On the surface, such a channel might seem like a good thing. A lot of blind people are very frustrated at the lack of available described video programming. And rightfully so: the amount of described material currently available to us is pitiful. So these people see this new accessibility channel as a victory for blind people.
But is it? I contend that it is not. To me, this is just another case of segragating us. Give the poor blind people their own special channel. What does that tell sighted people? It says two things, in my view. First, it says that blind people are a group separate from sighted people. I have never accepted this premice, nor will I ever do so. I am not part of some "blindness community", to which many blind people seem to attach themselves. I am blind, yes, most certainly. I'm not denying that. But, o sighted reader, I am neither better nor worse than you; and aside from my lack of eyesight, I'm not any more different from you than anyone else. My individuality is not blindness-centered. I am your equal, you are mine, and I expect our discourse to be handled accordingly. But this channel is emphasizing our separateness. In a country like Canada, where we are encouraged to be Anglo-Canadian, Franco-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, African-Canadian, Aboriginal Canadian ... anything at all other than just plain Canadian, the separateness mantra is an easier sell than it might be in America. I prefer the melting pot to the mosaic. A country without an identity is no country, and Canada's identity is murky at best.
The other message that we're sending out to the public, related to the first, is that we, as blind people, will settle for being shut off somewhere. Give these blind people their own channel, then they'll stop bugging us for described programming to be available with the appropriate channels. It's like giving a baseball to a kid who didn't get picked to be on the team and expecting him to be happy throwing the baseball against a brick wall and catching it. As far as I'm concerned, we as blind people should be happy with nothing short of what the deaf have achieved for close captioning: we need the law to force the networks to make their programming available in described form, using existing infrastructure. Furthermore, the individual cable subscriber should not have to foot the bill, as he or she is being asked to do with this new accessibility channel.
Some have suggested that my lack of support for the accessibility channel means that, like the National Federation of the Blind in the US, I opposed mandatory described video. This is simply not the case. Quite the opposite. I think there has to be a push for mandatory described video. I needs to come from the networks and it needs to be available to people in the existing infrastructure. I don't want to tell everyone that I'll watch Corner Gas at a different time because the accessibility channel has it on at a different time than CTV does. I want to watch the show at the same time as other people. I even have the right to watch the same commercials, not whatever this Accessibility Channel proposes to show for commercials. Don't shut me off, include me, I demand it.
Who's ultimately sponsoring this channel? The National Broadcast Reading Service. One of the things they do is provide described video services. What's in it for them? Here's a whole channel that needs described video. The cable subscriber is funding this for them, so they don't have to worry about that, and they get to use up to fifty percent of the broadcast time for the stuff they produce. Don't try to tell me that this doesn't give them a huge, government-enforced advantage over the competition. Right now I'm disgusted to be a Canadian, and if I could pack up and move to the States, but for my friends and family, I would.