In 2001, the Government of Canada sponsored a national survey of persons with disabilities in Canada – the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS). Persons with disabilities make up 9.2% of 25-54 year olds, and 21.8% of those 54-65. Women in Film and Television – Toronto (WIFT-T) released a report that surveyed the presence of persons with disabilities in broadcasting and found participation rates of .3% (for small private broadcasters) to 1.9% (CBC-Radio) whereas people with disabilities make up 5.6% of other industries. The participation rates for media related educational institutions are also low, ranging from .1% to 1.4%. The CAB’s consultations identified three key barriers: (1) Accessibility to broadcasters’ and producers’ premises. (2) Access to captions and described video. (3) Accessibility to broadcasters and public processes.
There are a wide range of concerns about the representation, reflection and portrayal of persons with disabilities in television programming. (1) Presence – disabilities are common in our society but seldom seen in programming. (2) Reflection – e.g., when a person in a wheelchair is part of a news story, the first shot will often be of the wheelchair, focusing viewers on the disability and not the person. (3) Stereotyping – e.g., portrayal as tragic and/or dependent, portrayal as brave, courageous, fighting their way through life, portrayal as “super-hero” who has higher faculties somewhere else, or insinuation that the disability leads them to sinister or evil behaviour. (4) Misuse of Terms and Images – e.g., terms such as “confined to a wheelchair”, “stricken with deafness”, “suffers from blindness” giving the impression their life is tragic or dependent. (5) Appropriation of Voice – writers, producers and directors do not often solicit proper input from members of disability communities. One interviewee said it is no longer acceptable for white performers to wear a “black face” to portray Canadians of African descent but it still seems acceptable for able-bodied performers to portray persons with disabilities. (6) Unbalanced or Inaccurate Reporting of Issues Concerning Persons with Disabilities – editorial boards don’t often consult disability groups and news reports often ignore the perspective of persons with disabilities e.g., a number of participants with disabilities expressed outrage that the coverage of the Latimer case seemed to be uniquely about the father and ignored the rights and concerns of the daughter, Tracey Latimer.
The CAB believes it is important for senior broadcast executives to meet with
knowledgeable people from various disability communities to better understand
their concerns and facilitate “buy in” from senior management on initiatives.
The CAB will create a subcommittee of the (JSIC), a relatively small group of
senior executives who will oversee the implementation of the CAB’s Action Plan
and its report to the CRTC. Reporting to the JSIC as a whole, the Steering
Committee will ensure a strong presence of the major broadcasters and
proposals will be vetted first by the JSIC, which will make recommendations to
the CAB’s Television and Specialty & Pay Boards, ensuring that all members
endorse the approach taken.
The CAB’s approach will have four major components. (1) Leadership – the CAB will take a lead by highlighting the issues around portrayal and employment. (2) Employment – identify and remove barriers to employment as well as providing outreach to persons with disabilities at all levels of the industry. (3) Portrayal Strategy – provide broadcasters with tools to ensure appropriate use of terms and images. (4) Educational Strategy – initiatives aimed at encouraging students with disabilities to consider a career in broadcasting or related fields.
Possible Products and Deliverables: (1) A “Broadcaster Tool Kit” – would cover Hiring, Access, Accommodation, Best Practices, and a better knowledge base of persons with disabilities who are working in the broadcast industry. (2) Outreach to Disability Communities – the CAB will explore the best means to ensure regular feedback from disability groups and communities. The CAB will also look into developing a resource centre for persons with disabilities that would provide information relevant industry initiatives, employment opportunities, information on new programming etc. (3) Educational Information – the CAB will partner with industry stakeholders and educational institutions to develop materials to encourage the participation of persons with disabilities at the various levels in the industry.
Workplan: The Steering Committee would oversee and conduct three main streams of work for inclusion in a report to the CRTC. (1) Comprehensive Consultations – wider and more representative than the consultations to date focusing on: The disability community – including national and provincial associations, academics and others working in this area, Persons in the broadcasting industry with disabilities – this could be through focus groups or surveys, Senior executives of the broadcasting industry – with a view to seeking out where change can be best effected and how broadcasters might contribute. (2) Focus Group Research – including persons with disabilities from both inside and outside the broadcasting industry. (3) Best Practices Research – comprehensive research on initiatives in a number of areas: Canadian broadcasting and related industries, Broadcasting initiatives in other jurisdictions (e.g. U.K., U.S., and Australia), Initiatives from governments across Canada, review of Best Practices from non-broadcast industries.
Time Lines: The CAB proposes the following tentative schedule: Action plan
submitted to CRTC (16 Aug., 2004); Approval by CRTC (Oct., 2004); Striking of
Steering and Outreach Committees (Oct.– Nov., 2004); First Meeting of Steering
Committee (Dec., 2004); Research Phase (Jan.– Feb., 2005); Consultations
(Jan.– Mar., 2005); Final Report to CRTC (Jun-Jul, 2005).