The Report presents the activities and the results of the
four- years period of collaboration given by CECOEV to the VOICE Project,
in order to contribute in making television accessible also to people with
The activities spread from meetings with the technicians for the development of the voice-to-text recognition system to the meetings with hearing impaired users to evaluate and validate the system, from the contacts with Italian and European broadcasters to the VOICE Project's presentations in a number of events with CECOEV participation.
CECOEV considers VOICE a useful system, in order not only to generate a high quantity of subtitles in a reasonable precise and economic way, but also to diminish the discrimination that television always represented for people with hearing impairment, ensuring autonomy and equal opportunities.
This report ends by asking to EC to draw a legislation foreseeing the obligation for the television broadcasters to make all television broadcasts accessible to the hearing impaired users.
During its four-year period of collaboration to the Voice
Project for the speech recognition system, CECOEV has repeatedly pointed out
its awareness of the really remarkable potentials of technology for disabled
In an age characterised by a very fast development and refining of the means of mass communication - which have always addressed and have been used by hearing people only -, it is a fact that a few simple, more or less technical arrangements can bring dramatic advantages even to hearing-impaired people.
In this respect, a great number of examples could be
mentioned. One just needs to think about instruments like cellular phones
which seem apparently to be designed exclusively for hearing people. On the
contrary, thanks to SMS messages, they can establish a communication link
with deaf people as well, making it possible thereby the creation of absolutely
From this modern example, it is easy to understand that the deaf have a very strong need to make up for their hearing deficit by visual aids which - we'll never be tired to repeat this - are vital instruments for them.
Terms such as "lip reading", "flashing signals", "sign language interpreters" and so on are almost unknown to hearing people, but familiar and especially vital for deaf people who use them regularly in their daily lives to meet their legitimate need for independence.
Deafness is actually a widespread social phenomenon:
it is estimated that in Italy over five million people have hearing problems
of various degree, while throughout the European Community the hearing-impaired
are approximately tens of millions.
This is an irrefutable reality, where society unfortunately continues to set endless obstacles to deaf people's natural desire to be treated on an equal level. To deaf people, living in our society implies being daily confronted with oral communication, a condition in which the deaf are seriously penalised.
In addition to this, more barriers are created by the
numerous means of communication used by hearing people- Television is one
This instrument and means of mass communication per excellence still represents a serious communication barrier despite the existing subtitling service which however is far from meeting deaf people's legitimate expectations, as it currently accounts for only 20% of all television programs.
For these reasons, taking into account the difficulties with which the deaf are faced in their everyday social life, CECOEV has always perceived in the Voice Project for the speech recognition system an excellent opportunity to definitely overcome the television problem, a tool which is regarded by the deaf as a strong communication barrier that can only be challenged with subtitling, an area in which CECOEV has been waging a difficult battle for years.
We have always stressed the crucial role of subtitling
for the deaf. Our Web site Voice (http://voice.jrc.it/cecoev)
contains a very detailed report on subtitling resulting from a thorough one-year-long
research study carried out by CECOEV on subtitling in RAI and Mediaset television
programs, as well as on deaf peoples' requirements to overcome the television
This study ranges from deaf people's expectations on television, in particular the public networks, to the social role of subtitling as an instrument to overcome the handicap of deafness; from the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of subtitling to a number of suggestions to make television an available tool for the hearing-impaired too.
The conclusion of our research study, namely the need
for subtitling all television products, was an obvious result only for those
who cannot listen to television programs, and not for those in charge of the
management of television networks and the public service in general.
We are not saying that this is due to a lack of will (we refuse to admit it!), but rather and in particular to a deep lack of knowledge in the problem of deafness which, as previously mentioned, involves an extraordinarily high number of citizens.
It is surprising that such a widespread handicap is still not understood in its right proportions; subtitling is absolutely necessary not so much as a supporting tool enabling the deaf to follow the programs, but also as a vital means of participation which, by offering equal conditions to both hearing and hearing-impaired people, gives us the opportunity to become fully active individuals.
