June 19, 2012

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Getting More From Television for Customers Who Are Blind or Have Vision Loss

Beginning next month, Time Warner Cable will be part of a national effort to make it easier for our customers who are among the 22 million Americans who are blind or have vision loss to enjoy television better. And you can help.

Starting July 1, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act requires cable operators, satellite companies and the like to provide at least 200 hours per year of programming with video descriptions of programs originated by the four major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox) and the top five Nielsen-rated cable networks (e.g., USA, Disney Channel, TNT, Nickelodeon and TBS). This works out to roughly 4 hours each week of prime-time and/or children’s programming (shows for kids 16 or younger).

The descriptions will let television viewers who are blind or have vision loss know what is happening on screen when characters are not speaking. They will be audible only to viewers who request them and they’ll be wedged in between moments when there is no dialogue on screen.

This link will show you an example of a video description, but be forewarned: the video autoplays and there are no volume controls: Sesame Street: Journey to Ernie excerpt

Highly rated cable networks that carry live or near-live programming in prime time, such as ESPN and Fox News, are exempted from this requirement. Original cable series as well as movies and off-network shows will have video descriptions. For example, USA has said series like Law & Order: SVU and Royal Pains will be described; Turner Broadcasting plans to describe The Closer on TNT and Tyler Perry comedies on TBS, among other shows. Disney Channel will describe the cartoon, Phineas & Ferb, and other shows, while Nickelodeon will describe Dora the Explorer as well as other series.

That same day, affiliates of the top four broadcast networks—ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox—located in the top 25 TV markets also will begin offering about four hour per week of video descriptions. By July 2015, the effort will be expanded to include the top 60 TV markets.

While some TV programs have aired with description, many more programs will now be available with description to help viewers with vision loss.

Every three years, the FCC, based on new ratings data, will update the list of cable networks required to provide descriptions. The first 3-year update will be July 1, 2015.

As you can imagine, letting people know about the availability of video description provided by the major programmers will be a significant undertaking.

There is currently no cohesive plan in place that tells the public what programs are available with video description by TV provider. We’d love to offer one up, but it’s up to programmers, not us.

If you know someone who could benefit from this information, please let them and their families know what will be available come July 1.

In addition, some of the larger programming networks are creating logos and audio tones to let people know that a particular show will be enhanced with video descriptions. The programming guide channel on your television may eventually provide that information next to the name of a show. The web sites of the various cable networks and the site of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will have links leading to information about video descriptions

At TWC, we are all about making television better. So we will work with program providers as they make information available and pass it on as quickly as we can to provide our customers with more details about the availability of video description. In addition, should you have questions, our Customer Service Representatives are always happy to help.


  1. Pat's reply

    I just have question— When will Time Warner support Kindle Fire. I would like to get HBO GO for it but can’t because they are not part of the system.

  2. Ron Goldberg's reply

    Now we need to follow up on my idea submitted and approved earlier for the Senio Advantage. We need to supply large print channel lineups and large print statements for our older and our visually impaired customers.

  3. GR's reply

    Time Warner Cable sends out large print channel line ups and large print bills as well as Braille bills.. just call to have your bill sent out that way

  4. Kathy Blackburn's reply

    What plan does the company have for making on-screen menus accessible to people who are blind. Do not assume that all blind people always have a sighted person around

  5. Sam Joehl's reply

    While I am not a TWC customer, I was hoping you would provide information about how TWC consumers can access the audio descriptions and what TWC is doing to make it possible for blind and visually impaired viewers to independently activate the video description. I was going to pass this information along to others in the blind community. I hope TWC will live up to its words of commitment by demonstrating that they are passing through the audio feed in all legally required markets and providing information and equipment to their constituents to access the descriptions. Customer service representatives at most cable providers have no knowledge or awareness of video description or the ability to resolve complaints of how to access it. Have all customer care representatives been trained on video description and resolving complaints? This is how TWC can truly demonstrate commitment to making their services enjoyable by all of their viewers.

  6. Jack's reply

    Thank you TWC,

    For expanding the use of caption-based technology for those who have vision and/or hearing impairments! Progress has been made with regards to the use of closed-captioning on the converter boxes. However, there are still some stations and older syndicated shows that do not use closed captioning.

    TWC can work with together with other providers to develop a system, with the goal of someday having closed captioning on all channels and boxes for everyone.

  7. Akilah Broadwater's reply

    I have a relative whose blind she wanted to access descriptive narrative through her cable provider non other than Time Warner. She called your company about the much needed service and she was told “Why should we? We don’t have to until 2015.” So I am asking you Time Warner to step up and be there to support your customers.

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