Updated: April 13, 2020
Back in February, when protesters fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline project erected blockades on Via Rail routes across Canada, at least 42,000 passengers in the Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa triangle were stranded.
News outlets jumped on the shutdown and its related issues ” Indigenous land rights, environmental costs and government intervention. But, says morning show host Dave Brown, the coverage was missing something.
“Not one show talked about how it impacted the blind curling team coming back from the national championship in Ottawa. There’s a way that disability and accessibility played into that story that a lot of people were blind to,” he says.
“People who weren’t disabled could just rent a car, whereas people with disabilities aren’t typically as wealthy so maybe booking a car or flight was out of reach.”
Brown, who is an albino and has been legally blind since birth, hosts the current events show Now with Dave Brown, which airs weekdays on AMI-audio and AMI-tv.
Most of the show’s on-air presenters and crew are blind or low vision. But rest assured, Brown’s aim is to cover news, entertainment and sports through the lens of disability ” not use the show as a soapbox or outlet for grievances.
“Issues that are related to disability and accessibility belong on the minds of people who might not have a disability, or have it touch their lives directly, because it’s a valuable perspective for anyone to get,” he says.
“It’s easy sometimes in the disability community to preach to the choir, and there is an advocacy element to the show. There’s still journalistic and broadcasting responsibility and ethics, but there is an element of advocacy that depends on the experiences of contributors with disabilities.”
“Issues that are related to disability and accessibility belong on the minds of people who might not have a disability, or have it touch their lives directly.”
Brown himself comes from a mainstream broadcasting background, but his path wasn’t exactly smooth.
“A lot of broadcasters cut their teeth by going to smaller markets but if you’re legally blind, you can’t drive, and it’s more difficult. On job applications it will say “must have valid driver’s license.’ So I worked my tail off and did a lot of internships,” he says.
“There was also a glass ceiling I was hitting where I was getting these great little roles ” like traffic guy or weather reporter ” but any time I applied to be the fill-in host they’d say, “I don’t think you’re right.”After stints with CBC Radio, Entertainment Tonight Canada and Global News, Brown joined AMI in 2015 as a bureau reporter in Ottawa. The not-for-profit media company was a fit. Using closed captioning and described video, it serves the blind or partially sighted.
Since his start there, Brown has worked on various programs and any needed adjustments are readily implemented. (Brown has around 10 per cent of what’s considered standard vision.)
“When we’re building our script, we have to use fonts that are big enough to read. We also have to make sure that the production details are usable for someone who uses a screen reader or alternative technologies to access the script,” says Brown.
“Being an albino, I’m extremely light sensitive and in TV studios the lights are pretty bright. So they’ve worked with me to find a nice balance between good lighting and lighting that wasn’t going to make me deeply uncomfortable or make it impossible for me to read.”
It wasn’t a quick fix ” the process took a couple of months ” but solving issues around accessibility rarely is, whether on an individual level or the kind of larger societal level that Brown addresses on his show.
“There isn’t any single universal solution to any issue involving disability. Accessibility doesn’t work like that ” it’s a much more abstract notion,” Brown says. “But you can share stories that, even if the ending isn’t a 100 per cent happy ending, it’s one where everyone is content. Those stories really speak to me.”
Now with Dave Brown airs weekdays on AMI-audio and AMI-tv