Regulators

TRAI: Make STBs, content & telecom services disabled- friendly

Stakeholders term confusing suggestion on 50% TV channels in accessible format

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MUMBAI: With an aim to make communications and TV services more accessible to people with disabilities (PWDs), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has come out with a series of recommendations, including a confusing one suggesting that 50 per cent TV channels to be developed in PWD-friendly and accessible format over the next five years.

In its recommendations, the TRAI suggests that manufacturers maintain accessibility standards for set top boxes (STBs), mobile phones and landlines. Box makers have till 2020 to make or import at least one model in different variants in an accessible format.

Telecom service providers (TSPs), MSOs and DTH operators have been exhorted to have special desks in their call centres/customer support to assist PWDs using assistive technologies. The call centre executives must also undergo sensitivity training to deal with their issues.

Broadcasters, too, could well have to invest in content modification. According to TRAI, “The Authority is of the view that there should be phase-wise, time bound plans to develop percentage[s] of channels with the aim to have 50 per cent channels in accessible format in five years’ time frame. To start with, there can be five per cent [of TV] channels in accessible format in one year, 10 per cent in two years and 50 per cent in five years.”

When Indiantelevision.com got in touch with some TV channels on the issue, most of them said this particular TRAI suggestion on percentages of the TV channels in accessible format was not clear.

“Does TRAI mean that half of all the government-permitted TV channels would have to have closed captioning of content for PWDs, for example? Or, does it mean that a percentage of the content in a TV channel would have to be in a prescribed format? Or, does it mean that newer accessible channels or separate feeds would have to be started? As it’s difficult to have closed captioned content for news channels, for example, no matter how much a TV channel may like to be PWD-friendly, this suggestion would need further clarifications as it would mean increasing costs on making content,” a TV channel executive opined, adding, though TRAI’s intentions were laudable, an industry reeling under a slow economy would need financial incentives from the government to implement such a suggestion.

Meanwhile, continuing with TRAI recommendations, the regulator has suggested that Department of Telecom (DoT) and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) instruct TSPs DTH operators and MSOs to conduct awareness campaigns regarding accessibility issues, design, affordability, availability of assistive tools and products, and about various government policies and schemes pertaining to accessible ICT (information, communications and telecoms) services that can be availed by PWDs.

The government has been exhorted to take several major steps. The most important one is that all government websites need to be PWD-accessibility compliant. ICT products (computer hardware, mobile phones, STBs, etc.) procured by government agencies should be accessible to PWDs and should have associated support documentation and services inaccessible format.

The government has been suggested to mandate the device manufacturers/importers not to curtail the accessibility features available in popular operating systems in any manner from their devices whether manufactured locally or imported.

Suggestions by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) such as products and tariff plan specific to PWDs, appropriate customer care service, adding closed captioning, audio description, etc. should be taken up in India as well, TRAI has observed.

As mobile phones have become an integrated part of modern lifestyle, accessible handset for PWD citizens is also a necessity. According to TRAI, mobile handset manufacturers, who produce five or more than five different models, should produce at least one mobile handset satisfying accessibility criteria for PWDs at least by the end of 2020.

The regulatory body has recommended a steering committee, comprising various government agencies and ministries, for a timely review of accessibility of ICT services to PWDs. The committee will look into other areas, including fund requirements and collaboration with state governments, the regulator has suggested.

However, there’s a catch to this set of recommendations. As the issue was taken up suo-moto by TRAI, it needs to be seen whether MIB and DoT, for example, accept these recommendations of the regulator in any format at all as the two government organisations themselves are part of another panel looking into issues relating to PWDs vis-à-vis ICT services.

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