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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media

07/02/2015

Positioning Accessibility as a Precursor to Inclusion

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Audio description (or described video) is coming of age in several countries, including the United States. What can we do to raise awareness about its importance in driving accessibility for persons with disabilities? Robert Pearson explores.  

A senior citizen couple enjoying watching something on their laptop

Image: The challenges that audio description continues to face is a lack of awareness of its existence, purpose, context, and content. Photo courtesy ShutterStock.

Regular readers of my blog would be familiar with the anecdotes I share about my young daughter and how she has transformed the lives of me and my wife in many ways. She has also, quite unexpectedly, provided me insights into accessibility through the eyes of a child and helped me re-evaluate my understanding of the parameters that define and make up the concept of accessibility. 

I don’t recall if I have mentioned this, but my sister is an optometrist. We've joked in the past about how we serve the same audience. She keeps them healthy and allows them to mitigate their differing visual abilities, while I ‘entertain’ them and advocate on their behalf through my job as the Accessibility Officer at Accessible Media Inc.

You would suppose that having such a close family relationship in the field of vision care has been very beneficial to ensuring that the eyes of my family have remained healthy over the years. My daughter is a little older than 3 years and has been in the care of my sister since she was born, allowing us to follow-up on her visual acuity. Her condition is nothing in the realm of disability, and she can outgrow her pretty new pair of glasses eventually.

If there is one piece of advice I could give to new parents, it is to check your child's vision. You cannot imagine how much they would benefit from regular screenings. My daughter’s at a critical age where actions taken now can produce results that will benefit her throughout her life and allow her to have a sense of inclusion as she perceives the world around her. That championing and taking the effort to be proactive is what exemplifies any and all implementations of an accessibility accommodation.

That championship role is also similar to one taken recently by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on behalf of persons with visual disabilities. They announced significant changes to the proliferation of described video (audio description) in Canada and the accessibility of broadcasting hardware.

Previously, most broadcasters in Canada were only required to provide four hours of programming with audio description a week. In case you weren’t aware, AMI is unique in the world as we offer 100% of our broadcast with audio description, on both our television networks. With these new regulations in place, most broadcasters will now be required to describe all of their prime time programming, from 7-11 pm, thereby significantly increasing the amount of content which is described. However, it should be noted that most networks have already been providing an amount of described content far beyond their minimum required four hours.

Further to this, the CRTC has outlined a direction of working towards the implementation of an accessible set top box. Comcast has implemented this in the United States, other regions around the world have also accomplished it, but here in Canada, we haven’t set measures. 

The challenges that audio description continues to face is a lack of awareness of its existence, purpose, context, and content. Even though audio description may have entered a turning point by going mainstream, it will continue to face challenges until is it at par with closed captioning. One way to raise awareness is to ensure effective mainstream media coverage of news related to audio description, along with dissemination of knowledge at the government and institutional level.

These recent announcements by the CRTC were a component of five separate announcements of changes to the Canadian broadcasting regulations. Unfortunately, as is common practice, traditional media neglected to provide effective coverage of these topics related to persons with disabilities. The other topics affecting the widest numbers of persons, including mainstream topics such as sports and the cost of cable service, held dominance. This occurred while topics related to the provision of accessible content to persons with disabilities were pushed, for example, to the final paragraph of a full page article on those other mainstream headlines.

There are countless people who might not receive the opportunity to learn about news pertaining to accessibility and accessible regulations, and benefit from inclusion. It is for them that we continue advocating accessibility, particularly by driving awareness of described video.

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Related Resources

Blog: Your Accessibility Business Plan | Read Robert Pearson's Article.

Publication: Model ICT Accessibility Policy | Download Free PDF.

Event: 6th International Conference on Disabilities | July 6-9, 2015 at Tel Aviv, Israel | View Event Details.