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Nfb: Ae's Brief to The Crtc on Cnib's Proposed National Information Centre

PART I - INTRODUCTION

  1. The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, ("NFB: AE"), is pleased to comment on the applications of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind ("CNIB") to establish telephone access to its information centre for the blind, ("ICB"), for the distribution of newspapers and periodicals and other services to people who are blind, vision-impaired or have a perceptual disability as defined in the Copyright Act, Canada.

  2. The NFB: AE was founded in 1992 as a consumer group primarily made up of blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians. Currently, the NFB: AE is a registered Canadian charity which has the following goals:

(a) to change society's attitudes about blindness and vision impairment through public education, advocacy and other methods of communication;

(b) to protect the existing rights and freedoms currently held by blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians;

(c) to enhance the rights, freedoms and access to services for blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians; and

(d) to otherwise enhance the quality of life and experiences for blind, deaf-blind and vision-impaired Canadians.

  1. The proposed ICB and telephone access to it is of immeasurable importance to blind and vision-impaired Canadians. Blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians do not currently have the same access to current information contained in newspapers and other periodicals at a reasonable cost as others in society.

  2. Information equity is a basic right for all Canadians. As most blind, vision-impaired or deaf-blind Canadians cannot afford a computer with adaptive technology which would allow them to access the Internet, web based information delivery models are only of limited assistance to this community. Others, because of age and other conditions, have not had the opportunity to learn how to use a computer system to access current information. Throughout the following sections of this submission, the NFB: AE will set forth why it is important for blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians to have the benefit of telephone access to the ICB so that they can participate more effectively within Canadian society. In addition, NFB: AE will propose a number of conditions which should be attached to the granting of the current license sought by CNIB that are not addressed in its application.

  3. It is not overly important to NFB: AE that the 211 telephone number be set aside for this service. The advent of speed dial and voice dialing technology would assist anyone who is not able to operate a telephone effectively to access the service.Those blind or vision-impaired individuals who do not have other motor or cognitive disabilities would be able to access a traditional 800 number without difficulty. Speed dials and voice activated phone dialers would assist individuals with motor or cognitive disabilities to access an 800 number to use the service.

  4. If it is cost effective and technically feasible, local access numbers could be used in large urban centres to access the service. The calls could be re-routed through dedicated phone lines to the ICB server.

PART II: WHY TELEPHONE ACCESS TO THE INFORMATION CENTRE FOR THE BLIND IS SO

IMPORTANT

  1. The ICB Service is of tremendous importance to blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians. Without this service, these individuals would not have the same access to information published in newspapers or periodicals at a reasonable cost as other Canadians. While many publications are currently available on the Internet, most print-handicapped and blind and vision-impaired Canadians do not have access to a computer because of the unequal access to funding support for such equipment from provincial governments across Canada.This fact prevents many people with perceptual disabilities, including those who are blind or vision-impaired, from accessing the newspapers and other periodicals compiled by CNIB on its web-based, visunews service and other services created by other computer-based information providers.

  2. If telephone access is provided to the ICB, subscribers to the service will be able to read from a variety of publications in both official languages including the Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, Le Devoir, and other local newspapers and publications of interest to the reader. Blind and vision-impaired Canadians and those with other perceptual disabilities will be able to listen to the articles in their areas of interest by dialing in to the service at any time. The only piece of equipment that a person with a print handicap would require to access the service would be a telephone.

  3. Many blind and vision-impaired Canadians and Canadians with other perceptual disabilities are required to review newspapers on a daily basis as part of their job requirements. The ICB would provide an immeasurably valuable service in this regard since these individuals would have access to many news articles and other business-related publications such as stock market summaries, technology updates, etc. on the day that they are released. This kind of access to printed news media over the telephone is not possible at present for most Canadians.Instead, print handicapped individuals would have to optically scan articles themselves from various publications or depend on volunteers to read articles to them at a time which is convenient to the volunteer.

