Will Digital Switchover Switch Off Radio For Blind People?

A move from analogue to DAB radio may leave people with sight problems left out of Britain’s digital revolution if steps are not taken to assist in the switchover, laid out today in the communications Minister Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report.

Radio is repeatedly cited as one of the most important pastimes by blind and partially sighted people and continued access to it is vital. While Lord Carter’s report leaves the door open for further discussions around a Digital Help Scheme similar to that used for switchover to digital television, The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) believes such a scheme is absolutely essential.

The remit of the Consumer Expert Group, which includes RNIB that informed the Digital TV switchover process, is to be extended to cover radio, and RNIB welcomes this government decision. An analysis of the potential costs and benefits will also go ahead.

The report suggests that all technical criteria for migration to digital radio should be complete by 2015. RNIB is calling on the government to provide a scheme to help people with sight problems in making the transition.

Leen Petre, Principal Manager – Media and Culture for RNIB, says: “Digital Britain calls for fairness and access for all, but has left key issues unresolved that seriously affect how fair in practice a digital radio switchover will be to the thousands of blind and partially sighted people who depend on radio as their main source of news and entertainment.

“The digital TV switchover help scheme was a great step forward, and we would like to see similar support offered for a digital radio switchover. A plan is essential to help those who’ll struggle with technical practicalities and the inaccessibility of digital radio equipment.”

The Digital Britain report also states that DAB is the medium of consumer choice, and while this may be true, steps will have to be taken to ensure that DAB equipment that meets the needs of people with sight and dexterity problems is available at an affordable price. RNIB is calling for a help scheme to provide equipment to this effect, and for a usability standard mark to be provided on all products.

A piece of research recently commissioned by the RNIB showed that nearly 70 percent of people with sight problems need ongoing help to use digital radios without voice output1. The results also showed that many people felt significant improvements could be made with relatively simple design changes. Features such as larger buttons of a different, contrasting colour to that of the casing and larger display screens also prove popular with sighted customers.

More information on RNIB’s digital radio work.

For further information and to arrange interviews with RNIB experts, please contact Gary Hartley or Yashoda Sutton at the RNIB press office on 020 7391 2223


The Digital Britain report can be found on the Department for culture, media and sport’s website.

Reference to a Digital Help Scheme for radio can be found at Chapter 3b point 15

Voice output on digital radio is a system whereby spoken feedback is provided to the user to enable easy use and navigation of the radio. First a voice can confirm the buttons a user presses or functions a user alters, and second a voice can read out t he information that appears on the radio’s text display (e.g. station name, time, programme name). This feature is particularly beneficial for users with sight problems, but it can also help make digital radio easier to use for others.

Every day another 100 people will start to lose their sight. There are around two million people in the UK with sight problems. RNIB is the leading charity working in the UK offering practical support, advice and information for anyone with sight difficulties. If you, or someone you know, has a sight problem, RNIB can help. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999.

Royal National Institute of Blind People