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CRTC Public Notice 2008-8 - Unresolved issues related to the accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services to persons with disabilities

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

July 23, 2008

Mr. Robert A. Morin
Secretary General
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
1 Promenade du Portage
Gatineau, Québec K1A 0N2

Dear Mr. Morin:

Re: Public Notice 2008-8 Unresolved issues related to the accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services to persons with disabilities


1. These initial comments are being filed by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L’alliance pour l’égalité des personnes aveugles du Canada (AEBC) in response to CRTC Public Notice 2008-8. In this document, the AEBC argues for increased regulation of terminal equipment that is used to receive telecommunication and broadcasting services. We urge the implementation of universal design practices that would utilize new technology to build accessibility into new products and services. We express our concerns and suggestions on a variety of topics, including portrayal of persons with disabilities in the media, the lack of progress in the area of audio/video description, the transition to High Definition Television, and the shift to broadcasting over the Internet. Furthermore, the AEBC would like to see improved access to emergency broadcasting services, pay telephones, and the CRTC complaints process. We look forward to the opportunity to provide our expertise on these issues through an oral presentation at the public hearings beginning in November 2008.


2. The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'alliance pour l'égalité des personnes aveugles du Canada (AEBC) is a national, not for profit organization of rights holders who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. Our work focuses primarily on increasing public awareness and providing input on public policy issues that affect our community. Much of our work involves removing old barriers in such areas as access to information, transportation, education, employment, and fighting the continuing high level of poverty in which far too many members of our community subsist. Today, we are also involved in fighting to prevent the development of new barriers, such as the development of the quiet hybrid automobile and the increasing use of visual menus to operate regular household products. For further background on the AEBC and our work, please visit our website:


3. The AEBC has responded to several previous CRTC Public Notices, and was a member of the community coalition that came together in 2006 as a result of Telecom Decision CRTC 2006-9. We believe that, as a consumer organization of rights holders who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, we have a unique perspective to offer this proceeding, and we request the opportunity to appear in person to provide oral testimony in Edmonton, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario.


4. While the AEBC appreciates the efforts the CRTC is taking to make this proceeding more accessible, including being able to appear in communities other than Gatineau, and being able to follow the proceedings over the internet, we are concerned that this important PN has not been actively disseminated. For example, our organization participated in the pre-consultation discussions with Connectus Consulting, yet the AEBC did not receive a copy of this critical PN, and actually only found out about it through a member who regularly reviews what's happening at the CRTC.

5. We also want to draw your attention to the difficulty many people who are blind will have making submissions. When you click on "submit" on the submissions link, it doesn't tell you submissions to what. The first page that comes up starts with "step 3". There is no explanation for this or help text. The drop down list boxes are problematic, and screen readers can be popped out of them before they've made their choice. There should be a better design for them. The browse button does not read at all, and the submissions, when uploaded, are acknowledged, but it doesn't say what has been submitted. At least in one case, something acknowledge by the system to one of our members was not posted.

6. Although the CRTC website contains a PDF converter to make PDF accessible, Adobe products remain inaccessible to many who use a screen reader, and thus all Adobe documents should at least be required to be also posted in html to facilitate comment by participants. Finally, in this process, we again want strongly to point out that most people who are blind remain unaware of this process, and we can find little evidence that CRTC has informed them. A simple option might have been to have required licensed service holders to distribute information about this process in a variety of formats with their next bill information. This is still an option in the case of the public hearings.

7. The AEBC also wishes to express its deep concern regarding both the time of year this PN was issued, and particularly the very tight time frame allocated for filing initial comments. The AEBC reserves the right to introduce additional comments if granted the opportunity to present orally.


8. Many of the issues that are of primary concern to the AEBC were set out in the Report, "Stakeholder Consultations on Accessibility Issues for Persons with Disabilities," submitted to the Canadian Radio television and Telecommunications Commission on April 18, 2008 by CONNECTUS Consulting Inc, which concluded:

Throughout the consultation process, the Canadian disability community expressed its deep concern that as the pace of communications technologies and devices accelerates, persons with disabilities will be faced with increasingly inaccessible products and services – promoting exclusion rather than inclusion in Canadian society. This is because communications technologies – whether for telecommunications, broadcasting or new media – are not manufactured on the principle of universal design, which would enable far greater accessibility for persons with disabilities.

