Guidelines for Digital TV equipment and services


These guidelines cover the universal design of television services, the consumer equipment needed to receive those services and the content of television programmes. They are aimed at broadcasters, consumer equipment manufacturers, programme makers and policy makers. They contain guidance on how to ensure that television services, equipment and programmes can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. The guidelines describe the required functionality without mandating particular implementations. They are therefore applicable to television services using a wide range of delivery methods, including broadcasts via terrestrial, cable or satellite systems, IP-based and video-on-demand services.

Aims and contexts of use

The guidelines are intended to provide a useful resource of practical information and guidance for anyone considering adopting a Universal Design approach for one or more of their products or services. Guidelines are stated in terms of required functional outcomes that describe what to achieve, rather than mandating ways of achieving it. Many of the guidelines include suggestions for specific implementation methods, but these should not be viewed as constraints. Any implementation that fulfils the functional requirements can be considered satisfactory.

In following these guidelines, broadcasters, manufacturers and programme makers should aim to do the best possible job within their own real world contexts. It is inevitable that maximising customer inclusion through Universal Design must be balanced alongside other considerations such as cost, feasibility, functionality, innovation and creativity. Universal Design is not necessarily in competition with any of these other considerations, however. It can be cost effective, innovative, creative and can result in significant improvements in the quality, capacity and appeal of products or services, making them suitable and usable for the widest audience.

The guidelines are organised into three main sections:

  • Consumer equipment: receiver functionality, on-screen user interfaces, remote controls and documentation;
  • Programme content: text on screen, language translation and content access services (subtitles, audio description and sign language interpreting);
  • Customer service: policies and procedures, communicating with customers, accessibility and customer information.

Primary sources of information used to compile these guidelines

These guidelines are largely the result of a compilation and restructuring of information contained in existing resources. The bibliography contains a listing of the of key publications referred to within the text or those that provided significant input into the content of these guidelines. Within each section, the main resources used are listed in the introduction.

There are often significant differences between the recommendations and evidence provided by different resources on similar issues. The selection of which resources to use as key information sources and the choice of which of their recommendations to include in these guidelines took into account:

  • Whether the recommendations were backed up by direct evidence from empirical user testing or user surveys.
  • The expertise and standing of those involved in the authorship and compilation of the resource.
  • The extent to which the resource and its recommendations have been adopted and referenced by others.
  • How up-to-date the resource is.

The classification of some of the individual recommendations as high priority was done by comparing the priority levels applied to each recommendation in different resources. Where there was general or majority agreement that a recommendation was high priority, this was adopted within these guidelines.

Finally, some recommendations and priority levels were altered as a result of feedback from an expert peer reviewer and comments received during the public consultation on the draft guidelines.

The complete process used for the compilation of these guidelines involved extensive stakeholder consultation and a survey of television users. This process is described in the section on
How these guidelines were developed.

About Universal Design of Television Services and Equipment

There is an extensive body of literature concerning user issues with television, television access requirements and universal design of digital products and services in general. Much of this is referenced in the bibliography provided with these guidelines. In addition to this existing knowledge, a survey of the needs and experiences of a wide range of television viewers was carried out to inform the development of these guidelines. An analysis of all of this work shows that there are three types of issues that arise for television viewers:

  • Complexity;
  • Physical and sensory abilities;
  • Language understanding.

Taken together, this makes up a very wide range of issues that are experienced by a large and diverse viewing population, including most viewers to some extent and at some times. A universal design approach will ensure that such matters are taken into account from the earliest stages of development so that equipment, instructions, and related services can be used and understood by everyone regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.


Issues around complexity, understanding and ease of use affect almost all types of viewers. They arise across all aspects of the customer experience, including consumer equipment (remote controls, Electronic Programming Guides etc), documentation and customer services.

The complexity of consumer equipment in particular poses significant difficulties for some viewers. In the survey of television viewers that was undertaken during the development of these guidelines, a majority of respondents across all categories reported significant issues with the use of menu-driven user interfaces, on-screen programme guides and remote controls. Some typical comments about the on-screen user interface were:

Difficult to use. They should provide a simple, user-friendly card with a synopsis of instructions.

