TV accessibility has come a long way, but, as always, much remains to be done. What many people don’t realize is that accessibility benefits people with and without disabilities. It’s great for everyone.
For instance, folks like to watch videos on the go. They don’t necessarily want the sound on. Maybe they’re in a busy coffee shop, in bed, or on a plane. Enter captions and subtitles. These accessibility tools are widely available, although plenty of exceptions exist.
This guide outlines cable, satellite, and streaming TV accessibility. It covers companies such as DirecTV, Spectrum, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Last but not least, it touches on automated live captions to make ads, news, sports, and user-generated content more accessible.
Table of Contents
- Cox Cable
- AT&T TV
- Mobile Devices
- Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Other Streaming Services
- TV with and without Audio Description
- Live Caption for Ads, Facebook Live, YouTube, and Other User-Generated Streams/Video
Accessibility & Cable Providers
DirecTV is a direct broadcast satellite company and an AT&T subsidiary. Customers can watch TV live or on demand, and store more than 200 hours of TV. DirecTV’s accessibility features include these:
- Text to speech Talking Guide (also called screen reader/audio narration) that goes with textual menus and guides. It’s geared toward people who are blind or who have vision issues. They can more easily skim content and channel surf. They can also set the guide’s speaking rate/speed
- Check DirecTV support for info on enabling Talking Guide
- One way to enable is through the Genie/Genie DVR remote control, which has raised triangles and other navigational aids
- Closed captions for programming
- Enable by pressing “INFO” on the remote, scrolling to “CC,” and pressing, “SELECT”
- Can set font size, color, and captions’ background color through “Menu,” “Settings,” “Accessibility,” and “Select.”
Spectrum offers cable TV, internet, and phone service. Its TV accessibility options include audio description and closed captioning for more than 400 movies or shows.
- Spectrum Guide has guide narration for audible TV experiences
- Secondary audio programming/descriptive video service (VDS) is available to describe pauses in action, costume changes, facial expressions, and more
- Go to “Accessibility” setting in menu to enable Guide Narration, secondary audio programming, and more
- Option to swap standard remote for a large-button remote with five regions
- VoiceOver narration on Apple TV
- Can use various platforms’ accessibility options, whether they’re Spectrum TV or the app, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.
- Spectrum Access app for mobile devices offers audio description and captions for 400+ movies and shows
*** Of special note, the free Spectrum Access app is open to anyone. It offers audio description and closed captioning for more than 400 movies and shows. You do not have to be a Spectrum member but need a streaming service such as Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime if that’s the case. The audio description matches the movie, no matter which point you start from.
- Various options for closed captioning
- Remote has CC button; can also change settings through TV settings menu
- Apple TV CC/subtitle options include font, size, background color, opacity, and others
Cox offers TV and streaming, internet, smart home and security, and home phone service. Cox TV options include live TV, sports, on demand, streaming, and music channels.
- Big button remote with larger type and other features
- Voice guidance that narrates program descriptions, navigation options, and other onscreen items, available to users with Contour 2 TVs
- Contour voice remote with voice control; say phrases such as, “watch NBC,” “Which basketball games are on?” and “Turn on closed captioning”
- Accessible navigation equipment to replace video receiver (must apply)
- Say, “Video Description,” into voice remote to find movies and shows with audio narration
- Secondary audio programming available
- Can turn on closed captions by saying “Closed captions,” into the voice remote or manually change settings with the remote
Other Accessibility Features
- Accessible, free web remote that lets users navigate Cox’s Contour 2 menu, change channels, search programming, set recordings, and more
- Eye gaze software, switch controllers, sip and puff among the options available
- Specialized Accessibility Support for customers who use accessibility features (call 1-888-266-1304)
XFinity is the trade name for Comcast Cable, which explains “Xfinity by Comcast,” “Comcast Xfinity,” and other similar phrases. XFinity TV offers live and on-demand programming.
- Voice remote with voice control key
- Say “accessibility” or “accessibility tips” to get settings, options, and more
- Turn various options on and off by saying, “captions,” “description,” “voice guidance,” and other terms
- Say, “described shows,” for descriptions of On Demand and Netflix content and to find content with secondary audio tracks
- Closed captioning with enhancements available for font size, opacity, and so on
- ASL support team with agents who use ASL
Other Accessibility Features
- Xfinity X1 Web Remote works with assistive devices for sip and puff, screen reading, eye tracking devices, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and more
- Specialized accessibility support and accessibility knowledge base
- Press the “B” button with your voice remote or say, “accessibility,” for support, settings, tips, etc., all in one spot.
The XFinity website has more information on accessibility.
