Customers Who are Blind Will Notice Many New Features, With More on the Horizon
March 26, 2021 – Advocates for people who are blind applaud WarnerMedia’s first delivery date of significant upgrades in the landmark agreement signed last October by WarnerMedia; the American Council of the Blind (ACB); the Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB); and individual claimants Kim and Brian Charlson. These blind individuals and advocacy organizations were represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center, and Disability Law Center, the Protection & Advocacy agency for Massachusetts.
WarnerMedia has pledged to increase the accessibility of HBO Max, and in the first phase of delivering on that promise, the streaming platform rolls out major enhancements this week, including:
- Nearly 1,500 hours of audio described content on Web and Mobile platforms including select HBO originals, Max Originals, Warner Bros films, and some acquired content. Audio description is a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen. For more on audio description, visit ACB’s Audio Description Project.
- An Audio Description category will be prominently featured in the navigation menu. This prominent browse location will also increase awareness about the importance of audio description and accessibility.
- Improvements to the accessibility of the HBO Max website and mobile applications for individuals who are blind or have low vision and use screen reader software to navigate and interact with digital content. Screen reader software enables people who are blind or have low vision to access online services by rendering the content displayed visually on the screen as large print, synthetic text-to-speech, or as digital braille on a braille display. Programming for compatibility with these types of assistive technologies is something website and app developers need to keep in mind.
- Addition of articles to the HBO Max help site specifically supporting customers with disabilities, including detailed instructions on how to perform certain tasks that may be unclear for some users.
- Training for HBO Max customer service specialists to help them better support customers with disabilities, including sensitivity training and training on assistive technology.
Providing 1,500 hours of audio described content is a major commitment to access for WarnerMedia. Select programming released in the launch with audio description includes His Dark Materials, Genera+ion, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Dunkirk, Euphoria, Love Life, Sesame Street and many more titles.
WarnerMedia will continue building on these improvements in the months and years to come. Later this year, HBO Max plans to make audio description available across all supported Internet-connected TVs. Furthermore, audio description is now being created for all new HBO and Max Original programming, and customers can expect 3,000 hours of described content to be available by the end of March 2022, doubling again to at least 6,000 hours in total by the end of March 2023.
In addition, over the next few months, accessibility of the HBO Max website, mobile apps, and applications for supported Internet-connected TVs will continue to be improved for individuals who are blind or have low vision and use screen reader software to navigate and interact with digital content. While screen reader users may still experience difficulties with setting up an account following this week’s updates, those problems should be resolved in coming months.
Dan Spoone, President of the American Council of the Blind, commented, “This process has been extremely positive, and will open many doors for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to both enjoy what HBO Max has to offer in terms of entertainment and education, while also allowing our community to share equally with family and friends in the truly universal pastime of viewing television and movies. By working together to bring thousands of additional hours of audio description content to HBO Max, along with the improved accessibility of the website, mobile apps, and smart TV interfaces, WarnerMedia and blind advocates are providing meaningful access to a significant aspect of our modern-day world.”
“At HBO Max, our goal is to let storytelling take center stage, and for each and every subscriber to be able to enjoy world-class content, regardless of how they access the platform,” said Sarah Lyons, Executive Vice President, Direct-to-Consumer Global Product Management. “This month’s initial accessibility improvements are only the first of many steps we plan on taking to improve the experience for all users. We encourage continual consumer feedback, as it is critical to evolving the product and supporting all of our valued customers.”
Staff Attorney Meredith Weaver of Disability Rights Advocates said, “We are excited to see the fruits of WarnerMedia’s investment in accessibility over the last year and are encouraged by their demonstrated commitment to creating an exceptional experience for all customers.”
Tatum A. Pritchard of the Disability Law Center, said, “WarnerMedia’s commitment to these improvements is a welcome and significant step towards greater accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired to streaming content that serves as an important source of both entertainment and information for our society.”
Blindness community members are encouraged to reach out to HBO Max customer service representatives with feedback and questions. The HBO Max Help Center has been made accessible and all feedback about audio description and screen reader access will make its way to HBO Max’s accessibility team to guide them in prioritizing their work.
Meredith Weaver, Staff Attorney, Disability Rights Advocates: 510-665-8644, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tatum A. Pritchard, Director of Litigation, Disability Law Center: 617-723-8455,
Kim Charlson, Immediate Past President, American Council of the Blind: 617-501-5752, email@example.com
About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
DRA is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. To advance that mission, DRA regularly advocates for greater access to modern technology. DRA has negotiated access improvements to several types of popular technologies including Redbox self-service video rental kiosks. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.
About Disability Law Center (DLC)
DLC is the federally designated Protection and Advocacy agency for Massachusetts responsible for providing legal advocacy to protect and promote the rights and interests of Commonwealth residents with disabilities. DLC has worked with Bay State Council of the Blind to address accessibility barriers in important spheres of community life, including matters concerning banking services and voting processes. For more information, visit www.dlc-ma.org.
About American Council of the Blind (ACB)
ACB is a leading national voice advocating for the expansion of audio description. ACB works to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life, for all people who are blind or visually impaired. ACB advocates for policies that provide services, opportunities, infrastructure, and equipment that are necessary for an inclusive society, in federal, state, and local governments, and among service providers and industry. For more information, visit www.acb.org.
About Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB)
BSCB is a membership organization of blind, visually impaired, and sighted individuals committed to an enhanced quality of life for Massachusetts’ residents who are blind or visually impaired. BSCB convenes meetings and conferences, organizes recreation activities, provides publications, radio programs, and information, and advocates for services and legislation that improve access for people who are blind. For more information, visit www.acbofma.org.