After all, it is a clear fact that the 1985 introduction of television subtitling in Italy produced extremely positive effects on hearing-impaired people, because for the first time, from a previous condition of total passivity, they were being offered the chance to take an active part in television programs.
Since then, deaf people have got so much used to subtitling that they can no longer do without it, although they must still follow almost exclusively a small number of subtitled programs, avoiding the ones without subtitles and those broadcast on other television networks which do not offer this special service.
It is therefore clear that subtitling must be considered a function with a very high social value, as it allows deaf people to enjoy independence, dignity and equal opportunities, making them free individuals who are aware of their own potentials and capabilities.
Presently, however, television is far from meeting the
needs of the hearing-impaired, who want to be able to choose the programs
they like in full autonomy, without feeling obliged to select only the subtitled
After a three-year collaboration to the VOICE Project and in view of deaf people's persisting problems with television, we are more and more convinced of the soundness of the proposed system as we think it is presently the only one able to guarantee the generation of large quantities of subtitling in a rapid and cost-effective way, allowing for a remarkable simplification of television subtitling procedures.
Moreover, with respect to the instruments currently used in subtitling programs, the speech recognition system has the advantage of being much more practical and flexible, thereby representing a final solution of the television problem for the hearing-impaired population.
It cannot be denied that CECOEV, which is one of the Voice Project partners, has always taken active steps toward the development of the first experimental prototypes of the system, giving out relevant information not only to its members but to field associations as well, a process which led to the presentation of the project in the various events which we attended.
In particular, in 1998, 1999 and 2000, CECOEV launched various initiatives, which resulted in meetings, aimed at illustrating the potentials of the speech recognition system and the usefulness of the Voice Project.
Please note that the meetings were attended by many deaf people who represented field groups and associations, therefore CECOEV has represented a higher number of deaf people than that described in the below schedules.
February 12 - A first official meeting
organised by CECOEV took place in Milan in order to present through a number
of slides the prototype for the automatic generation of subtitles, developed
within the Voice Project.
Approximately thirty hearing-impaired people took part in the meeting and expressed their great satisfaction with a system for the rapid production of subtitles, appreciating its usefulness especially in television, a crucial tool for the deaf.
The meeting ended with the participants planning a new meeting to show how the system practically worked.
April 20 - CECOEV organised in Milan
a meeting in order to show the practical functioning of the speech recognition
system for the Voice Project.
It was attended by over thirty deaf people plus a number of hearing people curious about the functioning of live subtitling.
Ingegner Giuliano Pirelli, who is the Voice Project co-ordinator, attended the meeting and gave a practical demonstration of the first version of the experimental speech recognition prototype. The demonstration scored great success among the public also in view of the practical usefulness of this system in subtitling television programs.
This demonstration, however, had clear limits due to the slowness in the generation of subtitling and, above all, to a certain inaccuracy of the system in recognising the words pronounced by the operator. As this was still an experimental version, Ingegner Pirelli reminded the public that testing was still at an early stage and that a number of solutions would be studied to improve the prototype, also according to the suggestions proposed during the meeting.
May 9 - On the anniversary of the Schuman
Declaration, CECOEV, jointly with a large delegation of deaf people, participated
both in a practical demonstration of the speech recognition system and in
a friendly meeting with JRC general manager, Dr. Algeier, and I.S.I.S director,
During this meeting, great emphasis was given to the consolidation of the co-operation between the various Associations and JRC.
August/September - On the occasion of the international conference Computer helping people with special needs, which was held from August 30th to September 5th in Vienna and Budapest, CECOEV prepared a report on deaf people's needs under the title The communication needs of the deaf, emphasising, among other things, the role of the VOICE Project as an instrument for the effective implementation of equal opportunities in the television field.
December 2 - A meeting organised by
CECOEV took place in Milan to assess the technical progress of the experimental
It was attended by over thirty deaf and numerous hearing people.
A demonstration of the prototype was carried out increasing the speed of the spoken language so as to test the real progress of the prototype.
Though the system was still making a number of mistakes in recognising some words, the results obtained were very encouraging, considering the decidedly faster speed of the vernacular as against five months before.
