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The Media's Increasing Inaccessibility

Editor's Note: *Image: Devon Wilkins wearing a t-shirt that reads ?The Harness? (the magazine Devon edits). The NFB:AE has begun a campaign to get broadcasting outlets to include an audio phone number at the end of ads. If you encounter an ad that does not include a phone number you can access, we encourage you to contact the outlet directly, and copy both the NFB:AE at info@nfbae.ca and the Secretary General of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) at info@crtc.gc.ca

There's a public service announcement sponsored by Ontario's Ministry of Health that does terrible things to my blood pressure every time I hear it.

The announcement is singing the praises of Tele-Health Ontario, a service which is supposed to make advice on health issues as close as your telephone. The announcement ends, however, with the words: "Save the number. Keep it handy."

What number? There isn't even the slightest mention of an actual phone number. Oh, it appears on the screen, to be sure. But how many thousands of us are there in the province of Ontario who are unable to read what's on the screen?

The rather pointed message I left on the Ministry of Health's website resulted in a letter from then Minister Tony Clement, but it proved to be all talk and no action.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has recently become guilty of a similar offense. Perhaps you've heard the ad. Following some ominous-sounding music, we are told that if we experience "any of these symptoms?, we may be having a stroke.

Again I ask you: what symptoms? I happen to know the symptoms being referred to, thanks to previous experience as a medical secretary, a registered massage therapist and a reflexologist. But how many thousands aren't aware of what they should be looking for?

Those are the two examples that threaten to give me apoplexy every time I hear them, but there are dozens more, especially commercials advertising products not available in stores.

Yet another of television's unforgivable sins is that, in my experience, digital TV is not accessible to those who don't have sufficient vision to read the available menu choices. I thoroughly enjoy both Discovery Health and Animal Planet, but I'm seriously considering giving up on digital TV because I can't access either VoicePrint or programs with descriptive video when I want to.

Radio, incredible though it may be, is almost as guilty as television. During the wee hours of the morning and on weekends, announcements of current time and temperature are as scarce as hen's teeth, especially on smaller market stations. The reason is that it is much less expensive to air pre-recorded, syndicated programming than it is to pay on-air staff. But if radio abandons us, who will warn us of impending severe weather, or update us in times of emergency?

I find it so ironic that, while at least the larger market newspapers are striving to make their material more accessible, television and radio are backsliding.

What can you and I do about it? We can continue to press the point with managers of local radio and TV stations, and with the sponsors who pay big bucks to reach the greatest number of people. We can also voice our objections loud and clear to our members of parliament, and to the CRTC as well.

There are ten two-letter words that speak volumes:

If it is to be, it is up to me.