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Bruce, Caroline

Why I Oppose the Accessibility Channel

Several months ago, a proposal was made to the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission for a new digital TV channel to come into existence. This channel, called the Accessibility Channel, was meant to provide 24-hour-a-day programming that is accessible to "people with vision loss", hereafter refered to by the better term, blind people, and other people who are unable to see the television screen.

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.



Proud to be a Canadian

Hey Bruce!

I am extremely proud to be living in this beautiful country of ours, Canada; and you should be too.

Services like BookShare and RFB&D do, I will admit, sound rather attractive; but Canadians have their own, unique services too. We have a huge catalogue of books available from the CNIB that may be downloaded in MP3 format--not some ridiculous proprietary format.

An accessibility channel doesn't seem to be a *perfect* solution, but I don't think it would be the discrimination that you think it to be. When we use computers, we do, naturally, need adaptive software to make them work; we can't just use the built-in Windows Narrator. When we want to subscribe to the Canadian Geographic, we can't simply press a button on the spine of the print magazine and read the special brailled version that appears; we must subscribe to it via the CNIB, which will come on a DAISY CD.

I count myself very lucky to live in a country where equality is encouraged, and I often feel just like my sighted peers. Is an accessibility channel the "perfect answer" to described television? Absolutely not. But how on Earth could you see that as being discriminatory?

Oh, and by the way--feel free to pack up and move to the states, but please, whatever you do, don't get sick unless you can afford to. You won't have free health care anymore...

Re: Proud to be a Canadian

Your comments are taken as intended. Let me say that the CNIB library, while it's nice to have unprotected books, is very limited in its scope. Just how much Robertson Davies, Pierre Burton, Farley Mowat and Timothy Findley do they expect us to read? If I have to choose between a small collection of unprotected books versus a huge, vast collection of protected books, let me at them protected books.

As for the accessibility channel, before that channel came along the progress was slow, but it was happening. Channels were being forced to offer more and more DVS programming. Right now I can tune in to DVS from the Comedy Network, Space, HGTV, TV Tropolis, Space, all the Canadian networks ... it's slow in coming, but it's been happening. And we have a few described video companies in this country. We don't need NBRS monopolizing the DV market. Just my few cents' worth.
Very interesting piece, Bruce. And while I am not blind, I do agree with the gist of your piece that it would be nice for the programming to not be regulated to a niche television network (one that you would have to subscribe to at your expense). Hopefully oneday, it isn't.