The single most pressing concern expressed by participants in the Study is the lack of universal design coupled with the absence of regulation for terminal equipment – primarily in telecommunications, and especially for wireless devices.

The result is that persons with disabilities face considerable barriers to access; as networks are upgraded, previously functional devices are rendered inoperable – or may no longer function with an assistive device.

Other barriers to access expressed by participants include the affordability of services and products (prohibitive for socio economic reasons), design features such as size of keys, and the lack of service packages or customized options for persons with disabilities.


9. The Broadcasting Act states, at paragraph 3 (1): "Programming accessible by disabled persons should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system as resources become available for the purpose."

10. Section 7 of the Telecommunications Act identifies accessibility as one of Canada’s telecommunications policy objectives. Additionally, section 27(2) of the Act prohibits unjust discrimination and undue or unreasonable disadvantage in the provision of telecommunications services.

11. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially Section 15, and the Canadian Human Rights Act were enacted to prohibit discrimination, and to give bodies such as the CRTC the obligation and full authority to prohibit and prevent discrimination and remove existing barriers and prevent the introduction of new ones by using this quasi constitutional power to regulate aspects that come under their respective jurisdictions.

12. Despite these provisions, on June 11, 1999, the CRTC issued Building on Success - A Policy Framework for Canadian Television, Public Notice CRTC 1999-97 (the 1999 Policy), which offered the following guiding principles:

Support an economically successful broadcasting industry; require regulation only where the goals of the Broadcasting Act (the Act) cannot be met by other means; and ensure that regulations are clear, efficient and easy to administer.

13. To date, the CRTC has chosen too often to leave matters of access to the marketplace. History teaches us this approach has failed persons with disabilities in almost every aspect of life, including areas of CRTC jurisdiction. While the AEBC believes that all regulations should be clear and straightforward, the AEBC also firmly asserts that the public interest imposes a clear obligation on the CRTC to exercise its regulatory authority in a human rights context and take on a more vigorous and proactive role to ensure full access to programming and usability of products through the Implementation of universal design principles.

14. For example, CRTC's decision not to regulate terminal equipment and the cellular/wireless markets often forces people with disabilities to obtain telecommunications devices from third party providers rather than generic service providers. Furthermore, not all service providers offer products that can even be made accessible with the use of expensive software. These suppliers must ensure their services and products are usable by all patrons, including persons with various disabilities. To do otherwise is injurious to the inclusion, independence and dignity of persons with disabilities, and this directly violates our human rights.


15. The AEBC wishes to reiterate its support for the principles that were developed by the Community Coalition, which was made up of a number of organizations from the Canadian national disability community (Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, CNIB, Canadian Association of the Deaf, Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Canadian Council of the Blind, Neil Squire Society, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, ARCH Disability Law Centre, Roeher Institute, Dis-IT, Media Access Canada). These principles were submitted to the CRTC on September 1, 2006. The principles are:

  1. Telecommunications architecture should enable inclusive telecommunications services;
  2. Telecommunications infrastructure should support different modalities, allowing a broader range of inputs/outputs;
  3. Procurement of user terminal products and devices should specify accessibility requirements;
  4. Accessible user terminal products and services should be available on a retail level;
  5. The corporate public services and policies (e.g. procurement, customer experience, service development, employment, etc.) should include and support accessibility practice;
  6. Ongoing telecommunications-related research and development are necessary to ensure long-term availability of broadly accessible and inclusive services. (Improving Access to Telecommunications Services for Persons with Disabilities, p. 4.)


16. In its submission to the CRTC, the Community Coalition made a strong statement about the need for a national perspective and the AEBC would like to reiterate its support for those comments as they remain relevant today.

17. The Coalition stated that:

The accessibility of telecommunications services is not a local or regional issue. Persons with disabilities live in every province and territory in Canada and communicate with other people living throughout the country. All of these individuals have the right to accessible telecommunications services under the Telecommunications Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Charter, and in keeping with Canada’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

18. No Canadian should be deprived of accessible services because of their disability. Or where they live in Canada, whether in urban or rural areas. Therefore, The AEBC recommends, as did the Community Coalition, that the Commission adopt a national perspective on access in keeping with its national mandate – and require that telecommunications providers engage in initiatives to provide accessibility throughout Canada. There are no jurisdictional or policy obstacles that prevent the Commission from adopting a national perspective on access.

