Regarding the lack of accessibility of information and communication in International Sign of the EU’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
20 March 2020
Currently, the European Accessibility Act (EAA), is being discussed in the European Parliament and the Council. At the Parliament, the Internal Market (IMCO) Committee is mainly responsible for this act, but other committees can give opinions in their areas of work.
Yesterday, the Culture & Education (CULT) Committee has voted its opinion on the accessibility of Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS), such as TV and e-books, suggesting to remove these services from the scope of the EAA. If this happens, they would remain inaccessible for millions of Europeans with disabilities, including deaf and hard of hearing persons.
EUD strongly contest this proposal. As the European Disability Forum (EDF) points out, this vote is “a worrying and unprecedented attack on the rights of persons with disabilities. (…) Europeans with disabilities are at risk of being deprived of their right to access TV programmes and digital books which means social exclusion, discrimination and a clear infringement of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).” Indeed, the EU has ratified the UNCRPD which establishes the right to „enjoy access to television programmes in accessible formats” in Article 30. The EU and its institutions thus committed to promote these principles. We wish to remind the European Parliament of this commitment and urge the IMCO committee to not include this suggestion into its own report.
We would also like to remind the Committee that around 800.000 deaf sign language users as well as about 51 Million hard of hearing persons live in the EU. Additionally, the European Blind Union estimates that there are more than 30 million blind and partially sighted persons in Europe. Making AVMS accessible to these groups would allow broadcasters to significantly increase their viewership and thus their financial returns. In not creating binding accessibility legislation, the EU institutions would not be looking ahead, ignoring the demographic changes Europe is facing. Indeed, the number of hearing and visually impaired Europeans can be expected to increase in the coming decades due to population ageing. Furthermore, European citizens who are currently non-disabled are expected to acquire a hearing or visual impairment later in life. At the same time, the technical challenges to creating accessible AVMS are rapidly shrinking as subtitles, as sign language interpretation, audio description and audio subtitles are becoming increasingly easy to provide.
Furthermore, it is crucial for AVMS to remain within the scope of the EAA, as the European Commission has proposed to revise the AVMS Directive, deleting its only article on accessibility. To justify this decision, the Commission has argued that AVMS are included in the scope of the EAA, which is now being threatened.
The rapporteur of this opinion of the CULT committee, Petra Kammerevert, justifies her suggestion to remove AVMS from the scope of the EAA by advocating instead for a promotion of “accessible AVMS by means of an incentives model under the AVMS Directive itself rather than taking the restrictive and repressive approach that has been opted for in this proposal.” Even if an article incentivizing accessibility was included again in the revised directive, it already having been included in the original AVMS directive from 2010 hasn’t led to AVMS becoming accessible for persons with disabilities across Europe.
Only an article on accessibility in the AVMS directive containing compulsory accessibility targets that are then detailed via functional requirements in the original, more ambitious, version of the EAA will guarantee that the right to accessible information and communication for disabled persons will become enforceable in the EU, allowing them to participate in society on an equal basis with others.
You can find Helga Steven’s reaction, a deaf Belgian Member of the European Parliament, on this vote here: http://helgastevens.eu/en/nieuwsbericht/298/European-Parliament-Threatens-Access-to-TV-&-Digital-Books-for-Persons-with-Disabilities
You can find EDF’s press release on this issue here: http://www.edf-feph.org/Page_Generale.asp?DocID=13855&thebloc=34469
You can find EUD’s statement on the revision of the AVMS directive here: https://www.eud.eu/news/proposed-audio-visual-media-services-directive-not-contain-article-accessibility/
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