  4. Without this service, the representation of blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians in the Canadian workforce is less likely to improve. Blind and vision-impaired Canadians will not have the same timely access as others in society to important news stories, business stories, job postings and other classified ads which are shared with the public through the newspaper. In addition, blind and vision-impaired employees may be denied promotions and other benefits because they are unable to review information contained in newspapers in a timely fashion which they require to perform their job duties. For example, it would be more difficult for an individual who is involved in the technology industry to review stories of new technological advances produced by his/her company's competitors if s/he did not have access to report on business and other related publications on the day they are released.

  5. The ICB is also of immeasurable benefit to those senior citizens who are blind and vision-impaired or perceptually disabled. Many of these individuals have lost their vision after they have become senior citizens. It may not always be practical for them to acquire the new skills associated with learning how to use a computer, synthetic speech or large print devices to read information contained in newspapers and other publications. The only adjustment that they would have to make is to become accustomed to a synthetic computer voice which will read the news articles out loud to them over the telephone.

  6. Senior citizens who have acquired their disabilities as part of the aging process have always had access to newspapers and other periodicals throughout their lives. Many of these individuals have come to take access to information of this type for granted to some extent. It would be most unfortunate if they were deprived of the opportunity to have access to this kind of information on account of their vision loss or other disability.

PART III: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TWO CENT PER MONTH PER CUSTOMER SURCHARGE

  1. NFB: AE submits that it is reasonable to ask all Canadian telephone subscribers to contribute two cents per month to support a portion of the long distance and other telecommunications related operating costs for operating the telephone access portion of the ICB. This is not an onerous burden to ask Canadians to bear to ensure that blind, vision-impaired and perceptually disabled Canadians have access to an Information Service through the telephone.

  2. Canadians already pay for disability-based access in other areas that are regulated by the CRTC. For example, each Canadian pays several cents per month on her/his phone bill to finance the costs of operating the Message Relay Service in Canada. This service allows deaf and hard-of-hearing Canadians to communicate with others using telephones and telephone devices for the deaf. A per month charge has allowed deaf Canadians to participate more effectively within Canadian society by allowing them to communicate with everyone else.

  3. Similarly, a two cents per month per customer charge would allow print-handicapped, blind and vision-impaired Canadians to access information so that they can communicate with others more knowledgeably, participate more effectively within the workforce and otherwise make more substantial contributions to Canadian society.

  4. Before many blind and vision-impaired individuals may access printed information, it must be converted into an audio format before it can be understood and absorbed. Blind and vision-impaired Canadians should have a choice of more than one provider for accessing information in an audio format.

PART IV: WHAT HAPPENS IF THE APPLICATION BY THE CNIB IS REFUSED?

  1. If the application for a two cent per month charge per subscriber to support the costs of the ICB is refused by the Commission, it is almost certain that as a result, a significant group in society will continue to be denied access to printed information in an audio format. If telephone access to the ICB is not supported in this fashion, groups such as the NFB: AE and associations of Canadians with perceptual disabilities will have to look to other sources to obtain this kind of service for their members. No for profit producers have to date come to the forefront to provide access to newspapers and other periodicals over the telephone on a national basis to Canadians who are blind, vision-impaired or deaf-blind.

  2. If this kind of access is not provided, groups such as the NFB: AE may have to resort to advocacy efforts through the courts and through Human Rights Commissions to require newspapers and other periodicals to partner with telecommunications companies to provide a similar type of service. A further spin-off may be that blind and vision- impaired and print-handicapped Canadians may commence proceedings against individual newspapers or publishers of periodicals before provincial human rights commissions to obtain the text of these publications at the same time and at the same cost as other subscribers through a suitable delivery method that is accessible to the blind and vision- impaired.

