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E-scooters, audio description and gaming

Rental e-scooters are now legal on the roads. What are the hazards for blind and visually impaired people and what can be done about it?

The government has begun a trial of rental e-scooter schemes and any local authority can apply. What are the concerns for blind and visually impaired people and can anything be done about it? We speak to David Davies from Pacts, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, a charity which advises parliament on road safety issues.

The charity Scope has done some research on which streaming platforms are the best when it comes to audio description. Why don't they all provide the same accessibility?

And we speak to two blind gamers about the release of The Last of Us Part 2. It's been hailed as a game changer as it has sixty accessibility settings and a host of features which mean you can play it without seeing it. Steve Saylor and Sightless Kombat give us their reviews.

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Louise Clarke-Rowbotham

Available now

19 minutes

In Touch Transcript - 07.07.20

Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4

 

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

 

 

IN TOUCH – E-scooters, audio description and gaming

 

TX:  07.07.20  2040-2100

 

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

 

PRODUCER:            LOUISE CLARKE-ROWBOTHAM

 

 

 

White

Good evening.  Tonight, in the world of entertainment who’s including visually impaired people and who’s leaving us out?  Well, it seems, it’s a thumbs down for some streaming services.

 

Clip

And when you kind of think – oh, well, that TV show is really popular at the minute and then you’re kind of like – oh, well, I can’t watch it because it doesn’t have audio description.

 

White

But a thumbs up for the latest computer game craze.

 

Clip

I’ve just managed to get so far with it, just because of all these accessibility options that have been packed into one game.

 

White

We’ve been hearing from two gamers about the release of The last of us 2.  And if you don’t know what that is, well, you’ll find out soon.

 

But before all that…

 

E-scooter sounds

 

…that’s the sound of the E-scooter – a bit like a skateboard, which you can power with your trailing foot and which can achieve speeds of up to 30 miles an hour.  Well, its arrival is imminent, like it or not, and it seems like a lot of blind and partially sighted people don’t like it.  The government sees it as a cheap relatively green solution to getting people out of their cars and taking pressure off public transport.  Visual impairment organisations, like the National Federation of the Blind, see it as potentially dangerous, a trip hazard when they’re dumped on the pavement and difficult to hear approaching.  But they are now legal on roads and any local authority can apply to be part of a year long trial, with Tees Valley and Middlesbrough looking most likely to be the first.

 

I’ve been talking to David Davies, he’s from Pacts, that’s the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, that’s a charity which advises parliament on road safety issues.  I suggested to him these trials have been brought forward by a year, what did he feel about the level of consultation – had there been enough?

 

Davies

No, there hasn’t been enough.  We’re disappointed that it’s been rushed through on a very limited consultation, which hasn’t been published and the full consultation, in fact, only closed on Friday.  The government has said that’s partly in response to the Covid-19 crisis and the need to give people other opportunities to travel.  And I do accept that we are in very strange times but we are still concerned about this being rushed through.

 

White

So, what are your main concerns about the E-scooter?

 

Davies

There are some very nasty casualties resulting from people falling from E-scooters, occasionally being hit by traffic.  But I think our bigger concern, in many ways, is the impact this might have on walking and on pedestrians, particularly on the visually impaired.  The risks are that people will use them on the pavements and of course, when they’re finished with, the so-called floating or dockless schemes, people leave them lying all over the pavements, so they’re a trip hazard and we have concerns about that, as I say, particularly, for visually impaired people.

 

White

We’d better make it clear, at the moment you can only have rented E-scooters on the road, that’s true isn’t it?

 

Davies

That’s what the government is proposing, absolutely, but we are concerned that all those people who have bought their own scooters will take this as a green light to use them and we know, from the police, that they’re going to be in a very difficult situation and find it very difficult to distinguish between rental schemes and private use.

 

White

And what about the issue of how – the kind of noise they make?  I mean we hear the noise there but I know some people are worried and, of course, quite a lot of visually impaired people have hearing problems as well.

 

Davies

Well, that is an additional problem.  As I say, no one’s suggesting they should be authorised for use on the pavement in the UK but that will almost certainly happen, to some extent.  Interestingly, one of the main providers – one of the main selling companies – of E-scooters is recommending that they should be fitted with bells, so that might help.

 

White

And the issue of dumping – because these dockless bikes, for example, they cause problems.  Again, do we know what the evidence is?  I know in Germany, for instance, that’s regarded as quite a problem by blind organisations there.

 

Davies

I think it is.  I was in Stockholm in February and they were littering the pavements, the pedestrian areas, over there.  It’s an issue in Brussels, I’ve seen it there in Brussels too.  And councils in this country have struggled already to cope with the dockless bike schemes and we’re not convinced that codes of conduct and so forth will crack it.

 

White

The trials are starting, some may be even this week, is this, as far as the government is concerned, a done deal, do you think?

