Effective access to information is crucial in facilitating the participation of citizens in civic society. While digital technology has brought significant benefits (e.g. an increased number of channels, superior quality of image and sound), technological developments have also brought a new level of complexity, including the use of multiple remote controls and difficult to navigate on-screen displays. These have the potential to constitute access barriers for a number of people, including disabled people. This article relies on a definition of disability which focuses on the social barriers faced by disabled people in a particular context, rather than on the medical condition of disabled people. Concerns regarding the access of disabled people to digital television (DTV) have recently been raised at the European Union level in a report on measuring the accessibility of information and communications technologies (ICT) in Europe (eAccessibility). According to this report, the EU Member States suffer from an “eAccessibility deficit”, as disabled persons face barriers when accessing ICT due, inter alia, to limited provisions for accessibility services such as subtitling, signing and audio description. This article examines the extent to which the framework for regulating the DTV infrastructure in the United Kingdom safeguards disability rights. The discussion focuses on the tension between social and economic values in the regulation of electronic communications and calls for a regulatory approach based on a framework of principles which reflects citizenship values such as equality and dignity. Part one highlights the importance of effective access to information for disabled people and points towards the barriers faced by these citizens when accessing DTV. Part two examines the effectiveness of the Communications Act and the Disability Discrimination Act in safeguarding disability rights in DTV, and makes reference to the Equality Bill which is due to be introduced in Parliament in the 2008-2009 session. Part three calls for an increased level of protection for citizenship values in the regulation of DTV and for prioritising these rights over economic interests.
Varney, E. (2008). Disability Rights in the Communications Sector: An Examination of Digital Television Regulation in the United Kingdom. Communications Law Journal : Journal of Computer, Media and Telecommunications Law, 13(6), 187-196