CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media Partners with America Online to Explore Ways to Make Interactive TV Accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired Audiences

February 22, 2001

Press release – February 21, 2001

Boston, MA– The Corporation for Public Broadcasting/WGBH National

Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) today announced the launch of an

innovative research partnership with America Online, Inc., a division

of AOL Time Warner Inc. and the world’s leading interactive services

company, to help make interactive television more accessible to people

with disabilities. Working through NCAM’s Access to Convergent Media

Project (ncam.wgbh.org/convergence), NCAM and AOL will use the AOLTV

service to explore how people who are blind or visually impaired can

effectively interact with interactive television set-top boxes and other

related technologies. Among other areas, the partnership will explore the

best ways to present information auditorally and integrate text-to-speech


“As technology advances beyond traditional passive television viewing into a

more robust and interactive experience, we must ensure that blind and

visually impaired audiences are not left behind,” said Tom Wlodkowski,

manager of NCAM’s Access to Convergent Media Project. “Our goal is finding

ways to enhance the graphics-rich interface of existing set-top devices to

allow blind and low-vision consumers to access the wealth of educational,

civic, commercial, and entertainment resources that are now, or will soon be


“We’re confident that this research will lead to the creation of

technological solutions that will improve the accessibility of all

interactive television devices while also helping to inform the industry at

large on this issue,” continued Wlodkowski. “NCAM plans to use the AOLTV

model to produce a comprehensive set of design guidelines that cable TV

providers, set-top box developers and manufacturers of over-the-air digital

television receivers can use to ensure their products and services are


“To realize the full potential of the interactive medium, we’re constantly

working to give consumers the tools they need to access and utilize its

remarkable benefits,” said Carlos Silva, Vice President of AOL Devices. “AOL

is committed to helping our blind and visually impaired members take full

advantage of our services and of the online and entertainment media, and

we’re pleased to be involved in this exciting partnership with NCAM to help

address the technological issues needed to do so.”

The NCAM/AOLTV partnership will focus its initial efforts on making the

electronic program guide (EPG) in interactive TV devices more accessible,

since the EPG plays an integral role in enabling consumers to access programs

and interactive services. Additionally, the majority of the solutions

required to make the EPG accessible – integration of text-to-speech – will

apply when a visually impaired user wants to access interactive content with

the set-top box. When interacting with the EPG, blind and visually impaired

users must be able to easily track available program and service options, and

access solutions must anticipate how these users can best interact with

graphic-rich user interfaces.

Added Wlodkowski, “With a concerted effort to develop solutions and a

willingness on the part of industry to implement solutions, people with

disabilities can join their family and friends in full access to the

Information Age. We’re pleased that AOL recognizes this need and has

committed to working with us to ensure next-generation set-top boxes are

usable by all viewers.”

Funding for NCAM’s Access to Convergent Media Project is provided by the

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S.

Department of Education. In addition to the partnership with AOLTV, the

project is working to influence appropriate industry standards to accommodate

delivery of EPG data via audio output. Project staff are closely following

the work of three industry groups – the Advanced Television Systems Committee

(ATSC), the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and

the OpenCable project.

AOLTV is a key component of the “AOL Anywhere”(sm) strategy of making its

industry-leading brands and features available to online consumers anywhere,

anytime through a range of devices beyond the PC. AOLTV makes the TV more

valuable by providing a consumer-driven experience where viewers watch

television using their existing signal, and choose from a range of additional

interactive features and content — including familiar AOL features such as

e-mail, instant messaging and chat, plus a Program Guide that makes finding

programs easier — provided through an easy-to-use set-top box and a wireless

keyboard or universal remote control.

Related NCAM Projects:

Uniquely positioned at the intersection of broadcast and cable television,

DTV, PC and Internet technologies, NCAM has developed a series of projects

with public- and private-sector funding which show that even the most complex

of media can be designed and proliferated in forms accessible to disabled

users. Two additional initiatives now underway at NCAM will inform the work

of the Access to Convergent Media Project, and will further partnerships with

industry and consumer leaders.

DTV Access Project

The main focus of the DTV Access Project is to encourage implementation of

advanced closed captioning and video description services in professional and

consumer digital television systems. Under a Department of Education research

grant, the Project has created test materials, authored standards and

guidelines and participated in FCC rulemakings in support of these services.

With funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Project also

assists the nation’s public television stations in maintaining and enhancing

captioning and description services as they transition from analog to digital

broadcast facilities.

Web Access Project

Since many of the interactive services available through a set-top box are

web-based, it is important to have effective standards in place that address

accessibility of web-based content. To this end, NCAM’s Web Access Project is

working with organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web

Accessibility Initiative, Apple’s QuickTime, Real Networks, the Massachusetts

Institute of Technology and others to develop methods for making Web-based

multimedia accessible. Originally launched with funds from the

Telecommunications Funding Partnership for People with Disabilities and the

U.S. Department of Commerce, this project continues with support from the

National Science Foundation, the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and

the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR),

U.S. Department of Education.

NCAM and its fellow access departments at WGBH (The Caption Center and

Descriptive Video Service®) make up the Media Access Group at WGBH. WGBH,

Boston’s public broadcaster, pioneered captioning and video description on

television, the Web and in movie theaters. NCAM is a founding member of the

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

NCAM works with standards bodies and industry to develop and implement open

technical standards for multimedia, advanced television, and convergent media

that ease implementation, foster growth and lay common groundwork for equal

access to new technologies. For more information visit the Media Access

Group’s Web site at access.wgbh.org.

Mary Watkins
Media Access Group at WGBH

617 300-3700 voice/fax, -2459 TTY


Debbie Fletter/America Online, Inc.