Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

Rush transcript of presentation to CRTC

From their real-time captioning, 2008.11.19.

I am Joe Clark. I am a writer here in Toronto and I have been involved in the field of accessibility for people with disabilities for 30 years. I wrote the book Building Accessible Websites about accessible Web development. I volunteered on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group and the PDF/Universal Access committee. I have written audio description scripts for movies, the Atlantic Monthly called me the king of closed captions. You should all take a look at an important article of mine that was published yesterday in the leading magazine for Web developers called A List Apart. It explains why Web captioning is going to have to be regulated. You can look for it at

I have been following the CRTC’s reign of error on disabilities since the ‘80’s, and I am the only person in the country that has ever been able to call bullshit on the part of the CRTC, and I am proud to hold that today. We should consider this a truth and reconciliation commission, but I would be happy if it just ended up with truth and reconciliation at the commission.

Ostensibly, this proceeding is about accessibility, but it is really about a closed door deal between the CRTC and the Canadian association of broadcasters t CAB.

LEONARD KATZ: Excuse me, Mr. Clark, can I just ask you to slow down, we have sign people here as well.

JOE CLARK: Interpreters and captioning, yes. I have rehearsed this in time just to be 13 minutes, so I will slow down, but that might put me slightly over 15.

LEONARD KATZ: Not a problem.

JOE CLARK: Very good, all right.

Let me back up a step for the benefit of the captioners and interpreters.

Ostensibly, this proceeding is about accessibility, but really it is about a closed-door deal between the CRTC and the Canadian association of broadcasters, the CAB.

But first, what is the central question about accessibility of the broadcasting system?

It is a simple one.

Who is the biggest liar? Is it the CRTC? You people at the CRTC have put decades of effort into blocking the rights of people with disabilities to receive broadcasts that they can actually understand. The single biggest impediment to full accessibility is you people at the CRTC. You have consistently imposed accessibility requirements on broadcasters that are negligible or a joke. Some broadcasters barely have to caption anything.

A lot of broadcasters have a seemingly impressive 90% captioning requirement. Well, that just means they can take the entire month of December off with no captioning and still meet the requirement.

And they never have to caption after midnight f they don’t want to. The CRTC bought the lie from French language broadcasters that French is a special, highly complex, unique and independent language. These broadcasters want us to believe that it borders on impossible to caption TV shows in French, so French broadcasters almost never have the same captioning requirements as English language broadcasters. And you bought the lie that captioning of live shows in the French language was impossible, but not only is it possible, but French broadcasters are doing it in 1996. You have only barely figured out that the minimum standard for captioning is a hundred per cent, which really means 99.999%, as I’ll tell you in a minute. It took a long time for that message to travel from the tail of the brontosaurus to the brain. That level of captioning isn’t just theoretically attainable. It already has been attained by numerous broadcasters. You just haven’t required everybody else to meet that level, so nobody else has.

You can’t even apply your own standards consistently. We are now at the stage where that nifty new Canadian hetero porn channel northern peaks has to caption its porn during the entire broadcast day, but other channels including TQS and an educational broadcaster TFO do not have to caption everything during the broadcast day.

Now, your decades of experience in short-changing the deaf came in handy when you suddenly realized that blind people can’t understand TV shows without audio description. First, you channel George orwell and redefined the phrase audio description. Then you decided that entire TV channels didn’t have to describe anything, and for the small minority of channels that do have to put some audio described programming on air, only a couple of airs a week will do fine thanks.

You are much too chummy with the broadcasters who are your former and future employers and fundamentally agree with everything they do, and there is no enforcement whatsoever.

So what about the broadcasters, are they the biggest liars? It is a plausible case, they have claimed for decades that a hundred per cent captioning isn’t even necessary. Then they changed the tune and started saying it wasn’t even possible.

