We live in a time when TV and web content as well as emergency services must be accessible to all citizens, including the blind and partially sighted and deaf and hard of hearing persons. The right of access to information is a fundamental human right. As shown by the pandemic, it is necessary to be informed on time but unfortunately much of the key information and content is not equally available or provided on a timely basis to everyone.
The European Union funded project ‘Equal Access to All’, which is implemented by the organizations ‘Ja bih u EU’ and ICVA, is designed to improve the level of accessibility of media content and services for people with disabilities and to improve the legal framework and practices in this segment.
Within the project, a series of trainings, both in person and online, was held and attended by representatives of the media and of associations for the blind, visually impaired, deaf and hard of hearing persons from Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Zenica, Doboj, Derventa, Mostar, Trebinje, Bihac, Cazin, Banja Luka, Brčko, Bužim and East Sarajevo. During the training, the trainers and representatives of the association of persons with disabilities informed the media about how to adapt audio and video content for this section of the population in the best way using only limited resources.
On 6 July, as part of the project, a discussion titled ‘Practices and Recommendations for Adapting Information and Content within Public Media and other Services for Citizens with Disabilities’ was held in Sarajevo. It was attended by representatives of the Canton Sarajevo Health Centre, the Centre for the Blind and Visually Impaired Children and Youth Sarajevo, the Centre for Hearing and Speech Rehabilitation Sarajevo, the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and MUP Canton Sarajevo – police administration. In addition to adapting media content, the discussion also touched on the topic of adapting the websites of key health and safety institutions.
Jasminka Proho, a trainer and sign language interpreter, said, “Deaf and hard of hearing people in our country face discrimination and do not have an equal position with other members of society. The problem I face as a sign language interpreter is the large number of words that began to be used due to the pandemic, for which there is no adequate translation.”
Vehid Hajduković, a project coach and Braille expert, repeatedly referred to the example of the Chamber Theatre Sarajevo, which has adapted its repertoire for blind and partially sighted persons.
Jasminka pointed out that not a single film of our production has been adapted for deaf and hard of hearing persons. “A huge problem for deaf and hard of hearing people is the lack of adapted real-time news programmes and due to lack of funds it is difficult to implement.”
One of the conclusions of the discussion was the need to ‘Adapt the news programme and subsequently broadcast it in prime time’.
Željko Tica, a Federal TV news programme editor, emphasised that the lack of staff in this area is one of the key problems and that they have tried to find ways to adjust part of the programme but without technical preconditions it is very difficult.
Azra Maslo, from the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stated, “Accessibility in the context of the regulatory framework is becoming increasingly important. There is certainly room for a directive of the European Union on audio/visual media services, where the member states, future members or national regulatory authorities are obliged to make their own accessibility action plans, but also to give the opportunity to introduce certain quotas for programmes that are adapted for people with disabilities. In that context, in April last year, during the revision of the conditions of the license for the public broadcasting system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we introduced binding quotas for programme content adapted to persons with disabilities. They refer not only to information but also to other programme content that must be adapted. As for the specific quota, it includes broadcasting an information programme once a day for people with disabilities. Public service broadcasters are obliged to reach a share of adapted content for persons with disabilities up to 25 per cent during the term of the license, using proportional measures. We are also considering the introduction of binding quotas for other licensees.”
Everyone has an equal right to access information. This is especially the case when we speak about information broadcast by public services, because these services have an obligation to communicate information and adapt it to be able to reach everyone. Information is not a luxury and deaf, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted persons have the right to access information, not in part but in full. Activities within the project ‘Equal access to All’ will include representatives of institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a view to raising their awareness on the need to adapt their official websites to meet the needs of persons with disabilities.