OTTAWA - Advocacy groups are praising an action plan to improve representation and portrayal of Canadians with disabilities by the country's television broadcasters.
The plan developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and submitted this summer to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, falls on the heels of the CAB's cultural diversity task force report. It is the product of six months of consultation involving organizations representing people with disabilities, outlining the need for greater presence of people with disabilities in television and how they can be better portrayed to the viewing audience.
"There's a huge educational thing that needs to be done," says broadcast consultant Peter Fleming. "We need to make some moves in bettering our employment practices and we need more accurate portrayal and positive messaging."
The plan would establish a steering committee of broadcasters to oversee development of a long-range strategy and an outreach committee involving disability organizations and others already working in television and related industries. Issues include the need for people with disabilities to have access to training, mentoring, employment and advancement within the industry, as well as accommodating on-the-job needs. Equally important is how they are depicted in a way that avoids stereotypes, and what barriers they encounter.
"We need to�make (our members) understand where the barriers are to participation," Fleming says. "With an aging population, it's becoming more and more significant."
All sectors of the industry, including the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, the Broadcast Educators Association of Canada, ACTRA and the RTNDA, will be involved in the next stage. Significant support is coming from broadcasters themselves, who are "turned on to the whole idea" because many have family members with a disability, Fleming says.
The action plan is "an excellent first step," says Marie White, chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, who hopes it will be a catalyst for more strategic directions in the future. "There is much to do to ensure an equitable and accurate portrayal of persons with disabilities in all forms of media," White says.
Traci Walters, national director of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres, agrees. "One of the key issues must be that people with disabilities are given a forum where they may speak for themselves about issues which affect them and play a key role in designing solutions," she says.
"A lot of potential for representation within the industry to improve�both on-air and behind the scenes," says Toronto film producer Don Peuramaki, who spent 10 years lobbying for such a study. "We've asked that the CAB be strategic and proactive and, given that this is an industry of creative people, there is the possibility that many exciting things could happen."
Rita Cugini, chair of the four-member CAB team that produced the report, believes a "very comprehensive" plan has been submitted to the CRTC. "We're extremely hopeful that it will be accepted by the commission and that we can move forward on the initiatives we've proposed."
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