EasyTV: Easing the access of Europeans with disabilities to converging media and content

This article is part of a Special Issue on The Social Value of European Research on Media Accessibility.

One of the many challenges people with various degrees of sensory disabilities face is their difficulty to access mainstream products and services and therefore they are often excluded from enjoying audio-visual services. Marginalising people with disabilities on this level is a critical and problematic issue, especially in today’s information society, where access to information should be freely available to all, in order for each individual to be able to reach his/her maximum potential, personally, professionally and socially. While these challenges have been identified, they have not been addressed yet efficiently, since existing solutions still inherit characteristics of the analogue TV or just focus on traditional TV viewing.

According to the European Disability Forum, 80M people with disabilities are currently living in Europe. To this figure we have to add people over 65 years of age who have hearing problems, as reported by the Institute of Hearing Research. They have indicated that there are currently an estimated 81.5 million adults with a hearing loss in Europe as a whole. Effectively, this means mean that one in seven adults in Europe will be affected by hearing problems. Also amongst people with disability are those with sight issues, and according to the World Blind Union the figure is of 23,5% of the EU population.

The demand for accessible products and services is high and the number of citizens with disabilities and/or functional limitations will increase significantly with the ageing of the European Union’s population. Taking into account demographic ageing, it is expected that in 2020 approximately 120 million persons in the European Union will have multiple and/or minor disabilities. To this figure we have to add linguistic disability, that is, the need we all have when living or travelling to a country with language we do not speak. Improving the functioning of the internal market for specific accessible products and services, serves both the needs of these consumers and industry. An environment where products and services are more accessible allows for more inclusion and participation of citizens in society. It supports independent living and autonomous choice. It also contributes to the application of the principle of equal treatment in the access to goods and services by persons with disabilities.

EasyTV project

In order to tackle these issues, in 2017 the European Commission funded the EasyTV project (project n. 761999) under the  call “ICT-19-2017 Media and content convergence”.
The EasyTV project aims not only at easing the access to multimedia services, by offering novel media delivery mechanisms but also at moving one step further by enhancing interaction based on a multi-language approach and adapt it to the user’s preferences by providing personalised content.

The project will run until March 2020 and is based on four pillars:
a) Improved access services for enhanced multimedia visual and sound experience for people with disabilities;
b) Improved personalisation of the content experiencing and interaction, towards a hyper-personalised experience to all;
c) Novel technologies to break the sign language barrier (based on crowdsourcing techniques);
d) Improvement and development of voice and gesture/gaze recognition to control the TV set and TV applications (e.g., eye movement or head movement) in the form of a universal remote control.

Following a holistic approach and integrating the aforementioned technologies into a single multiterminal platform will assure that users, especially those with disabilities, will be the main focus making them active participants, allowing them to interact with the content and to enjoy fully audio-visual experiences in ways that were not possible before.

The initial results from EasyTV, mainly the personalisation of information, speech interaction for visual impaired, content adaptation (custom magnification, adaptable screen reader, and automatic description of content), services for hearing impaired such as 3D realistic avatar, gesture recognition, and the crowdsourcing platform have been tested with users, which demonstrated the value of the technologies which were developed.

New Business Opportunities

EasyTV offers new business opportunities (with new audiences to access on every device, for prepared or live contents) for enterprises/broadcast companies and new financing models to analyse by:

  • Contributing to solve the lack of standards for subtitles and accessibility services and reducing the cost for those services.
  • Providing enterprises and broadcast company access to innovative and cost-effective solutions necessary for removing barriers to spoken communication on television and the Internet. This includes solutions for (live) captioning and for visualizing content through sign language.

It will also have impact on work opportunities in Europe, contributing to the creation of new professional profiles, new workflows and new working conditions (teleworking opportunities for disabled workers to give an example).

By Federico Álvarez García
Polytechnic University of Madrid, Spain
fag (at) gatv.ssr.upm.es

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