It's good for me, but it changed recently and I don't like it as much. The guide isn't as clear as it used to be, when you scroll up and down the whole menu scrolls and I find it
disorientating. I preferred the old one which just let you move the arrow up and down on the screen.

These kinds of issues are particularly prevalent among the older population due to them having relatively less familiarity with digital technologies. The following comment from an older viewer is typical:

I find it difficult and am being told time and again that it's easy. Technical know how is very poor with our generation.

Remote controls can also be complex:

There are different buttons, you get confused with them. There’s different buttons for different things.

The buttons I can use, but if I have to do anything other than what I normally do, I can't do it. I use the basics. Each remote control is completely different. So I learn the basics of
them and leave the rest to other people.

Anything in excess of the functionality a user needs creates added complexity which makes even the needed functionality more difficult to use.



There is clearly a trade-off between functionality and complexity in the design of equipment, but for some users their equipment does not achieve the right balance for them. The equipment that is being described in these quotes generally provides a large number of very useful functions to meet the needs of a diverse audience. The skill of Universal Design is in presenting all this functionality in a way that is easy to understand and use and where individual users only have to deal with the level of complexity they need. In taking this approach, it is useful to ask two questions:

  • How can we provide all this functionality in the least complex way?
  • How can we make sure the more advanced functionality does not get in the way of the basic functionality?

It is not just the use of the equipment that can cause problems, but the installation and set-up too. This is where good documentation is vital. Even with good documentation which reduces the need for customer service intervention, some users will have to resort to requesting assistance. So good customer services are vital too. The following comments contrast the sorts of negative and positive experiences that customers can encounter:

Difficult to access specific information by phone. Marketing people do not understand the lack of knowledge of old people in the "press-button" age. Old people have poor skills in choosing in this digital age. Instructions too complicated. Lack clarity.

The engineer did everything. He also went through the remote control with me and explained how it worked.

Universal customer service should extend to all of the interactions the customer has with the service provider, including things like understandable billing:

So much information and detail it's hard to work out how much it actually costs.

Physical and sensory abilities

Many issues arise due to the needs and abilities of people not having been sufficiently addressed in the design of products and services. These issues particularly affect people with physical or sensory impairments – reduced vision, hearing, dexterity and mobility. These impairments are particularly prevalent among the older population.

Although not as prevalent as the issues around complexity and ease of use, these problems can be far more serious, resulting in some functionality being impossible for some people to use. Like complexity, all aspects of the television customer experience are affected, including the use of consumer equipment, reading and understanding documentation and accessing customer services.

Issues with consumer equipment relate mainly to remote controls and on-screen interfaces. Remote controls are often designed in a way that presents difficulties for people with reduced dexterity or grip, as illustrated by the following comments from the user survey:

Buttons too close together. Can press wrong function by accident.

Not easy - I use a wheelchair and I need to balance it on the arm of it.

- Guidelines survey respondents.

On-screen user interfaces can also present problems for people with vision impairments. For people who are blind, the interface is almost completely unusable unless it features spoken output. People with various forms of low vision also experience difficulties:

The colour of the full guide (blue on blue) can make it hard to read.

Could have better text size.



Figure 2. Even a mild vision impairment can make on-screen text difficult to read.

Getting a customer service which is responsive to their needs can be difficult for people with disabilities. One area that is often problematic is where the form of information and communications fails to take into account sensory impairments:

I indicated that I was deaf, and to text me. They called my phone several times trying to confirm the order!

(Person with a hearing impairment)

The following two comments, both from people with vision impairments, illustrate the differences between a customer service that is set up to deal with issues of disability and one that is not:

I found customer support quite helpful. I talked to the accessibility department who went through the process step by step to ensure that the issue was sorted.

Customer service are not equipped to deal with issues that fall outside of mainstream. They pass it on to managers who do not respond.

A Universal Design approach would seek to create experiences like the former, rather than the latter, by integrating disability understanding within the customer service function.

An area where Universal Design can greatly increase the understanding and enjoyment of television for people with sensory impairment is the provision of a content access services - subtitles, audio description and sign language interpreting. These services enhance or replace the audible or visual content that some viewers are unable to perceive fully. They are greatly appreciated by those who make use of them, as can be seen from the following comment about audio description:

I found it [audio description] absolutely brilliant.It's very effective when there are scenes with non dialogue and then we know what's happening on screen, otherwise we wouldn't.

