ARD, ZDF start new soccer service for the visually impaired

Visually impaired people no longer have to stay on the sidelines when they are watching a soccer game with their friends or family thanks to a new innovation devised by German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, writes Birgit Heidsiek. The exciting solution incorporates a full running radio commentary which is offered parallel to the television image, with the additional soundtrack able to be adjusted easily on the TV set.

The new service was offered the first time when the teams from Ireland and Germany kicked off their World Cup qualifier on 11 October. Looking ahead, from the World Cup 2014 in Brazil, ARD and ZDF are planning to offer the full running radio commentaries for television broadcast on a regular basis.

Lutz Marmor, chairman of the ARD, comments: “Soccer is all about emotions. Therefore I am delighted that people with and without visual impairments can witness together the emotional moments of soccer live on television. This is another important step towards accessibility.

The technical delay between the television image and the radio sound has been rescinded. Wolfgang Schmitz, deputy chairman of the ARD radio commission, remarks: “The possibilities that radio and TV provide are combined in a perfect way in order to create a new attractive programme offer for our spectators and listener.”

The radio report which is offered parallel to the television sound has to be activated with the remote control for the TV device. The audio description requires that the twin-channel is chosen in the the audio menu. In order to enjoy the radio report, the users need a digital receiver that enables the selection of single sound tracks. Since the broadcast happens in twin-channel sound system, viewers with an analogue connection can’t use this additional offer.

The spur to establish a separate radio soundtrack for visually impaired people for soccer games was given by the Bavarian association for the blind. The ZDF also plans to take over the full running radio commentaries by ARD radio for all its games involving the national soccer team. The new service for partially blind people will be offered from the beginning of the FIFA soccer world championship 2014 in Brazil, and after the qualification period for all World Cup matches with the German national soccer team, as well as for the all-or-nothing games from the beginning of the World Cup quarter final.

Major sports events such as the highlights of the soccer world championship are increasingly presented in the cinemas that also offer new technnologies to serve the needs of visually or hearing-impaired people.

“A potential new audience of 31 million people in Europe might be generated through the barrier-free cinema,” says Seneit Debese, head of the Berlin-based marketing agency Debese Film. Thanks to a smartphone app that has been developed in collaboration with Ericsson, blind and deaf people get the chance to understand a film via voice over and subtitles. The accessible cinema will become part of the new film law in Germany. From 2014 onwards, any film that receives public support has to come up with a version for visually or hearing-impaired cinemagoers.

“There are 30 million blind and 1.5 million hearing-impaired people in Europe who want to pursue their passion and consume the content that concerns them. That is a huge market,” concludes Debese.

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