19. These initiatives should include the development of measures to ensure that persons with disabilities do not have to pay extra to achieve their needed level of accessibility. At present, blind patrons often must pay several hundred extra dollars to make a cell phone talk, and even this undesirable option is not always available; too many products simply cannot be made accessible.


20. "Universal design" has been defined as:

The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation or specialized design.

21. The AEBC believes that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act mandate, and good business sense demands, that principles of universal design must govern all deliberations of the CRTC as well as the development of all new products and programming. This means supporting and issuing rulings that will support and enhance access to regular programming and products to the greatest extent possible that are available to all Canadians, and that discourage the development of separate delivery mechanisms or products that require adaptation or retrofit. For further background on aspects of Universal Design, see Appendix A, which forms a part of this Brief.


22. The AEBC recommends that CRTC use its power to ensure that people with disabilities have timely access to services that become possible as new technology is developed. If Universal Design principles are utilized in developing new technology or products, we will not have to wait for lengthy retrofits of products that were not developed in an accessible manner from the outset.


23. The AEBC, in its Brief to the CRTC titled, REVIEW OF CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR OVER-THE-AIR TELEVISION PROGRAMMING, September 2006, discussed new platforms for television that are bound to have a significant impact on viewers. These include such hand held devices as the video iPod and sophisticated cell phone receivers, as well as the Sling Box, which allows access to local television programming from anywhere in the world. The AEBC observed

The introduction of any new platform affords an opportunity to build in accessibility from the ground up, rather than having to redesign or retrofit it after it is on the market. The AEBC asserts the CRTC has a responsibility to take an active and forward-thinking role in ensuring all new platforms and/or products are designed with universal design in mind, so they will be usable by the widest number of Canadians.


24. In Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2004-2: Introduction to Broadcasting Decisions CRTC 2004-6 to 2004-27 renewing the licences of 22 specialty services, issued January 21, 2004, the CRTC stated:

52. The Commission considers that the presence, portrayal and participation of persons with disabilities is an important matter, one that is very much in need of thorough investigation by the broadcasting industry. The Commission notes in particular the role that broadcasters can play in helping create and reinforce positive attitudes towards persons with disabilities. It therefore calls upon the CAB to develop and file a plan, within six months of today’s date, outlining the process it would propose be followed to examine issues surrounding the presence, portrayal and participation of persons with disabilities in television programming. In the meantime, the Commission expects all specialty service licensees to take steps to ensure that members of all four designated groups receive fair on-air representation and, in particular, to redress the obvious absence of persons having disabilities in on-air positions.

25. While the AEBC commends the work of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, which developed the "Recommended Guidelines on Language and Terminology – PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES: A Manual for News Professionals” (December 2006), a distinct lack of journalistic sensitivity to disability issues continues.

26. The activities of persons with a disability must no longer be portrayed as "courageous,” "amazing," or as cases of charity; rather, we are active in all aspects of regular community life and expect to be portrayed in a more positive manner. In addition, despite the CAB's useful Manual, we have not seen a notable increase in coverage of disability issues by the media. The mainstream media must give greater attention to hard news stories involving the disability community.


27. The representation of persons with disabilities--particularly people with visible disabilities--throughout all areas of the media, both print and broadcasting, remains unacceptably low. Significant proactive measures, including the development of training opportunities and targeted outreach recruitment, are desperately needed. Only when persons with a disability attain greater presence in all areas of the mainstream media, including on air and in the newsrooms, will the way in which we are portrayed undergo the fundamental change that is so desperately needed. The media has a profound effect on shaping attitudes on a broad range of topics, including the ways in which persons with various disabilities are perceived by the public, and these perceptions profoundly affect the range of opportunities that are available to us.


28. Persons with disabilities are found in all segments of society. Women, First Nations peoples and members of racial minorities with disabilities are often doubly or even triply disadvantaged by lack of opportunities and the ways in which they are portrayed in the media. The AEBC recommends that the CRTC undertake a separate investigation into the effects of intersectionality on both the portrayal and representation of women, First Nations persons and members of racial minorities with disabilities.


