Watch TV Together: Spectrum Access App is a Leap Forward for Entertainment Accessibility

Watch TV Together: Spectrum Access App is a Leap Forward for Entertainment Accessibility

The free iOS app allows the user to access audio description, captions, and other accessibility content independently.
A screen on the Spectrum Access app reads “Point your microphone at the movie while we sync.”
A screen on the Spectrum Access app reads “Point your microphone at the movie while we sync.”

If you’re blind or have low vision, you can still be a film and TV fanatic. And with the power of audio description, you can follow the story the same way sighted users do. But sometimes, audio description isn’t available. The folks at Spectrum are aiming to fix that problem with the new Spectrum Access app – a new iOS app which allows users (US only at the moment) to download and sync audio description, captions and other accessibility content quickly and play it in their earphones without disturbing other viewers.

On our podcasts and blog, we talk a lot about the joys of audio description but rarely discuss its flaws. One major flaw is that, when you have multiple people watching a program, sometimes the blind or low vision person is embarrassed or hesitant to ask if they can watch with AD, because the sighted viewer might find it distracting. And even on newer streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and many cable TV providers who all carry audio description, audiences with a variety of abilities, audio and language preferences don’t have the ability to mix and match.

Spectrum, the rapidly growing cable and internet company based in the US, launched Spectrum Access in May, an app which solves this problem for a growing library of movies and TV shows. It’s an acknowledgment that families and friends have different preferences when it comes to movie and episodic TV watching. Your grandfather might prefer to have captions but might be distracted by the extra narration of audio description. Your first-generation parents might prefer to watch in Spanish. And nothing beats the feeling of inclusion that comes with being able to watch a movie or TV show without having to ask for assistance.

A remote control in the foreground operates a TV

The Spectrum Access app is built off of a technology from Actiview, a small San Francisco-based startup which Spectrum’s parent company purchased the technology from in 2019. Actiview provided a similar service, allowing users free access to accessibility content for a smaller library of Hollywood features.

Alex Koren, Actiview’s CEO and co-founder, expressed his appreciation for Spectrum taking accessibility seriously and bringing the Actiview technology to the masses. “I’m really proud of the technology we built to make sure that everyone can be included in movies. But building the tool is just the first step. Spectrum serves millions of households and has a real commitment to better access, which made them the ideal partner for Actiview in our mission. I’m so excited to see where Spectrum Access goes and the people it helps.”

Long term, Spectrum hopes the app will continue to get better and better. “Accessibility options for our customers with disabilities is a priority for Charter,” said Peter Brown, Charter’s Group Vice President of Design. “Our accessibility team - many of whom have a disability - are focused on creating an inclusive line of services that provide solutions for everyone. Their experience and expertise guides what we are doing to make our products work for all customers.”

Watch the video to find out more and check out our FAQ at the end of this blog post to get your questions answered.

- Where is the app available?

Spectrum Access can be downloaded on the iOS App Store, currently in the US only.

- Which movies and TV shows are available?

Spectrum offers an expanding library (currently more than 400 titles) which they’re adding to regularly with approximately 1000 titles by end of year.

- Is there an Android app?

An Android app is in the works.

- Does the app work for non-Spectrum customers?

Yes. The accessibility features are available to anyone who has pre existing access to a supported movie or film (must play off of a separate device or TV).

- Is there support for foreign language tracks?

To be added in 2021.