The participants, after putting numerous practical questions about the system functioning, made a number of operative suggestions about the technical development of the product.
Furthermore, two qualitative features of subtitling were more thoroughly discussed: the colour and the graphic type.
In particular, also on the grounds of the suggestions obtained by CECOEV through its surveys with many hearing-impaired people, it was noted that there is yet no unanimity of points of view about the preference for the subtitling colour and graphic type.
There is however a clear liking for a light colour (yellow or white) of subtitles, preferably against a dark backing, with a slight preference for the capital rather than the minuscule letter.
Another useful suggestion is that the camera should frame the speaker's face rather than its mouth, thereby avoiding the deaf the useless effort to engage in lip reading; only subtitling, generated by the speech recognition system, can effectively help the deaf in the process of following the vernacular.
The meeting ended with the intent to further improve the system, which had already made undoubted progress.
November 26 - During Handimatica, an event held in Bologna, CECOEV took part as a partner of the Voice Project in a practical demonstration carried out by Ingegner Giuliano Pirelli in front of a crowded audience including also a representative of Televideo RAI.
February 11 - A meeting attended by
the delegations of CECOEV and A.L.F.A. (partners of the Voice Project) and
a number of representatives of Televideo RAI was held at the Centro Comune
di Ricerca based in Ispra.
The meeting's goal was to tackle the many aspects of deaf people's television problems, through a demonstration of the system operation by Ingegner Giuliano Pirelli.
In the frank discussion which followed, the RAI representatives openly admitted that the deaf were perfectly right to complain about the little attention of public television networks to their needs and a definitely restricted number of subtitled hours.
They said that this was one of the reasons why they were attending the meeting, namely to check the real needs of a large category of users who regularly pay fees like any other people. In particular, they were interested to learn more about the available technology to support television subtitling.
The demonstration convinced the RAI representatives that the speech recognition system was a really effective instrument for fast and economical subtitling. In particular, it makes it possible to subtitle the live coverage of events, an area in which RAI lags still behind.
On this occasion, CECOEV provided a professional sign language interpreting service for an easier communication among all the participants.
May 8 - CECOEV took an active part in
the Exhibition-Congress organised by the A.F.A. Association from Cantù
(Como), in which a practical demonstration of the speech recognition system
was carried out.
The system was introduced by Ingegner Pirelli - who on this occasion was helped by a high-school teacher using the speech recognition system to help a deaf student during her lessons - and was strongly welcome by a large audience.
June 15 - CECOEV organised in Milan
a technical meeting to assess the quality and quantity standards of subtitles
generated by the speech recognition system envisaged in the Voice Project.
In particular, the positioning of subtitles, generated by the speech recognition system and transferred onto the screen, was carefully examined. After a careful analysis of the different procedures to position subtitles, the group of hearing-impaired people (over thirty) who participated in the study established the following points:
November 5/6 - A workshop-seminar entitled
"The new digital technology to overcome handicaps. Experiences and prospects
of European broadcasters" was organised by RAI in Bologna.
This event was eagerly awaited as it was an important occasion not only to assess the developments of disability-supporting technology and in particular the situation of deaf television users, but also the level of subtitling by the European television networks.
The first day of the event was dedicated to the available computer-based technology in support of disability. Among these tools was the speech recognition system by the European Commission Common Centre for Research, presented to the public by co-ordinator of the Voice Project Ingegner Pirelli who also made a practical demonstration of the system which proved to be very successful.
A success stemming not only from the system particularly accurate and reliable equipment, producing very few mistakes due to an adequate setting-up, but also from the fact that it was possible to show the system practical application to television, with the resulting automatic generation of subtitles.
Another effective application, which was illustrated in a number of short films, can be made possible in public offices, where the sentences pronounced by the operators can be converted into written words on a special screen by the speech recognition software, thus remarkably contributing to the simplification of mutual relations in notoriously difficult situations for deaf people.