29. The AEBC fully supports the call by the Council of Canadians With Disabilities (CCD) for the establishment of a disability, gender and diversity lens to guide all CRTC deliberations:

CCD recommends that the CRTC develop a disability, gender and diversity lens to assist it ensure that the issues of women and all marginalized people, including people with disabilities, are taken into account as the CRTC undertakes its mandated responsibilities.


30. In Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2004-27, the CRTC stated:

60. Greater programming accessibility can be achieved through the provision of "audio description" and/or of "video description". Audio description consists of basic voice-over recitations or descriptions of the text or graphic information that is displayed on the screen. Although a measure of sensitivity and creativity on the part of a broadcaster is necessary to ensure the quality and effectiveness of audio description, no special equipment is required. All broadcasters can, and should, provide audio description.

31. Since the release of this Decision, we in the AEBC cannot point to any appreciable improvement in this area, and it remains a barrier to our full enjoyment of television programming, and to our ability to take advantage of information that is still provided only in a visual manner.


32. In Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2004-27, the CRTC stated:

62. In decisions renewing the licences of the conventional television stations operated by the principal Canadian ownership groups, the Commission introduced requirements for the provision of video description by those television stations serving the largest markets, beginning at a level of two hours per week of priority programming in the first year, and increasing to four hours of such programming in year five. The Commission further required that at least half of the described video programming be original programming.

33. While the Deaf community has made significant strides in the area of closed captioning, the blind community has made only minimal progress in the area of increased access to video description of television programming. The CRTC's previous decisions only require providers to increase the amount of video described programming very slightly, and the length of licence renewals only delays realization of a significant level of described programming.


34. The transition to HD television is likely to interfere with the small amount of video described programming that is currently available. The introduction of HD should provide a real opportunity to build in various aspects of universal design, and ensure an increased level of DVS programming is assured for Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. See Appendix B for copies of membership resolutions on these topics.


35. Many Canadians receive news, watch television programs, and communicate with others via websites and programs on the Internet. Often, the websites offering these services are only minimally, if at all, accessible to persons who are blind. This shift to Internet broadcasting illustrates another example of the missed opportunities presented by technological advances. The AEBC would like the Commission to use its authority to require Canadian broadcasters who broadcast via the Internet to meet accessibility standards for website design.

36. Furthermore, the AEBC wants the requirements for increased availability of video description set out in CRTC Decision 2004-27 to be extended to the broadcasting of television programs via the Internet. In other words, the AEBC would like to eventually see a video described stream offered along side 100% of the broadcasting provided via the Internet. If the AEBC is granted the opportunity to present oral testimony, a more substantive submission on this topic will be provided.


37. In Broadcasting Public Notice 2006 47, the Commission approved the licensing and mandatory distribution on digital basic service of The Accessible Channel, a national, English language digital specialty television service that will provide 100 percent of its programming in open format described video. The AEBC asserts that approval of the so-called Accessible Channel by the CRTC must not be allowed, in any way whatsoever, to further delay or reduce the introduction of additional video described programs by all stations, including specialty channels. The applicants for the Accessible Channel supported this position.


38. Emergency announcements that are broadcast solely as a text message without accompanying audio are inaccessible to persons who have vision impairments, persons who have certain learning disabilities, and persons who have other reading difficulties. These announcements must also follow the principles of universal design, so that they are accessible to the widest range of the public as possible. The AEBC recommends that the CRTC use its regulatory power to require broadcasters to follow universal design principles and make emergency announcements fully accessible.


39. Pay telephones remain important for many persons with disabilities. As a group people with disabilities have lower incomes and some individuals may not be able to afford a cell phone, and many cell phones are unusable by persons who are blind or partially sighted due to their visual menus. In addition, the pay telephone can enhance personal safety and act as an easy method of contacting police, medical, fire or other emergency services, which can be particularly important to women with disabilities who can be vulnerable to violence.

40. Access to public pay telephones needs to be maintained, and all pay phones must follow universal design principles so that the widest possible range of people with disabilities can use them.


41. People with disabilities who have used the CRTC have often found it to be cumbersome and have felt disadvantaged by a power imbalance that exists in the current process. The AEBC supports an improved Complaints Process, and a “Telecom Ombudsman” is a concept that would be worth exploration.


