Pathaan Order: Implications on Access to Entertainment for Persons with Disabilities
Ensuring accessibility of content is the joint responsibility of the government and private stakeholders
In a recently issued interim order, the High Court of Delhi directed that the film Pathaan, slated to be released on the OTT platform, Amazon Prime Video, be made accessible to persons with visual and hearing impairments. The court specifically directed Yash Raj Films (YRF), the makers of Pathaan, to prepare an audio description as well as subtitles and closed captions in Hindi, and submit the film for re-certification to the Central Board of Film Certification. YRF was also advised to contact specific mobile applications to explore the possibility of providing these features for facilitating access to the film to persons with disabilities.
Providing reasonable accommodation
The order is premised on the right against discrimination guaranteed to persons with disabilities under the Constitution of India as well as the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWDA). It seeks to enforce certain guarantees mentioned under the RPWDA, such as, the right of persons with disabilities to participate in recreational activities equally with others and the need to develop technology, assistive devices and equipment to facilitate access and inclusion for persons with disabilities in recreational activities. Furthermore, the order relies on the RPWDA’s mandate that all content available in audio, print and electronic media is in an accessible format and persons with disabilities have access to electronic media through audio description, sign language interpretation and closed captioning.
It is relevant to note that the RPWDA places the responsibility of promoting and protecting the rights mentioned above primarily on the government. However, taking cue from the Supreme Court of India’s judgment in Vikash Kumar v. Union Public Service Commission, the High Court of Delhi recognised that even private parties, such as, YRF have to ensure that reasonable accommodation in the form of accessibility measures are taken to enable greater access to films for persons with visual and hearing impairments.
Notifying content accessibility standards and role of multiple parties
On the larger question of notifying accessibility standards for content, the court impleaded the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation and the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association as parties in the present matter, in addition to the already-impleaded Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The court also recognised that for persons with visual and hearing impairments to truly enjoy a film, accessibility measures must be taken by various stakeholders, such as producers, theater managers, OTT platforms, etc. and that the state has an obligation to ensure that all steps that are reasonably possible are taken in that direction.
Indeed a case against private parties is stronger if accessibility standards for content are specifically notified under the RPWDA which would then be applicable to both private as well as public service providers. Moreover, the order reiterates the issue that disability inclusion and access cannot be addressed by one ministry; multiple players, both public and private, are required to work together to create inclusive spaces.
As this matter as well as notification of accessibility standards remain pending, it is hoped that the order will nudge producers and OTT platforms to do their bit and make content available, accessible and enjoyable to a wider audience.