Other companies presented some more computer-based equipment for the speech recognition system, with somewhat different functions always aimed at making it easier for the deaf to communicate with the rest of the world. Needless to say that all this equipment turned out to be very useful, even though the Voice Project prototype proved to be readier to be employed in the television field, though it still needed to be made faster and more accurate at an operative level.
On November 6th, a meeting was attended by the representatives of four European countries (United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Italian Switzerland) who made reports on the procedures used in their countries for the services in support of deaf people.
The first report was that of British "mythical" BBC with a series of very interesting film strips highlighting the television services available to the deaf.
In the United Kingdom, subtitling is a service rendered
to all the users, as English is considered the official language
of the whole country.
British people have realised that subtitling is an absolutely necessary service for the deaf and have thus increased their efforts for its wider diffusion.
Presently, subtitling accounts for 56% of all BBC television programs.
Different technology is used for subtitling, according to the various types of programs (DVD technology, speech recognition system, stenotypy for the subtitling of the live coverage of events), while the Teleaudio system is employed for blind people.
The sign language is regarded as deaf people's real form of communication by the British. Numerous programs are conducted providing the translation of a sign-language interpreter. 60 editors work at Televideo, a figure which is clear evidence of the British television network's praiseworthy commitment to deaf users.
Other European television networks play a crucial role in subtitling programs. As a matter of fact:
Furthermore, all the European television networks attending
the event except for RAI publicly set themselves precise goals to meet deaf
The British television will reach 257 hours of subtitling within April 2000 and 100% of subtitling by the year 2008.
The Swedish television is presently starting to test the speech recognition system for the generation of subtitles, which is likely to predict a considerable increase in short-term subtitling.
The Danish Television means to achieve the goal of subtitling all of its programs.
In conclusion, the Bologna event showed that modern technology can effectively help deaf people. Clear evidence of this is the prototype of the speech recognition system for the automatic generation of subtitles envisaged in the Voice Project and devised by JRC.
January 26 - A meeting within the activities
of the Voice Project for the speech recognition system was held at JRC headquarters
The meeting, which was also attended by a delegation of CECOEV, was organised by Ispra-based ISIS to present the ISDN-line videoconference systems by the Nastri Consulting company. The theme of the meeting, attended also by a number of technology experts, was the live testing of a videoconference system allowing the deaf not only to read the speaker's lips but the sign language as well.
The test was carried out jointly with a Turin-based office from where a deaf person was conferring with JRC, and had to show whether the system could really meet deaf people's requirements.
A computer screen transmitted pictures from Turin, both black and white and coloured, and the test consisted in showing whether these pictures could actually make it possible for the deaf to understand the dialogues. This system, employed by other manufacturing companies too, is already being tested by deaf people.
These are undoubtedly useful solutions needing however further improvement. CECOEV delegation expressed its positive opinion on the effectiveness of the above system now available also to the deaf.
At the end of the debate, Ingegner Pirelli highlighted the possibility of subtitling spoken messages left in answering machines through the speech recognition system, using computer-based technology and the Internet. The speeches made in the conference were obviously translated by a sign language interpreter, a service provided by CECOEV.
March 14 - CECOEV organised a periodical
meeting with the other members of the Voice Project. The meeting, which was
attended by a large delegation of deaf people (more than forty), had to take
stock of the current developments in television subtitling and its supporting
During the long debate which followed, the participants agreed that the present situation in television subtitling is very disappointing and still far from meeting the legitimate requirements of deaf citizens who, like hearing users, fully pay the television fees.
In Italy, public television lags still behind with respect to several European networks (like those in Great Britain, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, etc.) which during the last few years dramatically increased subtitling for the deaf, making also use of the speech recognition system.
In particular, some European countries set themselves precise goals in subtitling, like Great Britain which publicly committed to subtitling 100% of the programs by 2008.
We are more and more convinced that time is ripe for our television networks to employ the speech recognition system for the automatic generation of subtitles, in particular the system especially studied by Ispra-based JRC for television application, which has recently showed encouraging progress.
In conclusion, the difficult relationship between television and deaf people can be overcome through modern tools provided by technology, and the Voice Project for the speech recognition system is one of these.
