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During Education Day at APEX MultiMedia Market, APEX Board member and manager of in-flight entertainment (IFE) for Air Canada, Éric Lauzon, discussed ways in which airlines can make IFE more accessible for passengers that are hearing or visually impaired by sharing Air Canada’s recent initiatives with delegates.

“Air Canada is proud to be the first airline to offer an IFE system that is fully accessible for all passengers – regardless of their hearing of visual impairment,” Lauzon began with pride, adding that the IFE experience should be accessible for all travelers, and innovating solutions for passengers with impairments

The airline currently supports five different systems across its fleet, which as Lauzon shares, makes developing a solution for passengers more complex. Before developing a solution, in 2012, Air Canada formed two focus groups in collaboration with Ipsos Reid and DTI Solutions to conduct usability studies with visually impaired individuals. Among the interesting findings and observations, the studies found that all participants regularly used technology to assist in their daily lives (most have laptops and readers), but when flying, while some took advantage of audio channels, many reported that they simply did nothing.

By observing how visually-impaired users navigate the graphical user interface (GUI), noting things like whether vocal instructions were easy to memorize and navigation paths, DTI developed a unique prototype GUI that went for further testing before launch. Designed to simplify on-screen navigation, the GUI features easy swipe and touch gestures, the use of identifiable colors (for users with low-vision), simple commands and physical buttons in the handsets, all of which is supported by vocal instructions that can be repeated at anytime.

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In addition to a more accessible GUI, all of Air Canada’s aircraft are provision with tactile audio selection templates that the flight crew is trained to install on seatback monitors and provide instructions upon request. The airline also diversified and increased its accessible content portfolio, offering approximately 15 new films and five to 10 new TV programs with burnt-in subtitles a month. “We wanted to also expand the audio offering that was available for visually-impaired passengers,” Lauzon adds. Air Canada recently licensed Accessible Media Inc.’s original food show Four Senses, which features a blind chef and contains embedded descriptions.

Continuing the discussion on accessibility, at the APEX Technology Conference in May at Universal Studios, Diane Johnson, CEO of Descriptive Video Works will give a presentation on Descriptive Audio.

MMM conference photography: FotoMaly