Scott Shortliffe to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
October 23, 2018
Parliament of Canada
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Accessibility for all Canadians
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to participate in the Committee’s review of Bill C-81, an Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we meet today on traditional Algonquin territory.
My name is Scott Shortliffe and I’m Chief Consumer Officer for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission – the CRTC. Joining me today is Adam Balkovec, Legal Counsel for the CRTC, and Mary-Louise Hayward, Manager, Social and Consumer Policy.
The CRTC’s approach to accessibility is based upon the fundamental belief that a person’s ability to access broadcast and telecommunications services dictates their ability to participate meaningfully in society. Our accessibility policy is grounded in the principle that equality is a core Canadian value and is central to the public interest.
During the last three decades, the CRTC has adopted a series of regulatory policies to enhance the ability of Canadians with disabilities to access communications networks. We have updated these policies as new technologies and resources became available.
The CRTC has continually championed accessibility and has required service providers to deploy appropriate technologies to improve access for all Canadians – regardless of their level of ability.
In the mid-1980s, for example, the CRTC began to mandate teletypewriter (TTY) relay services for Canadians who have a hearing or speech disability. In 2009, the requirement was expanded to include the provision of IP-relay services and five years later, the provision of video relay service. Accessibility requirements for broadcasters have followed a similar evolution. Initially, broadcasters were required to close-caption only a percentage of programming; today, all English and French programming must be close-captioned. In 2009, the CRTC began to require that broadcasters provide described-video services four hours per week. Beginning next year, all large, integrated broadcasters must provide the services throughout prime time.
The CRTC’s work in the domain of accessibility also includes regulatory measures designed to facilitate access to the devices Canadians use to access communications services, whether it is accessible set-top boxes, remote controls or wireless mobile handsets.
The CRTC also recognizes the importance of facilitating interactions with service providers. This is why we established mandatory industry codes of conduct - the Wireless Code and the Television Service Provider Code. These Codes ensure that persons with disabilities can receive contracts and bills in accessible formats, and can access extended trial periods to ensure that equipment and services will meet their individual needs.
To develop regulatory policies, the CRTC consults with Canadians – including those with disabilities – along with service providers and other stakeholders by holding open, public proceedings. The input of Canadians with disabilities is crucial to developing effective and impactful accessibility policies. It’s also why the CRTC website presents key content, such as a guide to our Rules of Procedure, in ASL – American Sign Language – and LSQ – Langue des signes québécoise.
To achieve the larger goal of barrier-free access, the CRTC recognizes that it must engage with other administrative tribunals. To this end, the CRTC participates in working groups alongside the Canadian Human Rights Commission and other administrative tribunals in order to leverage accessibility expertise and to increase efficiency.
As a federal regulatory tribunal, the CRTC must pursue the policy goals set by the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act while acting fairly and abiding by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This requires the CRTC to balance competing objectives in rendering decisions that ultimately serve the public interest.
As communications technologies evolve, Canada’s regulatory framework must be flexible and rigorous enough to make the most of new opportunities, and to eliminate and prevent systemic barriers related to accessibility. Advances in communications technologies have opened the door to an unprecedented wealth of content and interactivity. The CRTC’s position is that it is the right of all Canadians to be able to access this wealth regardless of their ability and it is committed to working to ensure all Canadians can benefit from it.
As I mentioned, the CRTC’s approach is informed by Canadian human rights principles, and these will continue to guide our regulatory work.
I would like to remind the Committee that the CRTC is an independent regulator. I note that this Panel includes both a party regulated by the CRTC. As such, and to preserve the Commission’s independence as a regulator, I may be unable to comment on certain issues raised or to fully answer certain questions. That said, I will do my best to answer any questions Committee members have.
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