But where content access services are not provided or are of poor quality, viewers may find the quality of television greatly reduced, even to the point of it being unwatchable:

The feature I least like about my TV is the poor subtitles.

I find the [record feature] very helpful but subtitles don’t be there when you tape.

Language understanding

Issues around the understanding of written or spoken language primarily affect people with low literacy and immigrants who are not fluent in the language of the country or region where they receive their television. In some regions, this constitutes a significant proportion of the viewing public. People with print disabilities, dyslexia, cognitive impairments or intellectual disabilities are also affected by difficulties with language understanding.

Difficulties may arise with all aspects of the customer experience, including customer services and documentation. Providers of products and services should take steps to become fully aware of how many of their customers or prospective customers are likely to experience language difficulties. In order to manage this issue, they should at least adopt a policy of making written information as easy to understand as possible, by following appropriate clear print and plain text guidelines. Beyond this simple measure, it is a case of offering translations where necessary and feasible.

If it was more plain English. Just ordinary words. You don’t have to have all the big words.

The most notable effect of language difficulties is in the understanding and enjoyment of programme content. The appropriate approach here is translation, using either interlingual subtitles, dubbing or lectoring, depending on the audience and what is standard practice in the region.

List of definitions and acronyms

Access service: See content access service.

Analogue television: System of broadcasting television signals where the audiovisual information is encoded as an amplitude- or frequency-modulated waveform. Used prior to digital television for terrestrial (airborne radio waves) and cable (electrical waves carried along a wire) television broadcasting.

ATSC: Advanced Television Systems Committee. A set of standards for digital television broadcasting developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee and used widely throughout North America and Korea.

Audio description: A narrative voiceover inserted between the dialogue and other sounds in a television programme to convey the information provided by visual content to viewers with vision impairments. Audio description may be delivered as open or closed.

Audio jack socket: Used here to refer to a 1/4", 3.5mm or 2.5mm TRS-type socket used for connecting a pair of headphones.

AV: Audiovisual.

BBC: British Broadcasting Corporation. The public service broadcaster in the United Kingdom.

Braille: System used to present text for blind readers in a tactile form, using characters composed of patterns of raised dots.

Captions: Term used in North America and Australasia for subtitles for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

CEN: Comité Européen de Normalisation. One of the three main European standards organizations.

CEUD: The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design.

Closed access service: A content access service delivered in such a way that individual viewers can activate or deactivate it at any time, according to personal preference.

Consumer equipment: The hardware and software used by television viewers to receive and watch television programmes. Includes televisions, receivers, set top boxes, remote controls and on-screen user interfaces. Also includes supplied documentation.

Content access service: An additional visual or audible component added to a television programme to aid understanding and enjoyment by people with sensory impairments or language difficulties. Includes subtitlesdubbingaudio description and sign language interpreting. Content access services may be open or closed.

Digital switchover: The replacement, within a country or region, of analogue televisionbroadcasting by digital television broadcasting.

Digital television: System of broadcasting television signals where the audiovisual information is encoded in a digital form. Used for terrestrial, cable and satellite television broadcasts.

Digital terrestrial television: System of broadcasting television signals using radio waves where the audiovisual information is encoded in a digital form. Uses fixed, ground-based transmitters to deliver the signal to aerials at the viewers’ locations.

Dubbing: The editing of the audio track of a television programme to replace voices in one language with voices in a different language.

DVB: Digital Video Broadcasting. A set of international standards for digital television broadcasting maintained by the DVB Project, an international industry consortium. Used widely throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.

DVB subtitles: Standard used for encoding closed subtitles within digital television broadcasts that use one of the DVB standards.

DVD: Digital Versatile Disk. Disk containing audiovisual content (television programmes, films, etc.) in an optically-encoded form.

Electronic Programme Guide: Textual on-screen listing of television programme schedules. May include facilities for setting up programme alerts or recording programmes.

EPG: See Electronic Programme Guide.

ETSI: European Telecommunications Standards Institute. One of the three main European standards organizations.