42. The AEBC supports the position of CCD that regular and ongoing consultation with rights holder organizations, such as AEBC, CCD, and other consumer organizations "of” persons with disabilities is key to the development of accessible and inclusive telecommunications and broadcasting services. We who live with a disability are best able to articulate our own needs and aspirations and are our own rightful spokespersons. Regarding consultation, CCD writes:

People with disabilities have a right to identify their own needs and we are best situated to develop solutions for meeting these needs. There is an inherent value in consultation because it promotes the inclusion, independence and dignity of persons with disabilities.


43. The Community Coalition called for the establishment of a national Accessibility Fund that would be used to fund the development of new technologies for improving the accessibility of telecommunications services. These new technologies would be made available on a competitively neutral basis to all telecommunications service providers so as to maximize the benefit derived from the deferral account monies. The AEBC continues to support the establishment of a national Accessibility Fund.


44. The AEBC believes the title of this PN aptly describes what is at stake here ("Unresolved issues related to the accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services to persons with disabilities"). Ensuring full access and making it happen in a timely manner remains a major unresolved issue for Canadians with various disabilities, including those of us who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. Given the aging Canadian population, and the increased rate of disability as people become older, the barriers that exist are only going to affect more and more Canadians.

45. Access and equality will only be achieved through regulation. Existing barriers must be removed, and new barriers must not be allowed to be created. A national approach must be taken to ensure access. Regular and ongoing consultation with rights holder organizations "of" people with various disabilities is essential.

46. But these critical issues will remain unresolved, unless and until the CRTC develops a heightened commitment to regulate and to ensure the principles of universal design are built into all of its decisions and new products that come onto the marketplace. The 1981 International Year of the Disabled Persons enunciated the phrase, "full participation and equality," and since then, the disabled community has started using its own phrase, "nothing about us without us."

47. We hope this process will result in the CRTC developing the will that is necessary to enhance access for persons to broadcasting and telecommunications equipment that most other Canadians take for granted.

Submitted on behalf of the AEBC by:

Marc Workman
National Secretary
Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians


Universal Design Definition:

The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Principle One: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.


  • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
  • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
  • Make the design appealing to all users.

Principle Two: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.


  • Provide choice in methods of use.
  • Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
  • Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.
  • Provide adaptability to the user's pace.

Principle Three: simple and intuitive

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.


  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
  • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
  • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
  • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Principle Four: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.


  • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • Maximize "legibility" of essential information.
  • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Principle Five: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.


  • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
  • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
  • Provide fail safe features.
  • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Principle Six: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.


  • Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
  • Use reasonable operating forces.
  • Minimize repetitive actions.
  • Minimize sustained physical effort

Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.


  • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
  • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Please note: These Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. Designers' need guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible. All Guidelines may not be relevant to all designs.

Version 2.0 4/1/97
Compiled by advocates of universal design, listed in alphabetical order:
Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, & Gregg Vanderheiden


  • 1999-16: The NFB:AE supports the increased availability of described video services during prime time media broadcasts. We encourage the CRTC to ensure that 100% of prime time broadcasts are described by the year 2003. We insist all cable providers and other television broadcasters be mandated to ensure that all other services are accessible to people who are blind. Services such as Community information channels, television commercials etc.

  • 2002-03: The NFB:AE shall advocate before the CRTC, Industry Canada and any other public body in support of the propositions that: All features of Digital Audio Broadcasting receivers shall be accessible to people who are blind or vision-impaired; and B. To ensure that digital broadcasters develop a universal method of transmitting their data to ensure that accessibility features built into digital audio broadcasting receivers remain effective.

  • 2006-08: Charity vs. Rights - Therefore, be it resolved that the AEBC advocate for a more mainstream model of service delivery provided by governments as a matter of right, rather than charity.

  • 2006-15: Whereas, descriptive video soundtracks are broadcast by cable companies on the Secondary Audio Programme (SAP) of television channels; and
    Whereas, access to SAP is usually obtained through the television, digital terminal or VCR's visual menu; and
    Whereas, these menus are not accessible to blind people who require access to SAP;
    Be it resolved that the AEBC take steps to encourage cable TV companies and TV manufacturers to provide a dedicated "SAP" button on the units' remote controls.

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