Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Highlighting the value of Sign Language and Subtitles on TV


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Globally, over one billion people live with disabilities. According to the latest data from the National Centre for Public Health and Analysis, the number of people diagnosed with “deafness” in Bulgaria in 2022 is close to 3000. Although a sign language law was adopted only three years ago to official recognise BGSL (Bulgarian Sign Language) as a distinct language, the country still faces a shortage of sign language interpreters.

On the occasion of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), bTV undertook an initiative to highlight the importance of accessibility in TV. This effort extended beyond content to include advertising, emphasising the need for inclusion in all aspects of broadcasting.

On GAAD, 16 May 2024, bTV dedicated a portion of its daily morning news programming to raise awareness about accessibility issues, focusing on communication for people with hearing impairment or permanent hearing loss. The channel featured personal stories of the sign language interpreters who work behind the scenes to make their programmes accessible. These interpreters shared their journeys, many motivated by personal connections to the deaf community.

For instance, one of the interpreters, Neri, is a child of deaf parents herself and learned sign language  as her first language, even before Bulgarian Another interpreter, Kamelia Zaharieva, got introduced to the community following a personal relationship. She is a teacher at the Special School for Hearing Impaired Students in Sofia, and she discussed the challenges deaf students face with standard textbooks, emphasising the need for materials in sign language for better comprehension at school.

Kamelia and Neri, along with Silvia Marinova, translate the broadcasts of the live bTV News into sign language. This GAAD initiative brought their stories to the forefront, highlighting their invaluable contributions to making television accessible to thousands of people who rely on these services.

In addition to featuring these personal stories, bTV also added closed captioning to the content, ensuring that it was accessible to as many viewers as possible.

bTV extended its commitment to accessibility to the commercial breaks as well. Believing that advertising should be as accessible as the content, bTV, in partnership with Procter & Gamble, an advertiser who recognizes accessibility as its mission, made a statement by broadcasting all P&G commercials on 16th May without sound and with added subtitles.

The ad break featured the following P&G brands: Always Ultra, Pampers, Head&Shoulders, Fairy, Lenor, Naturella, Discreet, Old Spice, Swiffer, Pantene. Before the ad break aired, a title screen appeared with the following message: “This ad is silent! Procter & Gamble chooses to broadcast the ads you are about to watch in solidarity with the individuals with hearing impairment.”

The aim was to give hearing audiences a sense of the experience of deaf and hearing-impaired viewers. The initiative aimed to demonstrate the importance of making advertisements accessible, ensuring that viewers with hearing impairments could fully understand the commercials.

bTV’s initiatives on GAAD showcased a comprehensive approach to accessibility, covering both content and advertising. By featuring the personal stories of their sign language interpreters and making a statement using some of the available advertising practices, bTV highlighted the importance of accessibility and inclusion in media. These efforts not only raised awareness but also set a standard for other broadcasters to follow, ensuring that all viewers, regardless of their hearing abilities, can access and enjoy television content.

As a national media group that enjoys the trust and confidence of our diverse audience, we are always working on being as inclusive as possible – both in terms of awareness and leading by example.

We see an overall industry movement in the direction of accessibility from both advertisers and media outlets, and recongize our role in that process. We are always ready to support our clients and partners in their projects, as well as create opportunities for them to get inspired in terms of advertising.

By highlighting the everyday efforts of professionals such as sign language interpreters and the continuity in Procter & Gamble’s silent campaigns, we not only include social groups that might be somewhat on the sidelines of information streams, but also illustrate how effortlessly ads can become more accessible.

Velimira Petrova

Sales Director, bTV Media Group