AT&T TV offers live and on-demand TV, cloud DVR storage (for an extra fee), and access to more than 7,000 apps. It’s similar to the satellite TV provider DirecTV, another AT&T company.
- VoiceView and TalkBack for onscreen text to be narrated
- Voice Guide
- Descriptive video service/audio descriptionfor some programs
- Voice remote with Google Assistant, say phrases such as, “Find reality TV,” or, “Change the channel to CNN”
- Closed captions, including on the web and app (can also turn TV captions on/off through voice remote commands)
RCN offers digital TV, internet, and phone services in areas such as Boston, Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. TiVo is an integral part of the TV service and offers most of RCN’s TV accessibility. So, what is TiVo? Basically, it’s a digital video recorder that features an on-screen guide of broadcast programming. Viewers can watch television live too, and watch on-demand content from streaming services
- Many customers use TiVo boxes with features such as screen readers, video description, and voice control with the remote
- Voice remote for TiVo menus that enables customers to use their voice to schedule recordings, search for shows, go to a specific channel, launch apps, and more (“watch ABC,” “best comedies from the ‘90s,” “Denzel Washington movies,” “fast forward ten minutes,” “when are the Seahawks playing?”)
- Secondary audio description available on some programs
- Many customers use TiVo boxes with closed captioning and customization choices
- No closed caption capability with some standard definition boxes in the DC metro area, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania
TV and Streaming Accessibility on Mobile Devices
If you watch TV on tablets and smartphones, these devices offer built-in features for accessibility. For example:
- Apple iOS 14 devices offer VoiceOver with Direct Touch
- Apple tvOS and iOS devices have the Siri smart assistant, VoiceOver, and Magnifier
- Android phones and tablets have Talkback
- Amazon FireTV has VoiceView
- Zoom, magnifier, and font size tools in device accessibility menus
Generally, you turn on closed captioning/subtitles in the device settings, the TV apps themselves. or a specific show or movie.
Accessibility on Streaming Services Such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and More
Netflix is a streaming service that lets members watch TV shows and movies without ads. Users can also download some content to their devices and watch without an internet connection.
- Screen readers on Apple TV, Apple devices, Windows computers, set-top boxes, and more
- Voice commands/voice-activated controls used with smart assistants and voice-activated devices. Add “on Netflix” to the end of your request to maximize the chances of success (“Show me movies with Tom Hanks on Netflix,” “Play Back to the Future on Netflix”)
- Listen to content with hearing aids, headsets, headphones, neck loops, and other assistive listening devices
- Audio description on large store of shows and movies
- Increase or decrease screen brightness on mobile devices
- Font size controls for the Netflix app through device accessibility settings
- Keyboard shortcuts for easier navigation
- Playback speed controls
- Subtitles and closed captions on most content with customization options, some with Spanish subtitles
The Walt Disney Company has three main streaming platforms in the United States. One is Hulu. The other two are Disney+ and ESPN+. Hulu offers pricing plans with and without ads, and with options for live TV. It features movies and TV shows, including current episodes.
- Audio description on some shows and movies across various devices
- Keyboard shortcuts such as Tab in lieu of mice and other input devices
- Screen readers such as JAWs on PCs and Macs, VoiceOver on Apple devices, TalkBack on Android devices
- Voice commands with Alexa and Google devices
- Captions and subtitles on the vast majority of content, some with Spanish subtitles, plenty of customization and formatting available across various devices
- Many ads/commercials are not captioned
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime members have access to Prime Video streaming. For a separate charge, other movies and TV episodes are available for all Amazon customers, whether or not they subscribe to Prime.
- Alternative audio tracks or audio descriptions on many shows and movies across various devices
- Keyboard shortcuts for web browsers
- Amazon Fire tablet accessibility features such as VoiceView screen reader and font size; accessibility features on many other mobile devices, too
- Subtitles and captions on most content across various devices
A Disney+ subscription gets you ad-free content from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic, among other offerings.
- Audio descriptions on some content
- Text to speech for navigating the interface, available on all devices except PlayStation
- Purposeful Disney+ design with color contrast
- Keyboard navigation (or other input device navigation) on desktops and web browsers
- Responsive design for touch controls, including zoom
- Closed captioning or subtitles on everything, with rare exceptions
Check out Disney+’s accessibility page for more details.
HBO Max bundles HBO content along with content from WarnerMedia brands.
