Legislation is a complex area and rules exist at international, European, national and local levels. On the website MAPAccess.org you will find an overview per country. Two important documents have a very broad scope on an international level and also apply to Belgium, namely the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (link source list) and the European Accessibility Act.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the first ever document of international scope to establish legally binding minimum standards for the rights of persons with disabilities. One of the main pillars of this document is that people with disabilities are seen as active members of the society in which they live and can claim their right to participate fully in it. The document defines the areas in which adjustments are needed for persons with disabilities in order to be able to exercise their rights effectively.
The main objective of the European Accessibility Act is to improve the supply of accessible products and services on the European market by removing barriers resulting from divergent legislation. The Act covers a wide range of products and services, including audiovisual media.
In Flanders, the Flemish Media Decree and the Management Agreement with Public Broadcasting are the most important legislative instruments for accessible media.
The Flemish Media Decree lays down obligations for public and commercial broadcasters. Article 151 of the latest Media Decree lays down the efforts that broadcasters must make to make their programmes more accessible to persons with an auditory or visual impairment:
Art. 151: The public broadcaster of the Flemish Community and the private television broadcasters make a substantial part of their broadcasting programmes accessible to persons with a visual or hearing handicap. Subtitling, audio description, sign language and auditory subtitling are used for this purpose.
With effect from 1 January 2010 or after private television broadcasters have achieved an average market share of 2 % for six consecutive months, they shall comply with the following conditions within the time limits set out below:
- full subtitling within 12 months of the main newsreel. This is the journal with on average the highest viewing figure;
- full subtitling of all journals and 90 percent of the information programmes within 36 months.
The Flemish Government imposes a time schedule and quota for subtitling other than those referred to in the third paragraph of this article, for audio description, for sign language and for auditory subtitling. The Flemish Government shall provide subsidies for each technique for making television services accessible.
Finally, since 2017, all films that receive financial support from the Flemish Audiovisual Fund must be made accessible by means of subtitling and audio description. The Dutch Film Fund also provides additional financial support for audio description and subtitling in the Netherlands.