Podcast: Ophira Calof, Lisa Clarkson discuss ReelAbilities Film Festival, CBC partnership AccessCBC

For a transcript of the podcast, please scroll down.

By Bill Roberts

THE RICK HANSEN FOUNDATION promotes a poignant rubric that “One in five Canadians is living with a disability… Thankfully, five in five Canadians can help improve accessibility for all!”.

And, for our Canadian media industry, that is precisely what this important exclusive podcast is all about – moving beyond the marginalization of 7.7 million fellow citizens.

Join Ophira Calof (below, left) curatorial lead for the 2022 ReelAbilities Film Festival Toronto and Lisa Clarkson (right) executive director of business and rights at the CBC as they discuss their bold new partnership to provide training, mentorship and, on select projects, financing support, to design and produce scripted and documentary screen-based content by an incredibly talented ensemble of deaf and/or disabled creators.

AccessCBC was launched in January. It’s an exciting, ground-breaking pilot project… truly a major step forward in increasing career opportunities for creators too often excluded from our media industry due to access barriers and socio-economic challenges.

Listen and be inspired, you too might be ready to “crip the script”!

Bill Roberts is a contributing editor at


Bill: Hello, my name is Bill Roberts and welcome to another exclusive podcast featuring Ophira Calof, curatorial lead for the 2022 ReelAbilities Film Festival Toronto, and an award-winning disability arts practitioner with a list of awards and recognitions that are really long. So glad to have you here up here, Ophira. And Lisa Clarkson, Executive Director of Business and Rights for CBC English media and the executive person for abilicrew, a CBC resource group for employees with disabilities. And Lisa, you’re a founder of the CBC’s CAPE, capital C, capital A, capital P, capital E, placement program for professionals who have disabilities. So, welcome, Lisa, welcome, Ophira.

Lisa: Glad to be here.

Ophira: Thank you so much for having us.

Bill: Nice to have you here. Okay, we’re here today to talk about a hugely important national CBC initiative called AccessCBC, for deaf and disabled creators, developed in partnership with ReelAbilities Film Festival Toronto, and launched back on January 5th of this year. And we should note that according to the Rick Hansen Foundation, and other places you can get this information, that one in five Canadians are living with a disability.

So, it’s an important very important initiative. And AccessCBC, as I understand it, provides training, mentorship, and on select projects, which we’ll get to, I guess, later, financing support to create scripted and documentary screen-based content. And the deadline for applications and submissions was January 31st. I believe that was an extension. So roughly 12, no, six months ago, right? More or less six months, yeah?

And AccessCBC is not only a groundbreaking pilot project, but a major step forward in increasing career opportunities for creators, too often excluded from our media industry due to access barriers, and pretty big challenges.

Before we get into AccessCBC, per se, Lisa, can we share with our audience or our listeners, kind of get them up to speed on other CBC initiatives for people with a disability that may well have paved the way for AccessCBC?

Lisa: That’s an excellent question. I’ll try and do this quickly, because there’s a lot. But just taking a little step back, what our goal is, what our aim is at CBC is to be a leader in accessibility, propelled by the experiences and stories and involvement of people with a disability. And so, with that, as our aim, we’ve done a number of things, all of which have been really fueled by people with disabilities.

So, the first thing is abilicrew. You mentioned that in setting the context for who I am, and how I am responsible from for some of our initiatives connecting to people with disabilities. Abilicrew is a collection of employees at CBC. They came together themselves, they’re our first employee resource group. And there are people with a disability and their allies, that happened in 2016, and their goal was to support one another, but also to share with us in CBC and CBC management, their perspectives, their take on what we’re doing, what we’re not, and how it worked or didn’t work for them.

So that really was foundational, I think for a lot of the things that came after that. We’ve got abilicrew, and then you mentioned also the CAPE program. We’re in our fifth year of that, that came in 2018. And for your listeners, I’d say watch our website in June, that’s when we post the various positions for CAPE. But through the CAPE program, we bring in professionals with disabilities, have them here for six months, and listen to, and learn from them, and also give them additional experience in their craft.

