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TV, movies and streaming services are still not fully accessible to the 1.5 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the Netherlands. The minimum standards established for subtitling fifteen years ago have not been toughened since. There are no legal requirements in this area for movies and series on streaming services like Netflix, Videoland, and HBO Max.

Elke(in), the interest group for people with disabilities, calls for action. She sees that mainly commercial providers are being left behind. They should be imposed by law on Everyone to make their programs more accessible.

It’s not clear exactly how many TV shows and movies have closed captions for the deaf and hard of hearing (ODS). The Media Authority, which checks whether channels meet applicable standards, only registers ‘ordinary’ subtitles.

RTL and Talpa (SBS6, Veronica, Net5) do not share figures. The streaming services targeted by the NOS (Netflix, Videoland, Disney+, HBO Max, Prime Video and Ziggo) also do not want to say how much of their offer is equipped with ODS.

A tour of streaming services produces a mixed picture. Some movies, series and shows do not have subtitles at all, others only have ‘normal’ subtitles, and still others have subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. Movies that are not subtitled on some platforms include popular Dutch movies like black book, the mother of lice and Bon Bini Holland. English language offerings rarely seem to have ODS. “Very disappointing; this could really ruin my night,” says Rhoja, who is hard of hearing.

One exception is the NPO, which has set self-initiated guidelines that good closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing must meet and does provide figures. According to a spokesperson, more than 99 percent of the offer on public channels meets these strict requirements. “The missing 0.9 percent in 2021 was not a conscious choice, but rather due to unforeseen circumstances. Like a shift editor calling in sick at 6am missing.”

Talpa doesn’t provide that clarity, but says it “fully complies” with the 50 percent requirement. RTL makes it clear that its subtitling is provided by “specialized parties” and that there is (too) great demand on the Dutch market for the services of these companies.

All streaming services emphasize that it is very important for them that their movies and series can be followed by the whole world and that they still need some time to do so. Our strategy is to offer deaf and hard of hearing subtitles for the vast majority of our Dutch content.

UN treaty

CDA MP Lucille Werner calls it “a form of opt-out” that closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing is not available for all programs. According to Werner, this is in conflict with the UN Convention on Disability, which prescribes that the threshold for disabled people to participate in society should be as low as possible.

“The pace of progress is too slow,” says Wouter Bolier of Elke(in), the interest group for people with disabilities. Bolier himself is also hard of hearing. “With commercial broadcasters, we’re not seeing a noticeable increase anymore. Not all providers are certainly doing it wrong though.”

‘The urgency is not felt everywhere’

Everyone and other deaf and hard of hearing interest groups would like to see the legal requirements for commercial broadcasters become 5 percent more stringent each year. And that there will also be minimum standards for regional stations, for example, where accessibility is also lagging behind. “So let’s say you start with 10 percent closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing next year, 15 percent the following year, and so on,” says Bolier. “And that with clear quality requirements, so that everyone knows what they have to meet. However, to date we have not yet managed to get the House of Representatives and the responsible Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to agree to this.” Last summer, broadcasters were required to report annually on the measures they are taking in this area.

CDA MP Werner has also noted that “the urgency of this issue is not yet felt equally by all colleagues.” That’s why she and others try to enforce things one step at a time. For example, late last year the House adopted an amendment by Werner and her colleagues Westerveld (GroenLinks) and Van der Graaf (ChristenUnie), which frees up €1 million a year for audio description of NPO programmes. “Because it’s just more expensive than subtitling.”

Hearing impaired Rhoja often misses out on movies and series experience due to poor subtitles.