May 25 - With the approach of the expiry
date of the co-operation contract between JRC and the European Commission
regarding the testing of speech recognition systems, CECOEV called a meeting
in Milan to take stock of the results achieved during our joint effort for
the Voice Project.
After going through all the stages leading to the development and refinement of the speech recognition system, and after assessing the current situation of subtitling by the Italian television networks, we unanimously came to the following conclusions:
June 14 - A meeting took place at JRC
headquarters in Ispra to complete the editing of a report on deaf people's
needs for television subtitling services.
The meeting was attended, in addition to a delegation from CECOEV with a sign language interpreter, by a director of the Belgian television RTBF who presented the television program for the deaf "Tu vois ce que je veux dire"; the secretary-general of APEDAF (Association des Parents des Enfants Déficients Auditifs Francophone, Bruxelles) Veronique Gernay; Angelo Paglino who illustrated the prototype TimeCode; Professor Matilde Ventura, who highlighted the activities of the Voice Project for School, and Ingegner Pirelli.
A practical demonstration of the speech recognition system was made also in French with excellent results, followed by the exchange of mutual experiences in the field of the Italian and Belgian television services for the hearing-impaired.
In particular, it was noted that Belgium, though offering a lower number of subtitled hours than the Italian public television, is much more advanced on the front of the services for the deaf and their families.
The RTBF film director illustrated two videotapes containing a selection of programs he had personally prepared for the Belgian television.
One of these two videotapes contained a selection of programs covering topical interests and general news conducted by deaf people, while the other tape suggested to deaf children's and teenagers' relatives some patterns of behaviour and communication for a correct social approach to the deafness-related problems.
A videoconference link Milan/Ispra was also carried out with real-time subtitling.
Finally, after proof-reading and the analysis of e-mail messages and Forum Voice, a final document was drawn up on deaf people's needs in the field of television subtitling, with a comparison of the activities being carried out in the various European countries.
N.B.: When necessary, in particular when hearing people were present, CECOEV provided a professional sign-language interpreting service in order to make it possible for deaf people to follow all the stages of the debate.
CECOEV activities under the Voice Project were paralleled,
starting from 1997, by a co-operation with Colby Telematic Systems, an agency
based in Cologno Monzese, Milano, specialised in subtitling. This collaboration
was aimed at assessing adequate and updated quality and quantity standards
complying with deaf people's needs.
These standards were chosen and determined on the grounds of CECOEV long experience in this specific field, with a view to enhance the quality of subtitles and make them as close as possible to the spoken language. Programs subtitled with CECOEV voluntary co-operation are currently broadcast on the private TV station Retequattro of the Mediaset Group, and our Association continues to certify the subtitled programs through a delegation taking part in the procedures.
On March 15 1997, the first subtitled film ("The Perfect Murder") was broadcast on Retequattro under CECOEV collaboration, and we believe this was a unique achievement.
CECOEV joint effort in subtitling Retequattro programs is still going on, evidence that people are finally realising that the deaf are the most qualified people in suggesting the most adequate solutions in this field, in order to achieve real social integration and equal opportunities.
Now comes the worst part of the report, namely the one
concerning the Italian television stations and in particular RAI, the public
Throughout 1999, Televideo never replied to our letters, which is something very difficult to understand as, until 1998, Televideo Rai had always punctually answered our mail.
Apart from these unpleasant remarks, there is a widespread dissatisfaction among the hearing-impaired because of the limited number of subtitled programs and the very few transmissions dedicated to the live coverage of events.
The hearing-impaired are well aware of the efforts made by RAI in this direction but feel deeply disheartened due to their disappointed expectations and the disrespect of the fundamental principle of equal opportunities.
Furthermore, we wonder why RAI keeps claiming the payment of television fees from the deaf without providing a subtitling service for them covering the whole of the television programs.
During the workshop-seminar held in Bologna in November
1999, RAI did not accept any criticism - made with constructive and certainly
not demolishing purposes - by the hearing-impaired people who attended the
In particular, they do not seem to have assimilated deaf users' demands for a greater effort by RAI in subtitling, presently quite modest as it only accounts for under 20% of the whole television programs.