Bill: That’s every June?

Lisa: That’s every June for the last five years. It’s a program that, as you say, I was involved in at the ground level, we’re so incredibly proud of it. And I just want to say that 60% of the people that came through that program are employed in some way at CBC. So, I will just say two other things. You know, we have limited time, but just in terms of setting the groundwork for that idea around being the leader in accessibility but propelled by people with disabilities. We’ve got those internal programs, and then also, of course, CBC, we work with lots of external creators.

That’s how we get approximately half of our programming in primetime. And so, when we look externally, we’ve done a couple of things. One is, we’ve set requirements and made commitments around working with underrepresented groups. So, in 2019, Catherine Tait made a commitment that one of our key creatives on our independent shows would come from an underrepresented group, including people with a disability, we met that in 2020-2021. Then in 2021, you may have heard about the commitment we made that 30% of our key creatives will be from those underrepresented groups. Those are a couple of things that we’ve done in order to spotlight people with a disability. And they really did set the stage for what comes next, which is AccessCBC.

Bill: Great, great, thanks, Lisa. Ophira, I was reading that recently, you launched the inaugural Accessible Writers’ Lab with the CMF, Canada Media Fund and AMI, Accessible Media Inc. which is a pretty cool organization too. Can you tell us a bit about this experimental program that you’ve designed? It sounds really neat.

Ophira: Well, thank you. It’s definitely a passion project that I’m very excited about.

The idea of the Accessible Writers’ Lab was in part inspired by AccessCBC. Conversations about the two programs sort of started happening at a similar point in time. And really were in response to this idea of “How do we address some of the barriers inherent within the Canadian television industry, and sort of across the board the entertainment industry.”

And, you know, it was spurred by– there was a Writers Guild of Canada, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion report. There have been two iterations of it now. But the most recent iteration found that only 0.3% of guild membership identified as a person with a disability. And writers with disabilities only accounted for 1% of writers working in TV across Canada, which when we put that in minds with the stat you mentioned off the top, of one in five Canadians live with a disability, that’s really glaring, and likely, it means two things.

Likely it means that there are some writers who are working in film and TV who are disabled, who have invisible disabilities, who don’t feel comfortable enough or empowered to disclose their experiences and to be able to access the structures and frameworks and supports that might make their pathway a little bit easier. And also, that there are so many barriers in structure, communication style, format, [inaudible] barriers, so many that keep writers who do identify as being disabled, whether they have a choice in doing so, whether it’s an invisible or visible disability, out of our TV writers’ rooms, out of being able to sort of shape our stories and culture and conversations in that way.

And, you know, we really started brainstorming, okay, so what do we do about it? What are some of the tangible things that we can look to and something we kept circling back on, was realizing that, and I can speak for myself, I’m disabled, I’m a writer. And because I’ve worked so hard to navigate in programs, and sort of catch up and find my way and carve a way out, I haven’t necessarily had that much time to figure out what an ideal process for myself would be. So, if someone asked me, oh, what do you need? What would make this more accessible for you? I might kind of freeze a little bit and say, oh, I don’t actually know.

I haven’t really had the time to play around with that and think about it. And that’s for me as an individual, but if I’m working with someone who has very different access needs from my own, what does that mean for us to work together? What’s our ideal length of day, our ways of pitching stories, our ways of formatting? What kind of software works for people who are engaging with it through screen reader technology or through interpreters and support workers? How do we do that work together?

And then, once we have that space to discover this, how do we bring that insight and knowledge back into the industry? So, this experimental process is going to give us some space to play around and create a best practices case study report at the end, working with industry show runners as well to bring that forward.

Bill: And Ophira, do you see some of this work leading to content that’s scheduled on and programmed with Accessible Media Inc.?

Ophira: So, this specific project is about process, and so, the goal is not specifically content. The hope is that this leads to more writers working across the industry as a whole.

