Access services at the BBC

The BBC is funded by and established to serve, all licence fee payers. That means producing public service content that appeals to the breadth of the UK public, and distributing programmes and services in a way which makes them accessible to the maximum number of licence fee payers.

Throughout its history, the BBC has pioneered technological innovation. From early experiments with closed subtitling and audio description to the breakthrough technology of the K-LIVE re-speaking live subtitling system, the BBC’s R&D teams have lead the field in finding ways to make the BBC’s content more accessible to audiences with special needs.

The BBC is regulated in its delivery of Access Services by Ofcom and we follow their Code on Television Access Service. We report on our performance in the BBC Annual report, and you can see how our delivery compares with other broadcasters in Ofcom’s annual Access Services Reports.

The BBC is currently supported in its delivery of Access Services for its public service television channels by Ericsson Broadcast and Media Services.

Access services at the BBC

Subtitles

Subtitles provide a transcript of the television soundtrack, helping deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to follow programmes.

Since 2008 the BBC has provided subtitles on 100% of its programme content broadcast on BBC One, BBC Two - including national and regional variants - BBC Four, BBC News, CBBC and CBeebies and continues to provide subtitles on 100% of BBC Three online long-form programming.

BBC technologists have played a key role in developing the technical standards for subtitling over many years. In 1979, a documentary about deaf children called Quietly In Switzerland became the first BBC programme to carry subtitles using the brand new Ceefax technology. Within a few years, landmark programmes such as The Living Planet were being made accessible to wider audiences using this important new service.

Blue Peter was the first live programme to carry subtitles in 1986 and subtitling of news programmes followed in 1990. The equipment used for this was specially developed for live subtitling - the first in a succession of technological advances designed to tackle the enormous difficulties of making live programmes accessible.

A diverse range of subtitled video content is available on BBC online and most of the programmes on BBC iPlayer have the option to turn subtitles on. In addition, web-only video for a number of programmes and services have subtitles included.

You can find schedules of BBC programmes by using our programmes website, digital text pages or listings magazines such as Radio Times.

Audio description

In 2000 the BBC began to provide audio description for blind and partially sighted viewers. Audio description makes television services more accessible to blind and visually impaired people by explaining what is happening on screen using the gaps in dialogue. This helps viewers with visual impairments to follow what is going on. Audio description of changes of location, actions, facial expressions, gestures and so on give the context and set the scene. 

Audio Description is available on 20% of our programmes on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four, CBBC and CBeebies and longform programmes on BBC Three.

Audio description is a free service and is available on digital TV on Freeview (with a suitable set-top box or digital TV), Sky and Freesat from Sky satellite, and Virgin Media cable. It is also available on BBC iPlayer. BBC iPlayer was the first on-demand player in the world to provide audio description services in 2009, developing wholly new technology. Audio description is available online and on many ‘on demand’ services and is being continually rolled out across more platforms and devices.

You can find schedules of BBC programmes that include audio description by using our programmes website, digital text pages or listings magazines such as Radio Times. For details of how to get audio description, go to Help receiving BBC TV and radio or the RNIB audio description website.

Signing

In 2000 the BBC started to provide interpretation in British Sign Language for some of its programmes. The service has expanded to provide in-vision Signing on 5% of our channel output. In January 2014 the BBC extended its provision of live signing on the BBC News channel to 7 days a week including all bank holidays.

See Hear the BBC’s weekly magazine programme for deaf and hard-of-hearing people was launched in 1981. One of the longest running series on the BBC it presented in BSL, with a voiceover and subtitles throughout.

You can find details of BBC programmes with signing by using our programmes website, digital text pages or listings magazines such as Radio Times.