I’m going to go ahead and apologize right off the top just in case I have this wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m justifiably annoyed.
The Broadcasting Accessibility Fund, established as part of the conditions that allowed Bell to buy CTV several years back, has finally gotten around to handing out its first set of grants. There’s some neat stuff in here that has much potential to make things better for a lot of people, but I want you to see if you can spot a problem.
The projects approved by the Board of Directors are:
• Accessible Media Production Course, Mohawk College – $80,000. Student journalists will receive mandatory, intensive training in producing content that is accessible across all media platforms.
• Making CBC Radio Accessible, CBC – $62,000. New speech-to-text conversion technology will be used to post daily transcripts of CBC’s award-winning radio program, The Current to CBC.ca. The Current reaches some 2.3 million Canadians each week. In addition, one American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted radio documentary will be filmed and posted to CBC.ca each month.
• Tecla Remote, Komodo Open Lab – $77,500. A Tecla switch device will enable users with limited mobility to control a range of media devices using the same controls used to operate wheelchairs.
• Designing Screen Reading Capabilities for the 10-foot User Interface, Rogers Communications – $140,000. Extensive research on the development of simplified and inclusive mechanisms to assist blind and low vision users to discover and consume video content.
• Radio with a Voice, Vues et Voix – $116,000. Development of a fully accessible web platform for Vues et Voix radio content focusing on disability- and accessibility- related stories and issues in the French language.
• Broadcasting Accessibility Education for Hard of Hearing Canadians, Canadian Hard of Hearing Association – $125,000. An extensive project to assist hard of hearing Canadians with the accessible features of media devices, designed to build a base of knowledge including the producing of a web-based guide to device accessibility.
• Enhanced real-time and post-production captioning for VoiceWriter captioning software, Mediac Systems LLC – $123,000. Focused on updating existing software and developing new in-roads to voice recognition technologies, to improve both real time (live) and post production captioning processes.
Did you catch it? If not, scan the list again, paying special attention to how much money everyone got. When that’s done, ask yourself how and why Rogers Communications ended up with a bigger grant than anyone else. I know that’s the question I’m asking.
Maybe I’m old fashioned and quaint, but the way I was raised to understand grants is that they were given to projects undertaken by individuals and organizations that need funding because they clearly and demonstrably won’t be coming up with enough of it on their own. How, exactly, does Rogers Communications fall into that category? Remember, this is the same company that found 5.2 billion dollars to pay for 12 years worth of NHL broadcast rights in 2013, not to mention whatever they’ve splashed out on regional and national agreements to ensure that all but a handful of the Major League Baseball games shown on television in the entirety of Canada are aired on stations they own…most of which they spent millions to acquire from other broadcasters. I know advertising rates ain’t always what they used to be, but with the number of revenue streams Rogers has, it should be able to root around and find a couple hundred grand in the cushions of the breakroom couch without really trying. Even though Rogers was clearly well within its rights to apply, it still feels like an abuse of the system, or at least what one would hope the spirit of the system is supposed to be.
I say all of this, by the way, feeling fairly confident that if they’re using the term 10-foot user interface in the way I would use it, this money should bring us a few steps closer to me having my blind guy cable box…Which brings me to another question, now that I think about it.
Hasn’t a good deal of the heavy lifting already been done in this department? I’m sure there are some technological differences, but Comcast, as we’ve covered here, already has one of these on the market. And last time I checked, Rogers and Comcast were still in pretty much the same business. So what is this money supposed to be for, exactly? Why aren’t we just talking to Comcast about what they did and how, then modifying it for our purposes? Seems to me you could save a decent bit of coin that way. Unless Comcast or Rogers has plans in the works to move north or south, they’re not competing so there should be no issues getting in the way of a friendly exchange of information.