All the more so as subtitling covers mostly films and serial TV, while very little attention is devoted to cultural transmission and programs of public utility, which seem to be reserved to hearing people only.
Unfortunately, RAI as well as the Postmaster General do not even seem to take into account the many letters published in the major newspapers requesting a greater role of the services for the hearing-impaired (CECOEV letters published in the Corriere della Sera, among others).
As far as private television networks are concerned,
CECOEV has been engaged for years in a difficult confrontation with Mediaset
networks, whose subtitling services cover a very little share of their programs.
CECOEV has succeeded only with Retequattro in obtaining greater attention from the station's executives.
In particular, CECOEV was able to focus Retequattro attention on other types of programs too, in addition to the "usual" films and telefilms, like "Le grandi Interviste" (The Great Interviews) and "La Macchina del Tempo" (The Time Machine), a strictly scientific program very successful with the hearing public but up to now (until our hundredth action) inaccessible for the deaf.
Subtitling, however, is on the whole still very neglected, despite the fact that the three Mediaset TV stations broadcast several programs of great general interest.
This happens despite CECOEV continuous effort with private TV stations aimed at increasing their awareness of the need for more subtitling, a fact that would also lead to a greater share in the audience, considering that there are millions of hearing-impaired in Italy.
And this without taking into account the social value of subtitling!
Over this year, however, an important goal was achieved:
following a number of contacts started by us some time ago, another television
station broadcasting at a national level, Telemontecarlo (TMC), welcomed our
requests and agreed to start subtitling a number of programs.
On June 26 2000, a group of CECOEV delegates went to the Rome-based TMC studios where they were met by a representative of the TV station who confirmed that - circumstances permitting and provided the recent operation with SEAT does not jeopardise the promised subtitled programs - subtitling should be started in September, beginning the service with one to two films per week and increasing progressively the number of subtitled hours and programs under terms which will be discussed in a subsequent meeting.
This result is very important as, irrespective of the still low number of weekly subtitled programs, the launch of subtitling by one more national TV station brings about a greater competitiveness among television networks.
RAI and Mediaset, under the pressure of a direct competitor (third television pole?) and not to loose a large share of users, will feel somewhat "obliged" to offer more subtitled programs. This is precisely CECOEV major goal: urge television stations to devote greater attention to deaf users by providing them as many as possible subtitled programs.
After all, it is in the television stations' own interest to supply products capable of attracting audience, considering that in Italy there are at least five millions of deaf users, who would all be potential users of television subtitles.
The launch of TMC experimental phase opens therefore a new frontier and more encouraging prospects for the hearing-impaired. TMC had in fact visited CECOEV Web pages in the Voice Project Internet site, thereby becoming aware not only of deaf people's problems with television but also of our Association's suggestions to overcome such problems. In addition, we proposed TMC to take into account the use of the speech recognition system for the programs subtitling.
CECOEV, in compliance with the commitments underlying
its co-operation with JRC and with an aim to research the real weight of subtitling
in other European television networks, has got in touch with these TV stations
via e-mail and on the Internet.
The research study, which at its early stage seemed to be problematic due to the difficulty of tracking down the e-mail addresses of the people in charge of Teletext in the various TV stations, led to a number of results.
In particular, we found an e-mail address which played a crucial role in our research study. The above address is email@example.com. and, through it, we had the opportunity to get in touch with the offices we needed to contact for our study on subtitling by European television networks.
We sent an e-mail message to the following European television stations:
Of all the above TV stations contacted by us, only the
Dutch one answered our questions, while the others ignored us despite our
You can read below the text of the message we received by the Dutch TV in reply to our questions:
I received your questions on subtitling for the deaf and hearing-impaired from Kees Noort of the NOS-Department for Technology & Information Systems. I have copied your questions and added my answers.
In particular we ask you:
I hope your questions are answered. If you need further
information do not hesitate to contact me. With best regards.