There is always a laundry list of items that they say should never be captioned, show that is aren’t in English and French, anything that runs after midnight, sub titled programs, commercials, promos, kids’ shows, porn. Broadcasters act as though absolutely any kind of electronic impulse that they stuff into line 21 of the vertical blanking interval is enough to be considered captioning. They use live captioning on prerecorded shows. They use scroll-up captioning everywhere they can, even on fictional shows where it is impossible to understand the show with scroll-up captioning and they use centred scroll-up captioning on some shows.

Broadcasters have finally figured out the internet exists and they are confronted with on-line video, and they want you to think that on-line video can’t be captioned or shouldn’t be captioned, despite the fact that on-line video can be captioned and is being captioned already, it is perfectly possible technically.

And I really have to give the broadcasters credit for their ingenuity in continually crying poor, while still managing to buy each other out for billions of dollars at a time, or spend seven figures on a hockey theme song or buy a news helicopter or generally spend money on anything other than meeting the requirements to meet the legal rights of people with disabilities.

Okay. What about the CAB?

Are they a pretty big source of lies?

I would say so. Because the Canadian Association of Broadcasters would really like you to believe they are an innocuous non-profit organization. In reality, they are enforcers, they are a fierce back-room lobbyist who act like a miniature Motion Picture Association of America.

Twice now they have tried some behind the scenes nonsense under the guise of writing a captioning standard. They don’t know the first thing about standards. They haven’t written a standard in their lives. Their first attempt at a so-called standard was carried out totally in secret. It was easier to cross the DMZ into north korea than it was for me to get my hands on that document, and what I did was wrote 10,000 words of commentary on it which was ignored. The first CAB captioning standard was nothing more than a statement of ideology and it was pretty much ignored in the marketplace, and even jim roots of the cad didn’t like it. He told the CRTC it was merely adequate and not completely satisfactory.

Now, captioning is all about doing what we already know doesn’t work over and over again, so this time the CAB and you people at the CRTC have cooked up a secret deal to write another so-called captioning standard. This won’t be a standard either. It will just be the opinions of the people invited on to the secret committee. A lot of them have serious financial conflicts of interest. It won’t be backed up by research, it won’t be user tested and it is going to be a complete failure too. Like the first so-called standard, no two captioners will produce the same kind of standards, it has happened before and it is happening again . And that prove you say don’t have a standard. In reality, the entire purpose of the broadcasting side of these hearings is to ram this secretly created non-standard down everybody’s throats and I am sure it is just a coincidence that the most important document we all needed to read for these hearings isn’t done yet.

You and the CAB are so hell-bent on secret closed door processes, you are so intent on getting an inside job that you won’t even show us what you intend to impose on us. Now I naught 2008 was the year that industry self-regulation was finally proven not to work. Asking the CAB to write a captioning standard is like asking the tobacco industry to write a standard for cigarette safety. Putting a bunch of industry lobbyists in charge of captioning is like letting the fox guard the chicken coop and the chickens are disabled.

So what is the solution?

The solution is full accessibility of the broadcasting system, full accessibility means full accessibility, not partial accessibility. It means a hundred per cent captioning, which really means 99.999% captioning.

The term used for that number is five-nines. You can never hit a hundred per cent captioning over prolonged periods because some little thing is going to go wrong somewhere, but you can hit five-nines per cent captioning.

Hbo claims to meet the five-nines standard an all its channels, even spanish language ones. Now they are only counting programming, not commercials and promos. But cbc newsworld have gotten their act together and are pumping out 99.999% captioning on those channels, they are making other mistakes, but that is there.

There is a press release from Vitac of President-Elect Obama’s acceptance speech. They captioned it in 92 languages, using 92 real-time captioners [and 600 data connections], and they managed 99.99% captioning on a live event that was too important to screw up. So whenever a broadcaster or lobbyist or consultant or just somebody else who works at the CRTC tells I don’t that a hundred per cent captioning is not possible, they are correct, it is true, it is not possible. But a hundred per cent captioning means five-nines captioning, and not only is it possible, it is being done now.

