Why HBO Max’s Accessibility Options Are Just a Start

It needs to be more than an afterthought

Key Takeaways

  • HBO Max has now added over a thousand hours of audio descriptive content to its programming.
  • The streaming platform will continue to add audio descriptive content for all of its major shows and original content.
  • While these changes are good, experts say that digital accessibility needs to become a significant part of development, not just an act of compliance.
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Digital accessibility is still an ongoing fight, and experts say that HBO Max’s recent addition of audio descriptive content is just another step along the way.

As more and more content goes digital, finding ways to make it accessible for as many as possible is just as important as offering the content in the first place.

While HBO Max’s recent addition of over 1,500 hours of audio descriptive content is a step in the right direction, experts say that accessibility needs to become part of the development process, not just an afterthought for compliance.

"It's really good to see HBO Max join the ranks of Netflix and Amazon Prime video in terms of offering video content with audio descriptions," Navin Thadani, CEO of Evinced, told Lifewire in an email.

"The promise of all these streaming platforms is to provide universal access to all people, and as such, this is a fundamentally important development for any major streaming platform."

Building a Better Tomorrow

The new audio descriptions being added to HBO Max are a direct follow-up to an agreement that was struck in October of 2020 by WarnerMedia and the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB), as well as Kim Charlson, and Brian Charlson. 

In the agreement, WarnerMedia ensured that audio descriptions would be added to the service and then created as part of an ongoing effort to make HBO Max more accessible. This is a great move, especially in a time where digital accessibility is such an ongoing issue. 

"Accessibility is not about doing it to be compliant; services and enterprises need to make their digital assets accessible because it's the right thing."

According to the World Health Organization, over one billion people in the world live their daily lives with some form of disability. Something that Thadani says only underscores the importance of digital accessibility.

That’s why offering improved accessibility options is an essential part of building an application or major platform.

Thankfully, Warner isn’t stopping with the current 1,500 hours of content that it recently added. According to the ACB, the agreement that it came to with WarnerMedia will see even more accessibility options added to the HBO Max website, mobile apps, and its apps for internet-connected TVs.

These features will include additional hours of audio-descriptive content and support for screen reading software, which many rely on to help them interact with online content.

So far, HBO Max seems to be on the right track when it comes to making the entire experience more accessible to more users.

It is important to remember that this is just a step along the way, and there is still a long way to go before the applications are as accessible as they need to be.

"This is a very important development as content-generating professionals and distributors are now truly acknowledging persons with disabilities as equal consumers," Thadani said.

More Than A Box On a Checklist

Despite the advancements that we’re seeing and their importance, features like this have come to feel like an afterthought, something that Thadani mentions in his email.

While HBO and WarnerMedia ultimately agreed to the ACB’s push for better accessibility options, the service launched without them.

A younger adult helping an older adult at the computer.

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At the time, other streaming platforms that had been around much longer already offered similar features, as Netflix introduced audio descriptions with the release of DareDevil after years of pushing from disability advocates like The Accessible Digital Project

Because it took prodding and agreements to bring the changes forward, Thadani says it makes the entire thing feel more like an act of compliance, like the company is simply checking things off of a list of requirements it needs to meet.

"Accessibility is not about doing it to be compliant; services and enterprises need to make their digital assets accessible because it's the right thing," he explained.

If major streaming platformers and other digital content want to be more accessible to all users, building accessibility needs to become a core part of the development process.

Thadani says this also helps to ensure that none of the systems put into place—like those audio description options or the support for screen-readers that HBO Max is going to introduce—break with future updates to the application.

"Everyone, including people with disabilities, should be able to derive enjoyment, entertainment, and knowledge from such offerings," Thadani said.

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