The Fund Making Media Accessible to All
Education and Advocacy The Broadcasting Accessibility Fund supports innovative projects that increase the accessibility of broadcasting content in Canada.
Last year, Instagram, in an effort to make its platform more accessible, joined Twitter and Facebook, in allowing users to add “alt text” to images to enable people with vision loss or hearing disabilities a greater level of accessibility to images and videos.
For the nearly 800 million people in the world with auditory and vision disabilities, social media has been slow to include accessibility features. Yet, years before popular social media platforms were considering accessibility issues, the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund (or BAF) was supporting innovative projects to increase the accessibility of broadcasting content in Canada.
The Fund was created as part of the package associated with Bell Canada’s acquisition of CTV. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved its creation and Bell provided $5.7 million in funding.
Years before social media platforms were considering accessibility issues, the BAF was supporting innovative projects to increase the accessibility of broadcasting content in Canada.
Since 2014, BAF has funded 24 projects, committing $2.5 million in grant money. “While the recipients of these grants have been varied, all have either reduced or eliminated barriers to content accessibility,” says Richard Cavanagh, BAF’s CEO.
Mohawk College, for example, received $80,000 to provide journalism students with training to produce content that is accessible across all platforms. While Toronto’s Komodo OpenLab, secured $77,500 to further develop a switch device which allows a person with limited mobility to use the same controls that operate a wheelchair to control a number of media devices. And CBC obtained $62,000 for a new speech-to-text conversion technology to post transcripts of its popular morning radio show, The Current.
The most recent initiatives of the Fund include using AI to improve live close captioning, in English and in French, for the deaf and hard of hearing; creating accessibility features for set-top (or cable) boxes; and testing devices designed to improve content accessibility for those with mobility disabilities.
“We are a results-based fund,” says Cavanagh. “ So we look to back projects that build on the success of previous work. There are no home runs in moving barriers to accessibility. This type of work is really incremental in nature.”
While new technology holds great promise, it can also present real obstacles for people with disabilities. If BAF is to remain a global leader in media accessibility, it will require the support of consumers and new sources of capital.