Head of NOS-Teletekst
The material we have collected until now does not comply
with our expectations. Unfortunately, we did not get the collaboration we
We were able, however, to gather some interesting data on subtitling and the diffusion of the sign language in a number of television networks based in and outside Europe, made available by the Irish Deaf Society and provided to us by the European Union of the Deaf through its president Mr. Johan Weseman, whom we contacted via e-mail.
This innovative tool available on the Internet, where
CECOEV is also present with its own site, has proved to be very useful for
the deaf as, through it, they can keep constantly updated on the project developments
and on the various promoted initiatives. The site contains also some of the
various Associations' Web pages which are daily visited by hearing people
A very useful instrument, it enables deaf people to get in touch with all the Forum participants without depending on the telephone, express their opinions and receive answers as well as chatting with all the visitors. Voice Forum makes it possible therefore to overcome the unavoidable isolation to which the deaf would be confined if they had to use the telephone to communicate with the whole group.
Electronic mail and the Internet have proved to be very useful tools as they have effectively contributed to demolishing major communication barriers: deaf and hearing people are thus offered absolutely equal conditions.
The Voice Forum has become an important reference point for the field associations as well as for some private television stations who, through this solution, have become aware of deaf people's television problems. This is true for private TV station Telemontecarlo (TMC) which will soon start to subtitle some of its programs and has realised the importance of subtitling precisely after visiting the Voice Forum site.
It is also along these lines that the Voice Forum site confirms its usefulness in propagating information aimed at urging companies and institutions to consistently get over any communication barrier.
In conclusion of our report, we wish to underline that our joint effort for the Voice Project has opened new perspectives in the great opportunities offered by advanced technology to effectively support disability, also considering the fact that nowadays disabled people have a strong desire to play a major role in social life.
The very fast evolution of the communication systems
has surprisingly ended up in fostering communication not only among deaf people
- overturning a situation which had long been neglected and threatened to
further isolate the hearing-impaired - but also and in particular between
deaf and hearing people, creating equal conditions for both.
Let's think about the Internet and the e-mail, which we made a very frequent and profitable use of during our work done in the last few years, and in particular about the SMS messages through cellular phones. All these tools are beginning to bring about a major change in the choice of communication equipment which only a short time ago seemed to be impregnable, like the fax-machine which, though being still very popular among the deaf, is starting to lose ground as a priority communication instrument.
However, it is negatively surprising that even today,
namely at the dawn of the Third Millennium, television still represents in
Italy (but we believe in other several European countries too) a barrier for
the deaf, who are dignified citizens in every respect.
The programs dedicated to the hearing-impaired are presently still very insufficient: the gap between the programs accessible for hearing people and those subtitled for the deaf is really too wide.
Currently, only about 20% of television programs are subtitled: this percentage further worsens a particularly hard condition of discrimination, all the more so as the hearing-impaired are daily confronted with a great deal of relational distress.
Also for this reason, we feel that at least public television
should make up for deaf people's daily difficulties, making it possible for
them to have access to hundred percent of the television service.
This means that, when watching TV, also deaf people must have the same opportunities to follow the programs they prefer, as hearing people normally do.
We know that the situation is actually very different and that non subtitled programs are totally inaccessible for deaf people, nor should we forget that a program without subtitling is for the deaf like watching TV with no audio for hearing spectators.
We wish to emphasise once more that subtitling is the
only viable solution (apart from the sign language for those who know it,
but this is a different subject), enabling the hearing-impaired to overcome
the handicap of television communication.
Subtitles are an absolutely necessary visual support for the deaf and a vital means of participation in television programs.
Through subtitles, the deaf can actively follow any kind of television program, they can make proper remarks and discuss with hearing people about what they have watched together, being able to judge the quality of the selected programs with competence and full knowledge.
In short, the hearing-impaired are therefore no longer confined to the role of passive subjects when watching TV but can play a really active role.
There are however different and equally important considerations on the social usefulness of subtitling for the deaf. A couple of practical examples:
Subtitles have a crucial importance as they not only make it possible for the deaf to understand television programs, but they play a major educational, didactic and cultural role in enlarging their lexical wealth. In this respect, it must be noted that any type of program would be useful, regardless of the information it contains and which is conveyed, because the deaf would get through it a feeling of non discrimination and the chance to share, in an unbiased and independent way, a common good as television should be.