- Audio description on some content on phones, computers, and some TV devices (as of May 2021, these TV devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, and Xfinity and Cox devices)
- Screen readers TalkBack (on Android devices, some support on Android and Apple TV), VoiceOver (on iPhone, iPad,and Mac, some support on Apple TV), NVDA (on Windows PC), ChromeVox (on Chromebook), VoiceView (some support on Amazon Fire TV), Talkback (some support on AT&T TV device), Audio Guide (some support on Roku), and Voice Guidance (some support on Samsung Tizen and Xfinity X1 and Flex)
- Keyboard playback controls
- Voice commands on Fire TV
- Siri dictation on Apple TV
- Closed captions on most shows and movies
Check out HBO Max’s accessibility page for more details.
ESPN+ and FuboTV
ESPN+ offers streaming of many live games plus some original content. Users can get it even if they don’t have ESPN, but ESPN and ESPN+ are not the same.
ESPN+ live games come with commercials, similar to live TV. ESPN+ does not include live games for the NBA or NFL, but it does for MLS, NHL, MLB, PGA, UFC, tennis, college football, and international soccer.
- Closed captions generally available on the wide range of devices ESPN+ is on. Because much of ESPN+’s content is live TV, the quality and accuracy of the captioning may not be as good as it is for other types of content. Send captioning inquiries or complaints to customer service.
- Look into Live Caption in Chrome when captioning isn’t available
- Limited or no content with audio description (similar to ESPN, which has a FCC exemption along with CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC)
FuboTV’s story is similar since the platform offers sports-focused live streaming. Captions are available as long as the program has them but they might not be the most accurate. Audio description is limited or not available.
As a cable TV alternative, Sling TV offers budget live TV streaming and 50 hours of free DVR storage a month. It includes a wide mix of entertainment, news, and sports, and on-demand content.
- Closed captions and customization by content type and device (captions troubleshooting assistance available)
- Audio description available if the show or movie has it
Crackle offers free streaming (and lots of ads!). It’s available on a wide range of devices.
- Captions with customizations available for many pieces of content
- Limited or no audio description
TV with and without Audio Description
Audio description is not as common as closed captioning. It’s frustrating to wade through lots of websites and content to find programming with AD. Luckily, the American Council of the Blind has the scoop from just one website. No need to navigate tons of screens to find what you’re looking for.
Services and Channels with AD
Note: AD isn’t available on all content offered by the services listed below, but some programming supports it.
- Apple TV
- AT&T TV
- HBO Max
- IMDb TV
- PBS Video
- Prime Video
- YouTube TV
Services and Channels without AD (Or Unclear Availability)
- AMC On Demand
- Comcast Choice
- Fox Now
- Means TV
- Pluto TV
- Roku Channel
- Showtime Shudder
- Sling TV
- Spectrum TV Choice
- Toon Goggles
- YouTube Premium
The Audio Description Project, American Council of the Blind
Learn where audio descriptions are available.
- By service or company (at the top of the page)
- Master list
- TV shows
- Movies in theaters
Live Caption for Ads, Programming without Captions, and User-Generated Streams/Video
The more things change, the more they stay the same. For a long time, TV, with its lack of captioning, was inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. That began to change in earnest on July 1, 1993, with a law mandating TVs 13 inches and wider sold in the United States have the necessary decoder technology. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act required that digital television receivers contain caption-decoding technology. In 2010, caption accessibility expanded to include TV programs re-aired online, among other things. Accessibility has increased a bit since then.
Does that mean folks can turn on their TV, laptop, or smartphone, cue up a show or video, and never worry about whether it’s captioned and legible? Not always. We’ve already touched on quality and accuracy issues with live sports programming. They occur with live news, too, particularly local news. Debates, too, can be difficult to caption. Ads, particularly online or on streaming services, often aren’t captioned, either.
Then there is user-generated content popular on YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms. Some creators subtitle their programs, but many do not. Viewers have options now to make this type of programming accessible along with ads and live TV.
Live Caption on Chrome
If you watch TV or user-generated video on a computer or mobile device, try Live Caption on Chrome. It’s under Settings, Advanced, Accessibility. Customization of captions is available, too.
The captioning is automated and isn’t perfect. The speech recognition goes off track sometimes, but Live Caption brings accessibility to a higher level.
Live Caption on Select Android Devices
A similar option on Android devices is Live Caption. As of May 2021, it’s available only on Pixel 2 or later phones, and a few other devices. Captions work for video, podcasts, and even audio calls with one other person. Not music, though.
You access Live Caption through the volume buttons, and can customize the settings to show profanity (or not), sound labels such as laughter or applause, and more. Customization for color and other options is available, too.
Guide for TV Accessibility for People with Disabilities
Companies such as DirecTV, Cox Cable, XFinity, Netflix, and Disney+ have made their programming more accessible, although it is not 100%. You can find captions or subtitles on most everything, and alternative input, voice remotes, screen readers, and audio description may be available.