  3. It is clear that a proliferation of litigation of the types described above would not be in the public interest. Most Canadians would likely agree that a charge of two cents per month per subscriber is a small price to pay to substantially reduce this kind of activity since it is one of the most cost effective methods of providing access to newspapers and periodicals for blind and vision-impaired Canadians. It is also a very reasonable method to ensure that blind and vision-impaired Canadians are provided with access to the important information contained in newspapers and periodicals whether they are reading the articles at home, at work, over a cellular telephone or anywhere else.

  4. The precedent has already been set by the Commission to require Canadians to pay additional fees on their telephone bills to subsidize the Message Relay Service for the Deaf. The CRTC has recognized the importance of supporting other minority groups by subsidizing cable television services to alleviate the disadvantages which have traditionally been caused in society by gender, race, national or ethnic origin or disability. A decision not to grant the two cents per month per subscriber charge to CNIB or any other applicant would serve to increase the degree of disadvantage that blind and vision-impaired and print-handicapped Canadians already experience in their interactions with the rest of society.

PART V: WHAT CONDITIONS SHOULD BE IMPOSED ON ANY LICENSE GRANTED TO CNIB

  1. NFB: AE submits that the users of the service must have an active role in the operation of the ICB and in determining the content carried on it. To that end, NFB: AE entered into negotiations with the CNIB to ensure that certain core values are incorporated into the terms of the license if it is granted to CNIB. These negotiations resulted in an agreement as follows:

(a) CNIB will create a separate business entity to receive any funds obtained from a charge ordered by the CRTC and to operate the telephone access portion of ICB;

(b) This newly created business entity will operate at arms length from CNIB;

(c) This newly created business entity will have separate financial reporting obligations from those imposed upon CNIB;

(d) The newly created business entity will be operated by an advisory board consisting of an equal number of representatives from agencies who provide services to individuals with perceptual disabilities as defined in the Copyright Act, Canada and consumers with perceptual disabilities who use the service that are neither employed by or owe fiduciary obligations to any agency that contributes to the costs of or is involved in the operation of the telephone access portion of the ICB; and

(e) The telephone access portion of the ICB will be accessible to all individuals with perceptual disabilities as that term is defined in the Copyright Act, Canada.

  1. NFB: AE strongly requests that all of the above-mentioned terms be imposed upon the Applicant as preconditions for the granting of a license before funding support for the ICB is approved by the CRTC. In addition, the license must specify that all funds remitted under the charge should be remitted to the newly created business entity instead of to the CNIB.

  2. NFB: AE submits that this license should not be given for an indefinite period. Technology is constantly changing and evolving. Governments or other for profit or not-for-profit producers may be able to offer a similar service to print handicapped Canadians at a lesser cost in the future. Accordingly, NFB: AE submits that this license should be granted for a period of not more than two years so that other companies, governments or agencies have the opportunity to apply for a license to operate this kind of service with their new and improved technologies as they are developed.

  3. Since the CNIB only provided limited opportunities for consultation with consumers regarding the ICB service itself before this application was filed, it is submitted that extra care should be taken by the CRTC to ensure that public input from affected individuals with perceptual disabilities and the groups representing them is sought, considered and implemented by CNIB before this license is granted. There are some within the consumer base which will be affected by the disposition of this application that are of the view that the kinds of services referred to above should be provided by governments and private producers. These views should be heard and dealt with by the Applicant and the Commission before the license is granted.

PART VI: CONCLUSIONS

  1. The members of NFB: AE view access to printed information in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, information produced on audio cassette or in an audio format, intervention services for deaf-blind persons and electronic information stored on computer diskettes as being a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all blind, vision- impaired and deaf blind Canadians. NFB: AE will be monitoring these proceedings very carefully to ensure that the interests of its members who would benefit from telephone access to the ICB are carefully and effectively represented so that their right to access information in an audio format are recognized and preserved by the Commission. If public hearings are held, NFB: AE requests that it be given standing to present its views to the Commission during the public hearing process.

ALL OF WHICH IS RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED

Robert J. Fenton

President

National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality