Accessibility of media content for people with disabilities is a topic that may never been more important than at this time when the whole world is facing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the work of the European Union funded project ‘Equal Access for All’ is even more significant. The project is intended to improve the level of accessibility to media content and services for people with disabilities and to improve the legal framework and practices in this segment. The project opens the possibility for close cooperation between the media and people with disabilities and contributes to the strengthening of human rights.
On 9 and 10 December, online training on web/online accessibility were held for online media and people with disabilities as part of the ‘Equal access for All’ project. On the first day of the training, the speakers Amer Sikira from Kingdom Alliance Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vehid Hajduković who is an expert in Braille introduced the participants to specific techniques for adapting media content to the needs of the deaf, the blind and people with visual and hearing impairments.
Amer Sikira stated after the training for adapting online media to people with disabilities, “I think that this type of education is more than needed in a country that has about 1 per cent of customised media content. The current situation regarding content customisation is very bad, but there are some indications that something could change soon. I’m glad that a considerable number of media were present on both days of the training and that everyone showed interest in improvement and progress.”
On the second day of the training, in addition to Amer Sikira and Vehid Hajduković, Dušan Caf, who is the founder of the Digital Society Forum from Slovenia and vice president of the Institute for Integrated Inclusive Communications of Southeast Europe, presented his knowledge on adapting content for people with disabilities.
Representatives of associations for the blind, the deaf and people with visual and hearing impairments from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina attended the training, including the Centre for Blind and Partially Sighted Children, the association ‘Novis’, the Association of the Blind of Republika Srpska, the Association of the Deaf and People with Hearing Impairments of Banja Luka, the Association of Municipal Associations of the Deaf and People with Hearing Impairments in the Zenica-Doboj Canton and the Association of the Blind in Teslić as well as representatives from local media and portals.
Vehid Hajduković, a speaker at the training and an expert in word processing in Braille, said, “First of all, it was a challenge for me to participate in online training for several reasons. I resisted online trainings because in addition to the speech programme and all the settings I have to pay more attention to the technical aspects and have full concentration. The idea of accessibility of media content is great and it’s positive that the media responded. At these trainings, they were able to learn everything that media representatives need. I spoke on behalf of blind and partially sighted people about how to adapt a website at a low cost and to mutual satisfaction. Certain media showed interest after the training. The most important thing is the good will of the media. It’s also good that blind and partially sighted people have good communication with the help of associations such as ICVA and Ja bih u EU. We are one step ahead in the unhindered use of the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The percentage of custom content in Bosnia and Herzegovina is among the lowest in Europe. Although progress in adapting media content is achievable through technical interventions, action is also required in order to improve the legal framework. Accordingly, on 16 December this year, the educational modules ‘Equal Access to All’ and ‘Accessibility of TV and Video Content’ were presented. Representatives of associations of the blind, the deaf and people with visual and hearing impairments from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina along with representatives of local TV and production companies and local portals attended the presentation.
Suzana Ivančić, Head of the Programme Content Adaptation Department of Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), pointed out during the educational module the best methods for adapting content to the needs of blind, visually impaired, deaf and hard of hearing people. The keynote speakers for the presentation on the educational module ‘Equal Access to All’ were Amela Odobašić from the Communications Regulatory Agency and Sanja Škuletić-Malagić from the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees.
Amela Odobasic stressed that, “The importance of this topic is unquestionable: the adjustment of media content for the future development of the information and communication market in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the aspect of regulators, but also from the human rights aspect. We show in practice that only together can we make some progress. The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is similar to neighbouring countries. Croatia, as a member of the European Union, is different and it has obligations that it must fulfil. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a law on electronic communication and electronic media is being drafted and we have managed to include a clear provision in the draft called ‘Accessibility of Media Services to Persons with Disabilities’. The law is still being drafted and we expect its adoption in the first half of next year. The positive thing that happened during the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus (even on the recommendation of the Agency) is that public services, but also other media that could provide it in a technical sense and that had adequate human resources, strive to meet and to distribute information that can be vital for people with disabilities in an accessible format. We must ensure that information and services are available to everyone.”
Škuletić-Malagić stated, “When we talk about this project ‘Equal Access to All’ from the aspect of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees it is in direct correlation with the implementation of the international obligations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, i.e. the obligations that our country has undertaken by signing and ratifying international documents. Although the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is most often mentioned in this context, I would say that the list of documents to which Bosnia and Herzegovina has committed itself is broader and directly concerns persons with disabilities. First of all, equal rights, equality and prevention of discrimination are all areas directly reflected in the issue of persons with disabilities and their reduced rights regardless of new technologies. The fact is that this project really did not stop, that numerous activities are taking place and that the modules have been made. Today’s gathering shows that we are all committed and that this should not be just a story, a dead letter on paper, but that we should really achieve a concrete result.”
Suvad Alagic, Radio Brcko District, stated, “First of all, I wish to thank you because as a participant and journalist I had the opportunity to be part of a good media campaign: the module for helping people with disabilities that is organised by the Delegation of the European Union in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the association ‘Ja bih u EU’. Although it was realistic to expect that one of the journalists’ associations in Bosnia and Herzegovina or some media in Bosnia and Herzegovina would initiate such a project. Nevertheless, this was an extraordinary opportunity to point out the need to respect the rights and the obligations toward persons with disabilities through the modules and through online discussions to the entire Bosnian and Herzegovinian society. As an example, I cite the media from neighbouring Croatia. HRT, even before Croatia’s accession to the EU, in newspapers and other popular media content helped people with hearing impairments to be able to follow the content of HRT. Given that Bosnia and Herzegovina expects EU candidate status this year, it is high time for the media, especially public media such as BHRT, RTRS and FTV, to take due and obligatory account of persons with disabilities in order for such persons to be able to consume their content. Especially since it is one of the set of obligations imposed on Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to gain candidate status for EU membership.”
The inability to access information narrows the opportunities for people with disabilities. Yet the projects ‘Equal Access to All’ as well as HUB will help ensure better cooperation between the media and those people who are in need of customised content.