 

Davies

We accept it’s going ahead now and so we’re trying to establish safe procedures and monitor what’s happening properly because we would like the councils, if they’re going to go ahead, to fully inform themselves about the risks and the benefits; to choose schemes where the scooters are returned to docking stations and not so-called dockless schemes which block the pavement; we’d like them to insist on scooters which are not the full speed or weight or power which the government is permitting;  we’d like them to publish clear plans on how scooter use on the pavement is going to be prevented and they also need to provide means for everybody, including visually impaired people, to report what is happening as it’s going.

 

White

David Davies. 

 

We’d like your comments please, especially if you’ve had direct experience of them, perhaps elsewhere.

 

Now, audio description – that’s the technique of explaining during the quiet bits what’s happening in a film or a TV documentary – has been with us for well over 30 years.  But the charity Scope says that increasingly popular streaming and catchup services are often ignoring the needs of visually impaired subscribers, with a very patchy audio description service.  Scope has done their own survey and we’ll be hearing about that in a moment but first, Holly Tuke explained how she uses streaming services and the frustrations over audio description.

 

Tuke

So, on many TV shows and films there just isn’t any audio description available, meaning that blind and visually impaired people, like myself, miss out on some of the most popular TV shows that we really want to watch.  So, for example, I wanted to watch Normal People and I couldn’t do that at the time because on the Catchup service there was only a few episodes with audio description and a couple actually didn’t.  So, at the time of – when everyone else was wanting to watch it and there was all the hype around it – I kind of missed out on that because I was like – well, if I watch so many episodes and then I’m going to get to the couple of episodes that don’t have the audio description and it just left me feeling a bit frustrated.

 

White

And you use the phrase “like everybody else does”, just explain what the – you know, the significance of that.

 

Tuke

We want to experience the same things as non-disabled people and we want to be treated equally and feel I included, just like sighted people and the rest of society.  So, I think the kind of phrase “like everyone else” really highlights the importance of inclusion and equality.

 

White

Because half the fun of these things are of talking to people about them when they’re all the rage, isn’t it?

 

Tuke

Yeah, so, TV shows and films are definitely a big part of everyone’s life, whether you watch a little bit of TV or whether you binge watch TV, we all watch it at some point.  And it’s a discussion that we might have with our friends or family.  And when you think – oh well, that TV show is really popular at the minute and then you’re kind of like – oh well, I can’t watch it because it doesn’t have audio description or I can watch it but I may be missed out on that thing you’re talking about because the show didn’t have audio description.

 

White

What would you like to see done?

 

Tuke

I’d really like companies to prioritise accessibility.  So, I would like them to see that accessibility is a priority rather than an afterthought.  And I’d like everything, hopefully, to be audio described, not just a small percentage of it.

 

White

Holly Tuke.

 

Well, Kristina Barrick is Head of Digital Influencing for Scope.

 

Kristina, tell us about your survey and what it actually found.

 

Barrick

I run a programme at Scope called the Big Hack, about how accessible the online world is but there was a really common theme coming out which was around streaming platforms.  So, we thought let’s do a lot of research into this and find out what’s going on.  So, what we found is that 80% of people who did the survey had experienced issues using streaming services.

 

White

So, who have done well and who have done less well?  And, of course, we’re particularly interested, on In Touch, on the issue of audio description, as Holly explained.

 

Barrick

Yeah, so, this was really interesting.  So, what we found was that the main broadcasters that we have in the UK did really well, they were in the top five and that’s probably because they’ve been under Ofcom regulations for so long.  So, they just transferred the knowledge they already had on to their online streaming platforms.  We also found that Disney plus did the best.  I mean they’re brand new, they weren’t dealing with any legacy systems, so, they really designed it from the bottom up with accessibility in mind and that was really impressive but also shows that if you’re starting from scratch it’s easier to do.

 

So, we did find that the more recent, more new, disruptive brands came in quite lower down.  So, essentially, they haven’t thought about accessibility.  A lot of them came quite low down in the league table because they just failed to give us their data.

 

White

Some of the failures that Holly talked about are really strange.  I mean why would a platform have some episodes of a show and not others?

 

Barrick

Yeah, I don’t think that’s – I doubt very much that that’s done on purpose, to be honest that came from the BBC and they are – we know that they’re very good at accessibility.  I reckon they just made a mistake there and apparently, they’ve put it back on now, so, that’s good.

 

White

So, what kind of reasons do platforms give for not providing audio description or not providing it consistently?

 

Barrick

So, they say that it’s difficult.  I mean we went and we talked to Netflix and basically, I think it’s – it’s not because it’s difficult, it’s because it’s an afterthought.  And essentially, if the regulations were stricter and if this is really acted upon and if the regulations even spread to video on demand players in the first players, which they don’t, they’re just for broadcast, then these platforms would know that to operate they would have to think about accessibility but it just isn’t at the forefront of their thinking.

 

White

Kristina Barrick, thank you very much.

 

And, after a couple of could do much betters, here, at last is a vote of confidence.

 

Clip

I’m going to find and I’m going to kill.

