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Enabling Access to the Media for All - How Does European Law Take Care of Disabled Media Users

  • Published: 2014-09-05 (Revised/Updated 2016-06-11) : European Audiovisual Observatory (
  • Synopsis: The European Audiovisual Observatory examines the current legal state of play in its latest IRIS plus report.

Main Document

Quote: "The related reporting section of this publication provides short articles on the latest developments in broadcasting legislation related to access issues."

Enabling Access to the Media for all - How does European law take care of disabled media users? New IRIS plus report by the European Audiovisual Observatory.

In today's ultra-connected world of smartphones, tablets and smart watches, it has never been more important to protect the rights of disabled members of our society to access audiovisual content. Indeed, barrier-free access to audiovisual content is paramount to our fundamental right to freedom of expression and information. But how does guaranteeing maximum access work in practice? What steps have European lawmakers taken, and are taking, to ensure that the 15% of our society with some form of impairment can enjoy optimum access not only to traditional TV, but also the internet and the increasing number of on-demand services? The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, examines the current legal state of play in its latest IRIS plus report:

Enabling Access to the Media for All

The lead article of this new report is authored by Cristina Bachmeier of the Saarbrucken-based EMR (Institute for European Media Law). Bachmeier opens with a useful overview and definition list of current techniques employed to optimize access to media content (as contained in the AVMSD): sign language, sub-titling, audio description and easily understandable menu navigation.

She goes on to analyze the different types of barrier-free access in the fields of cinema, theatre, television (linear and non-linear audiovisual media services) as well as the internet. Focusing in particular on new digital distribution techniques, Bachmeier points out that the analogue TV switch-off in Europe was a mixed blessing for disabled media consumers. She notes the complexity of installing receivers and set top boxes as well as the increasing sophistication of remote controls and electronic program guides. However, DTT brought with it the HDTV option of an additional virtual channel with the signer shown more prominently, for example. The EU's Digital Television for All (DTV4ALL) program represented an important step in guaranteeing a core set of access services to all EU countries, comprising: DVN sub-title design variants with increased font size and color options, barrier-free teletext with zoom function, signers and clean audio process which allows background noise effects to be suppressed.

Bachmeier then looks at current accessibility techniques available for on-demand services and, in a broader sense, the internet itself. She states that criteria for barrier-free web design have been in existence for some time now (WCAG 2.0) and yet only a third of all public sector websites were fully accessible by the end of 2012. European lawmakers are taking up the challenge and "the European Commission has indicated an intention to engage with authorities, companies and organizations to bring about a truly integrative society."

Bachmeier then offers a detailed analysis of the legal instruments at international and European levels concerning barrier-free access. She looks at the various provisions provided by the UN Disability Convention, the Council of Europe's European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as EU primary and secondary legislation. The author notes that, in general, "the rules for television are more specific and the obligations more stringent than for on-demand audiovisual services." Moreover, the obligations for public service and private broadcasters are quite different. Generally speaking, the public service remit implies more onerous obligations in this field.

Bachmeier concludes her analysis on a positive note by stating that "declarations of intent [are] made; [...] concrete steps are taken in the form of support programs, action plans and effective strategies in order to guarantee accessibility to media and information for people with disabilities". This not only ensures respect of their human rights but also makes it possible for us benefit from the potential contribution to be made in this field by 15% of all Europeans.

The related reporting section of this publication provides short articles on the latest developments in broadcasting legislation related to access issues.

The final Zoom section by Claudia Lenke and Axel Biehl of Saarbrucken based production company Globe tv concentrates on the specifically German national practices to ensure access free media.

Barrier-free access to the media - how does today's Europe guarantee that we can all access media content -

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