HDMI: High Definition Multimedia Interface. Standard for conveying high bandwidth digital audiovisual signals and Ethernet data along cables connecting items of consumer equipment, e.g. From a set top box to a television.

HR: Human Resources.

Interlingual subtitles: On-screen text included as subtitles within a programme to provide a translation from the language spoken or written in the programme to another language. Commonly used to translate imported foreign language programmes into the national language. Also used to translate programmes into the natural languages of different sections of the viewing population. Subtitles may be delivered as open or closed.

iOS: Mobile device operating system used in products from Apple Inc. (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch).

IP: Internet Protocol. The principal packet-switched general purpose data communications protocol used on the public Internet.

ISDB: Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting. A Japanese standard for digital television broadcasting used in Japan, Thailand and throughout South America.

IT: Information Technology.

Lectoring: A spoken narration over the existing audio of a television programme which is reduced in volume but can still be heard in the background. Sometimes used in preference todubbing, which is similar but completely replaces the original audio.

NDA: The National Disability Authority.

Open access service: A content access service delivered in such a way that all viewers receive it and individual viewers cannot activate or deactivate it.

Parental controls: Features that limit access to content, typically to allow parents to restrict and/or monitor the content their children can consume.

Personal Video Recorder (PVR): a device or software facility that allows consumers to record video content. PVRs can be standalone devices, such as hard disk recorders, or can be built into other digital television receivers, such as televisions and set top boxes.

Phono plug/socket: RCA-type plug and socket combination frequently used to convey analogue audiovisual signals along cables connecting items of consumer equipment, e.g. From a set top box to a television.

PIN number: Personal Identification Number. Security code used to identify an individual user.

Plain English: Writing style using short sentences and avoiding jargon or complicated words and phrases. To help readers, including those with lower literacy levels, to understand the text the first time they read it.

Programme guide: See Electronic Programme Guide.

PVR: See Personal Video Recorder.

QWERTY keyboard: Standard layout of the keyboards used in most typewriters, computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. To input English language text. So called because the top line of letters begins, from left to right, Q-W-E-R-T-Y.

Receiver: A piece of consumer equipment consisting of the hardware and software required to decode television signals and present television functionality to the viewer. May be contained within an integrated television or a separate set top box.

RGB: A visual signal separated into Red, Green and Blue components.

RNIB: The Royal National Institute of Blind People. Organisation representing and working for people with visual impairments in the United Kingdom.

RTÉ: Radio Telefis Éireann. The Irish national broadcasting organization.

SCART: A type of cable used to convey analogue audiovisual signals along cables connecting items of consumer equipment, e.g. From a set top box to a television.

Set top box: Used here to refer to a digital television receiver that can be used to receive a signal and convey it to a television or other display device.

Sign language interpreting: The presentation in a sign language of the programme audio (speech and other sounds) for viewers who are deaf and use sign language. Sign languages typically use hand shapes, movement, body language and facial expressions to convey meaning

Spoken subtitles: A spoken voice that reads aloud interlingual subtitles for viewers with vision or reading impairments. This can be either included with the programme or generated by the viewer’s receiver using speech synthesis.

Subtitles: Text included within a programme and displayed on screen, either to provide a translation from the language spoken or written in the programme to another language (interlingual subtitles), or to convey the information contained in the programme audio (speech and other important sounds) to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing (subtitles for people who are deaf or hard of hearing). Subtitles may be delivered as open or closed.

Text-to-speech: The computer-generated spoken output of text, for people with reading impairments.

TV: Television.

UK: The United Kingdom.

UN: The United Nations.

Universal Design: An approach to the design of products and services that ensures that they can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

User: The person who uses a product or service for its intended purpose.

User interface: The hardware and software controls and information presented by a product to the user, to allow them to operate its functions, provide inputs and understand it’s outputs.

User testing: Controlled testing of a product or service by representative users, in order to find user test how usable and accessible it is and what alterations could make it more usable or accessible.

Video description: Term used in North America to mean audio description of video content.

Sign language interpreting: The use of a sign language (one that uses hand shapes, movement, body language and facial expressions to convey meaning) to convey the information contained in the programme audio (speech and other important sounds) to viewers who are deaf.

VoiceOver: Text-to-speech interface provided with products from Apple Inc., such as the iPad and iPhone.