Joe Clark: Accessibility ¶ Design ¶ Writing

Intervention in CRTC 2012-1095-5: The Accessible Channel

Permanent location

This submission is permanently located at the address:

I oppose the licence renewal of the so-called Accessible Channel, the licence application for the French version, and mandatory carriage for any and all of its undertakings.

A ghetto channel for cripples was and is wrong in principle

We went through this already when the Accessible Channel was up for a licence. People with disabilities have a legal and ethical right to a completely accessible television system. Make every show, every station, every network, every network conglomerate, and every Web site of all the foregoing accessible. It was wrong in principle to license a ghetto “accessible” channel.

It’s still wrong. It’s even worse in practice, because blind people in Canada have two gatekeepers deciding what they can and cannot consume – the CNIB and so-called Accessible Media Inc. To put it bluntly, who died and made them king and queen? In practice, CNIB decides what books will be made accessible. So-called Accessible Media decides what periodicals will be read out loud and what TV shows will air with open audio description. Like American politics, it’s a two-party system.

Don’t like it? Not to your taste? Sucks to be blind, doesn’t it? (Good thing regulators and broadcasters never actually are blind. Dodged a bullet there, didn’t you?)

And that is why the French version is also wrong in principle: A monopolist must not be awarded a parallel monopoly. And anyway, Quebec separatists must be shitting themselves at the prospect of a French-language network’s being run out of Toronto, which is what would actually happen.

In case it is not crystal clear where I’m coming from, here it is: I oppose Accessible Media’s existence, along with that of its money-making broadcast channels, which masquerade as salutary contributions to the Canadian broadcasting system.

The crtc and the licensee collude to conceal the latter’s millions

What a coincidence: The CRTC’s pet blind services, VoicePrint and the Accessible Channel, are among the tiny number of broadcasters whose incomes are not reported.

So-called Accessible Media disingenuously and repeatedly drops the phrases “nonprofit” and “not-for-profit” to describe itself in its renewal documents. (Most gallingly, it also uses the phrase “a small, not-for-profit independent broadcaster.”) Of course it’s nonprofit. It’s also a money factory. Accessible Media is awash in millions of dollars ordinarily collected without subscribers’ knowledge or consent.

So-called Accessible Media projects $5,358,000 in revenues over the first licence term of its French offshoot. That’s with a higher wholesale rate and a smaller rate base. Imagine how many millions it’s already raking in from anglos. All we can do is imagine. The CRTC and the licensee collude to conceal the licensee’s income.

(Didn’t this small, well-meaning nonprofit construct a new headquarters from scratch, or am I grievously wrong and misled there?)

The Accessible Channel’s captioning sucks

Every broadcaster’s captioning sucks, but the ill-encoded, mistranscribed, poorly-divided captioning on the Accessible Channel’s deadly dull first-run programming takes the cake. Yet these nonprofit millionaires fancy themselves not just national but global experts in accessibility.

I recall Accessible Media’s Robert Pearson’s tense expression as he came up to me at Accessibility Camp 2011 and pressed his Braille business card into my palm. Why he bothered I don’t know, because Pearson went on to ignore every attempt I made even to talk about his network’s shitty captioning.

This licensee specializes in pulling the wool over your eyes (ironic considering its audience). It rakes in millions from a fee you typically don’t know you’re paying, then hides how much money that is; presents itself as a viable alternative to the fulfillment of blind persons’ legal rights, for which it acts as gatekeeper; and repeats blandishments about the quality of its captioning when captioning is at odds with its purpose. (While there may be outliers, in practice blind people don’t read captioning.)

It’s even more obnoxious of these millionaires to fête their rebroadcast of the Weather Network, by a wide margin the worst captioning criminal in the history of Canadian broadcasting. The Accessible Channel is too incompetent to notice that its weather updates use forbidden automated speech recognition and are incomprehensible. CRTC administrators don’t watch TV and can’t keep up with captioning any better than broadcasting administrators can. That means this paragraph will be the first the CRTC will have heard of the Weather Network/Accessible Channel captioning travesty. (And they’ll do nothing about it.)

Are these people ever going to stop exaggerating about live audio description?

At every opportunity, Accessible Media and its leading external contractor crow about the tragically difficult feat of providing audio description for live TV events. As the CRTC should know because I keep saying so, audio description started out in live theatre. Live audio description is not the near-insurmountable task that the licensee and its pet vendor portray. Nor is it remotely new on TV: The Americans have been live-describing U.S. presidential inaugurations all the way back to Clinton’s.

It’s preposterous that these incompetents might write a style guide

Audio description by Accessible Media, or whatever it chooses to be called this year, has always been an atrocity. Only at Accessible Media are invisible mental states audio-described for the benefit of the blind audience, which is deemed too stupid to make up its own mind about what actually isn’t presented on screen. (You probably don’t get the conundrum there. Neither does the licensee, obviously.) The network’s narrators are poorly chosen, but actually not as bad as those of Accessible Media’s pet outside vendor (more on them shortly).

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters imploded in 2010. It now exists chiefly as a front organization to push through unresearched, compromised, and fraudulent accessibility ”standards” that its lifelong friends at the CRTC attempt to impose on broadcasters. In a way, this is more offensive than the typical revolving door of industry and government, in which broadcasting executives become CRTC commissioners or vice-versa. Here a billionaires’ club that doesn’t technically exist teams up with a millionaire “nonprofit” that never knew what it was doing while insisting it knew best.

It is no longer shocking that the CRTC would encourage this form of corruption. The CRTC is intrinsically corrupt in its dealings with its brothers the broadcasters. And, as I’ve said before, the really interesting fact is that only the CRTC could be so half-assed at corruption that it never manages to take a bribe. The very idea that the Accessible Channel would write so much as a grocery list, let alone a claimed “standard,” is offensive; purporting to do so with the imprimatur of a defunct industry front group is actionable. One human-rights complaint can ruin your whole day.

Typically deceptive polling

The licensee spent a few thousand of its millions of dollars commissioning a poll of consumer willingness to pay for a ghetto accessibility channel. I suppose I’m the only one who noticed how little support there was to the prospect of being dinged for yet another channel you won’t watch.

At any rate, consistent with the practice of pollsters-for-hire, the survey did not ask an honest question. Here’s one that should have been posed: “Would you be willing to pay a hidden fee on your television bill to fund a special accessibility channel you won’t watch, or should all programming on all channels be accessible in the first place at no extra charge to you or to viewers with disabilities?”

What do you think the answer would be? I ask because that is the actual alternative that isn’t being discussed. Concealing the true legal and ethical rights of viewers with disabilities is the foundation of the licensee Accessible Media Inc. When those facts are plainly articulated and understood, this moneymaking ghetto channel no longer has a reason to exist.


I have reasonable grounds to ask the following questions.

Remedies sought

  1. Deny the application for a parallel French moneymaking monopoly.

  2. Strip the Accessible Channel and VoicePrint of mandatory carriage.

  3. Force the licensee to answer my questions – and to prove those answers.

Fun fact

The Accessible Channel’s submissions were as stilted, vainglorious, and illegible as I’d expect from corporate documents banged out by graspers and amateurs using Windows. But did you know – rhetorical question; of course you didn’t – that this ostensible world leader in accessibility couldn’t figure out how to submit tagged PDFs?

(Why were the documents PDFs at all?)

How many actual blind people can read the licensee’s original documents?

And now they want another monopoly money-making channel handed to them on a platter?

Posted: 22013.03.13

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