC iPlayer is one of the worst, I have complained but they don’t care).

“I like to watch content on NOW TV but they lack subtitles completely on quite a few shows. For example, the TV show The Walking Dead has no subtitles what so ever. I made a complaint years ago in 2015 but nothing has changed.

How it affects spending decisions

Text reads One in five disabled people have cancelled their subscription or stopped using a streaming service because of accessibility issues, from Scope for Business by Scope video streaming survey.

In addition, 20% of disabled people said they had cancelled a subscription or stopped using a video streaming service because of accessibility issues. That’s one in five disabled people cancelling a subscription.

It makes me want to find a different service or different way to watch what I want.”

“When this happens, I don’t feel motivated to look for other content from that provider as I feel it will have the same problem. Instead, I use a different streaming provider who can accommodate my needs. (Especially if I’m paying to use that streaming service!)”

Campaign update August 2020

Since our campaign launched, six out of the 12 streaming services in our inclusive league table have made accessibility fixes to their website or app. Including BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Britbox, ITV Hub, NOW TV and Disney Plus.

We’ve been approached by Ofcom to discuss new regulations for video on-demand services. We’re keen to make sure disabled people’s voices are at the heart of this process and will update this page with our progress.

We would like to thank everybody who took part in our video streaming survey. This feedback is being used to change the way streaming service providers make their services more accessible to disabled people.

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