In today’s media landscape, accessibility is not just a courtesy; it’s a legal requirement. For media producers and broadcasters in Canada, understanding and adhering to these regulations, especially from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and standards from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), is crucial. This blog post aims to demystify the legal aspects of described video, a key component in making media accessible to all audiences, particularly those with visual impairments.

Understanding Described Video

Described video, also known as audio description, offers a verbal depiction of visual elements during audio pauses, allowing individuals with visual impairments full access to visual media content. To grasp its impact, we recommend that you experience it firsthand through resources like the Described Video Canada YouTube channel, or a TV channel like AMI-tv (AMI-tele) in French).

Legal Requirements in Canada?

The mandate for described video in Canada primarily falls under the CRTC, which stipulates that broadcasters must provide audio description for all in-house, information-based productions. Broadcasters in both French and English are required to ensure a minimum of four hours per week of described video, with a push for online content description pre-publication.

The AODA and Provincial Counterparts

In Ontario, the AODA focuses broadly on accessibility standards for all content producers and providers across various sectors, including information and communications. Ontario is somewhat unique with its comprehensive AODA, which sets a precedent for accessibility standards in Canada. The AODA is designed to make Ontario accessible for people with disabilities by 2025, covering various domains including customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation, and the built environment.

Other Canadian provinces and territories have their own laws and policies aimed at improving accessibility for people with disabilities, but they may not be as wide-ranging or specific in their requirements as the AODA. Here are a few examples:

  • Manitoba has the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA), which seeks to achieve significant improvements in accessibility in areas such as customer service, employment, information and communications, built environment, and transportation.
  • Nova Scotia has the Accessibility Act, passed in 2017, aiming to make Nova Scotia accessible by 2030. It establishes accessibility standards in areas like those covered by the AODA and AMA.
  • British Columbia has passed accessibility legislation as part of its commitment to improving accessibility for people with disabilities across the province. Public sector organizations will be required to establish an accessibility committee, an accessibility plan and a build tool to receive feedback on their accessibility.
  • Quebec has legislation and policies focused on the inclusion of persons with disabilities, but it doesn’t have a unified act like AODA. Instead, it implements various measures across different sectors to improve accessibility. Their government’s standards for websites is one example.

Ontario was indeed a leader in implementing such a comprehensive and enforceable framework with specific deadlines and standards. The AODA’s approach has served as a model for other provinces considering or developing their own accessibility laws, although each province tailors its approach to fit its unique context and requirements.

For detailed information on AODA’s specific requirements for videos, including web-based content, you might refer to guidelines that outline how organizations must make their websites and web content accessible, aligning with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA.

Quick tip: When applying WCAG 2.0 to your website don’t forget audio description.

CRTC vs. AODA: Whose Rules Apply to Broadcasters?

Broadcasters across Canada must adhere to the rules and standards set by the CRTC when it comes to described video and other accessibility requirements for broadcasting content. The CRTC is a federal regulatory body that oversees all broadcasting and telecommunications activities in Canada, including the provision of described video services to ensure accessibility for people with visual impairments.

The AODA applies to organizations operating within Ontario, including public, private, and non-profit sectors, and covers a broad range of accessibility issues, including information and communication, employment, transportation, and the built environment. However, when it specifically comes to broadcasting content, the CRTC’s regulations take precedence because broadcasting and telecommunications are regulated at the federal level by the CRTC, not by provincial legislation like the AODA.

Therefore, broadcasters must comply with CRTC regulations concerning described video. The CRTC has set out specific requirements for described video, including minimum hours of programming that must include described video and the gradual increase of these requirements over time to enhance accessibility. In summary, compliance with CRTC standards and rules is mandatory for broadcasters to ensure they meet the federal requirements for accessibility in broadcasting.

Best Practices for Described Video?

Adhering to CRTC requirements and other legal requirements involves more than just meeting minimum standards. Best practices in described video production include:

  • Engaging skilled narrators who can effectively convey visual elements in a clear and engaging manner.
  • Ensuring the timing of descriptions aligns seamlessly with the program’s audio.
  • Ensure the descriptions are accurately written, clearly and concisely.
  • Regularly updating content to maintain compliance as regulations evolve.

Consequences of Non-Compliance?

Non-compliance with CRTC and AODA regulations can lead to legal ramifications, including fines and reputational damage. It’s important for broadcasters, and content producers and providers, to stay informed about the latest requirements and ensure their content meets all legal standards.

For more comprehensive details and to ensure compliance with these standards, visiting the official AODA and CRTC websites or consulting with a legal expert in Canadian media law is advisable.

Conclusion: The Importance of Described Video

Described video serves as both an accessibility tool and a legal necessity in the Canadian media landscape. By adhering to CRTC, AODA, and other regulatory standards, media producers can make their content accessible to everyone, thereby fulfilling their legal obligations. As the regulatory environment evolves, staying informed and proactive in implementing described video is crucial for media production in Canada.