But then there is the question of quality. I’m appearing before you as the head of the Open & Closed Project. We are an independent research project, and when I say we, I mean me and my researcher friends. We want to independently research and test a set of standards for captioning, audio description, sub titleing and dubbing. We want to do the whole thing out in the open. We want to use the existing research and commission and carry out our own research to fill in the cracks and then when the whole thing is done, we want to test it in the real world, because theory and practice are different things. And then finally we’ll train practitioners so that captioning and audio description for example, finally become professional fields with real standards backing them up.

The cost is peanuts. Our first year costs are half a billion bucks. That would barely pay for someone’s body guards.

We have applied over and over again for funding under social benefits spending, but of course those are actually back room deals cooked up by an old boy’s network, so that didn’t work, and you people at the CRTC refused to require broadcasters to fund our project.

We are the only prospect for an adequate captioning and audio description standard, and I’m tired of waiting around for funding, so I’m going to make you an offer you can’t lose – I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.

I’m suggesting we almost completely deregulate broadcasting in canada. Of course, the broadcasting act authorizes the CRTC to regulate broadcasting in all its forms. I am saying you should forbear from regulateing in most areas.

Old style TV channels use the broadcast spectrum. It is owned by the public and it is a finite resource, so of course we regulate it because the broadcast spectrum is a limited public good, but digital TV channels do not use the broadcast spectrum. They are creatures of mpeg. Digital bandwidth isn’t infinite, but it is not scarce /e her, and it is not owned by the public. There is just no reason to regulate digital broadcasters. So I’m suggesting that only broadcast channels be regulated. Digital channels would be completely unregulated. All they have to do is comply with the criminal code. In return, the entire Canadian broadcasting system, absolutely everything, broadcast digital and on-line would have to be accessible, and the accessibility would have to be done according to independent standards that were developed out in the open and tested to prove they work. In other words, accessibility would have to be done according to the standards my research project would create. Of course this is a naked ploy for funding. Thises the most blatant ploy for funding in the history of country, but based on principle.

People with disabilities have a legal right to accessibility and only the broadcast air waves are a limited public good. So let’s give broadcasters a nice shiny new licence to print money, just in time, because the old one is about to run out, and in return, we ask for a pittance of investment up front in real standards for accessibility.

Now, if you are worried about can con and French and minority languages and all those things, you can concentrate all those regulations on broadcast channels. In this scenario companies choose to use the broadcast spectrum and know what they are getting into. Now, the CRTC is all about putting up objections to anything that doesn’t come from the broadcast sector itself, and you’ll tell me it is outside the scope of the hearing, and that is fine, so once you get back to the CRTC headquarters in hull, check your fax machine, I’m sure it would be quite popular with the new minister of heritage. Time is up for you and your broadcaster friends for 30 years you have been doing everything you possibly can to give us no accessibility or not enough accessibility or low quality accessibility. That isn’t working and I have got a plan to fix it. There, that is 15 minutes exactly, according to this clock.

LEONARD KATZ: thank you very much, mr. Clark. Just to put a couple of things in perspective you, indicated that the CAB report is not on the record. Our information is that it will be filed on november the 30th, and there will be a supplementary report a couple of weeks after that. It is on the record for this proceeding, all parties will have access to it a off of our website when it is filed and all parties will have an opportunity to comment on it as part of this proceeding as well.

Is it is on the record –

JOE CLARK: I am aware of that.

LEONARD KATZ: it will be on the record, and an opportunity to incorporate it into our final deliberations.

I don’t have any other questions. Your proposal that you said was sent into us, we’ll certainly put on the record as well, and it will be taken under advisement and I thank you for coming in again, and again, I apologize for delaying you. The time that unfortunately we had trouble technically. I’ll ask my commissioners here if they have any questions as well?


Do we have to put an exhibit number on his submission that he has faxed in? No, it is on the record automatically? Great, thank you very, very much, appreciate it, and look forward to future interventions by you and we’ll try and see how we can bridge the gap. Thanks again.

If you’re following along at home

Yes, they exhibited naked contempt by failing to ask so much as a single question.

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