 

White

That’s the sound of The last of us 2 and for the uninitiated into the world of computer games, which includes me, this is the new blockbuster PlayStation 4 game.  It continues the story of a post-apocalyptic world of human stragglers, doing their best to survive in a world where humans have been transformed into cannibalistic monsters by a mutated fungus.  Get the idea?  And if you’re puzzling why we’re featuring it on In Touch, blind and partially sighted players have hailed it, literally, as a game changer.  There are 60 accessibility settings and a host of features, which mean that you can play it without seeing it.  One man who’s tried it is the accessibility consultant and gamer Sightless Kombat, that’s his brand name.  We’ll hear from him in a moment but first, I asked Steve Saylor, who worked on the game, 50 years on from the first commercially available titles, what has gaming been like for blind people in the past.

 

Saylor

Well, it’s been a while, it’s been a journey, to say the least.  Growing up, for me, in the ‘80s I had my first foray into video games was from the original Nintendo system.  And, at first, I really didn’t think that my disability of being visually impaired was the thing that got in the way but I just always kind of had – thought I sucked at video games.  And it wasn’t until very much later into my early 30s when I realised that there was a lot in video games that wasn’t really catering to anyone with – who are blind or visually impaired.  So, it definitely has been a journey for us but now, at least, we have a game that we can look to and be like – this is a great example of how you can actually be able to do blind accessibility and do it right.

 

White

And that – your visual impairment – when you began to realise difficulties, is what kind of prompted you to become involved in consulting on the game?

 

Saylor

Yes, actually, a very quick story.  Essentially, how I figured it out was, at the time, I was just a You Tuber who was – my niche was that I was blind and I would just do it to entertain my friends.  But I was invited to an accessibility summit for a bunch of game developers and it was put on by Ubisoft and they invited me to be on a panel as just a gamer and it wasn’t until, literally, in the middle of that panel that I’d realised how much accessibility matters within the industry.  And I’d been telling myself, like I said, that I sucked at video games my entire life but it was then that I realised that it was actually video games that sucked for me.  And it was from that moment on, in 2017, that I was like – okay, accessibility is where I really need to look into and start advocating for.

 

White

Right, well, as you were involved in the development of this game, it’s fair to have an independent voice and that voice is the online presence known as Sightless Kombat.  You’re an accessibility consultant too but a blind gamer and you’ve played it.  So, what’s the verdict and tell us a bit about what makes it so successful.

 

Sightless Kombat

It’s really, really good.  I’ve played over 26 hours, I think it was, I looked the other day and I’d been playing for a while.  I’ve just managed to get so far with it, just because of all these accessibility options that have been packed into one game.  There are other games that have used these features before in varying degrees and to varying levels of success but I don’t think any game has actually managed to put all of the options that are used in this particular tale into one package yet and now, of course, that’s happened.

 

White

I mean just take us through how it works, with a simple example, maybe, how would you – someone without sight – shoot one of the infected in the game.

 

Sightless Kombat

Okay, so, essentially, say I’m in a – say I’m sort of in a prone position, so the enemies can’t see me necessarily – it’s depends what you’re dealing with – all I’d do is I’d hold down my aim button – so, L2 on the PS4 controller – and I’d hear, if I’ve got the settings set to automatically target, it would then lock on to the enemy’s centre of mass and then if I want to try and get a head shot – so to get a quicker kill and deal with that infected more easily – I would aim upwards with my right analogue stick slightly and the cue would change in pitch and then if it stays like that for a little while then I know I can take that shot and guarantee it.  So, it’s all about sort of strategy and tactics with it really.

 

White

But with sound and a bit like radar, if you like, are the sort of things that maybe blind sailors/yachtsmen use, that kind of thing?

 

Sightless Kombat

Yeah possibly, yeah.

 

White

Steve Saylor, have the developers essentially, started, finally, to understand that they’ve been driving away potential customers?

 

Saylor

Yeah, I would say definitely because it’s – developers are starting to see that accessibility is extremely important and that there is a human factor to it, it’s not necessarily just a bunch of concepts or a bunch of options anymore, it’s really about the human factor.  I’ve gone to developers where that has been the case, where they’ve basically just like – okay, we just want to be able to check off a bunch of options and they’re wondering if – okay, are we doing this right and not really being able to make any changes because they thought about accessibility later in the process.  But what Naughty Dog had done and done right was that we – the sightless and myself and other consultants – have been saying is that if you start from the very beginning of the development process it makes it a lot easier to be able to develop it and make changes as you go and then also bringing in consultants to provide feedback and then offer ideas that they hadn’t even thought of because a lot of them don’t have the disability that they’re designing for.  So, having that direct user feedback is really important.  And now I think developers are going to see this as a roadmap to – because they’re all trying to figure out how to be able to do accessibility correctly and now with Naughty Dog and The last of us part 2, there’s an extremely good example that other studios can essentially copy and has a roadmap to be – if you want to do accessibility right you can do it this way.

 

White

That’s Sightless Kombat and Steve Saylor.

 

And if you have any comments on the world of accessible computer games do share them with us.  You can email intouch@bbc.co.uk or go to our website – bbc.co.uk/intouch where you can download tonight’s and many other editions of the programme.

 

That’s it from me, Peter White, producer Louise Clarke-Rowbotham and studio manager Mike Smith.  Goodbye.

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  • Tue 7 Jul 2020 20:40

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