The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and leading digital technology companies are developing the world's first 'talking' TV technology, destined to reach the market later this year.
On-screen text such as TV programme guides, digital displays and menus are set to be brought to life with the power of speech thanks to the new "talking" chipset. It is hoped it will be adapted across the consumer technology market, offering real benefits to millions of people with sight problems around the world.
The breakthrough has the backing of a consortium of companies including Ocean Blue Software, ST Microelectronics and TW Electronics, and has also received the support of Digital Technology Advisory LTD.
With the digital switchover upon us, this new chipset technology can be utilised to deliver accessibility benefits to both those with sight problems and sighted people. It is compatible with consumer products, such as televisions, that have screen-based menu systems and converts on-screen text into speech output.
Consumers will be able to easily control the way the audio information is spoken to them, with the ability to change the level of speech and language offering global appeal.
Enabling people to interact in a meaningful way with electronic products will significantly help those with certain disabilities as Steve Tyler, the RNIB's head of innovation & disability access services is keen to highlight: "We are really excited by this development as it has the potential to significantly improve the lives of nearly eight million people in the UK alone. These include the blind, visually impaired, deaf, severely dyslexic and the elderly who can all benefit from this advance in technology."
This view is shared by Ken Helps, managing director of Ocean Blue Software. He said: "Digital technology is moving so fast and we are operating in an incredibly competitive environment. There is increasing pressure on manufacturers to deliver products at the lowest cost resulting in minimal specification and no consideration for accessibility. It is extremely gratifying that this ground-breaking project has been achieved through a close and effective working relationship with the RNIB and Ocean Blue is proud of its involvement and contribution."
A great deal of exploration and research has taken place to ensure that users of the product can easily adapt it to suit their individual needs. The user interface includes multiple, high-contrast colour schemes, variable sized fonts and extensive help features. All of this can be controlled using a remote control console designed by RNIB working with TW Electronics, with ease of use in mind.
The interface will provide an overall better user experience and independent research already suggests that its features will undoubtedly have a mass-market appeal.
The RNIB is also investigating how talking technology can be integrated into other screen-based technologies including DAB digital radios.