We shouldn't forget either that subtitling is very important
for foreigners living in Italy or in the European countries which in the last
few years have hosted masses of immigrants coming from outside the European
Union. For all these people, subtitling is one more chance to quickly learn
and improve the language of the country where they live and where they are,
and will become, citizens in all respects.
From this point of view, subtitles are an excellent tool to foster social integration and are providential also for the very many citizens who tend to become progressively hearing-impaired as they get older.
In addition, the Voice Project highlighted that the utilisation
of the speech recognition system, with the resulting generation of subtitles,
by deaf students makes their integration much easier.
This is quite understandable as subtitles enable deaf students to have access, word by word, to all the teachers' addresses.
In this way, deaf children can have one more resource to grow up on an equal standing, at the same time improving their notions and acquiring a wider vocabulary, which is normally very restricted.
It is clearly obvious therefore that subtitles represent an absolutely necessary visual support for deaf people as well as a vital means of participation bringing together hearing and deaf people in equal conditions.
These and other examples clearly show that a major implication of subtitling is deaf people's independence, which can make them free individuals fully aware of their own potentials and capabilities.
It is well-known that the Italian legislation and the
European Community regulations confirm the equality of rights for all citizens
and suggest (rather than request) that public institutions should remove all
the barriers hindering the function of services.
Guaranteeing equal opportunities to all the citizens is of fundamental importance in the field of information and culture, therefore it is imperative that the principles of equal opportunities are respected for all the users of public television. This means that also deaf users must have the same opportunities in the choice of the television programs they prefer, which implies subtitling for all the television programs.
We cannot give in on this point.
And yet the hearing-impaired fully pay television fees
like everybody else. This worsens even more the condition of deep injustice
they have always been confronted with.
It is extremely unfair that the television public service must charge an entire fee from a category of users who can have a limited access to its programs.
We wonder why such a large part of the population must
be so openly discriminated.
Deaf citizens alone contribute with the full payment of television fees to a huge revenue amounting to tens of millions of Euro, against an annual budget for television subtitling much lower than the amount of money collected by RAI from deaf users in exchange for a ridiculous number of subtitled hours.
Is all this right?
Why should such a considerable part of the population be neglected and punished? Why doesn't the public service (not only the Italian one) take steps to make all of TV programs accessible for the hearing-impaired too?
In order to press the public television network for a larger production of subtitles, CECOEV has been committed for years to urging private television stations to devote greater attention to the deaf spectators needs.
One of Mediaset television station has welcomed some of our proposals, subtitling genres of programs which are usually not proposed to the deaf public, while Telemontecarlo (TMC) acknowledged its delay in subtitling and announced the intention to start it in the near future.
We want however to point out that as far as subtitling is concerned, there is still no obligation to remove barriers in television communication on behalf of deaf people, a principle which is in contrast respected in England and Sweden.
We therefore invite the EC to take proper action in this
direction, introducing adequate laws that can definitely put an end to a long
persisting discrimination, which is the obvious consequence of the poor sensitiveness
showed until now by those who play an active role in the decision-making process.
We request the EC to draw up on the short term the specifications for an equal supply of services including, among other things, the obligation for the European television stations to make all TV programs accessible for the deaf.
We demand this in the spirit of equality and equal opportunities, so that the hearing-impaired, from users confined to few hours of television subtitling can become and feel citizens in all respects.
Voluntary associations have been working in this direction
for a long time, not only awakening public opinion, but also co-operating
in the development of projects which can really contribute to the solution
of disabled people's problems.
Available technology is being further improved, like the Voice Project, especially studied for deaf people and which we deaf have always fully supported.
We trust that, at the end of our co-operation to the Voice Project, the major role of subtitling will be recognised alongside with all the time devoted by volunteers to this good cause, in order to consistently overcome a social problem which is much more widespread than it seems.