Bill: Great, thanks. All right, on to this amazing AccessCBC project.

There’s a great deal to cover in this podcast, including this week’s pretty exciting announcement of 21, I guess it was originally 20, but now 21, we’ll cover that later, AccessCBC participants. But first can you both please tell us a little bit– tell the folks a little bit about how this initiative came together, and about the partnerships involved?

Lisa: Sure. So maybe I’ll start, but the one thing I have to say is that, you know, there’s a constellation of things that need to happen, whether or not through CBC or the industry to get to our goals. Ophira talked about, you know, the new program that they’re doing with AMI and CMF. And this program that we’re talking about, AccessCBC is about content. So that’s the piece exactly that you’re raising, but you need all those pieces in order to move us forward. So, I just did want to set us up with that.

Bill: Very good point.

Lisa: In terms of how AccessCBC came to be, if you think back to what I was saying around abilicrew then see to the CAPE program, our employees with disabilities see to the Cape program. And it was really through those discussions with them, that I started thinking, well, what are we doing for external creators and writers, and I was very mindful of that stat that a Ophira mentioned around the WGC’s .3% and under 1% of writers had self-declared as a disability and I thought, what can we do about that? And so, and a little bit of unusual for CBC cart before the horse, I went to Barb Williams and asked her for money to start a program.

Bill: Say hello to Barb for me.

Lisa: I will. And she gave it to me just based on that idea. So, I had the money, I had the idea, what was the next step? I went then to the programmers, because it’s not going to work, a content program with the programmers, obviously takes you nowhere. So, I went to [inaudible] group, I want to do a shout out to Ty Hyman and Justine Fung, went to them and started just trying to ID it, well, what might that look like? What do we need, you know, on scripted and unscripted?

And I’d say at that point, lo and behold, as we talked about it, we recognized that, in fact, we didn’t need one thing. And as I say, there’s a lot of things that are needed. We didn’t need one thing, we needed two things, one for scripted and one for unscripted in the form of docs. And so, we started thinking along those lines, thinking what we might need, we came up with the idea of the name AccessCBC. The unifying notion is that we will improve access, remove barriers for people with a disability.

And it needs to be propelled by people with a disability. And so it was really at that juncture, when we’re brainstorming, we thought, wait a minute, we need to partner with an organization that has deep experience with disability communities, that understands the perspective. And it was really at that point in time early on, that we went to Ophira and ReelAbilities, and we bat some of our ideas off them and I’ll let Ophira take it from that point.

Ophira: I mean, I’ll say from my perspective, personally, as well as from RAFFTO, the ReelAbilities Film Festival of Toronto, we were so excited to have this conversation and to hear about this program. This is the first of its kind at the CBC, but it’s also the first of its kind industry wide. There really haven’t been specific opportunities for disabled creators. And you know, within RAFFTO, we really ascribe to the social adaptive model of disability which understands that disability results from social, environmental and attitudinal barriers.

So as opposed to a medical model where it’s sort of a personal impairment, disability results from our social frameworks. And so, what that means is that often the default is inaccessible, because that is what causes disability. And so, to have a program like this, we felt like it was this opportunity for sort of the shared learning process for a lot of creators with disabilities to start forming these relationships and connections and find pathways within the industry, but also to start that process of, well, what does it look like to create a program that genuinely supports these creators and meaningfully engages with multiple facets of the community?

Bill: So, we’ve determined, sort of the general reasons why there are two streams, I guess, 10 participants, and 10 and 10 equals 21 in this context, we’ll get to that in a minute. So, the scripted stream and the short documentary stream, but can we dig a little deeper about, why these two genres like, why not unscripted, for example?

Lisa: Well, I would say short documentaries are unscripted.

Bill: Okay.

Lisa: That’s certainly how we approach it. And the reason that even right from the beginning, we realized that there were different streams that were needed. There were sort of two driving factors. One was that, if you think about the skills and the steps in the process that are needed to capture a documentary, something that’s happening in real life, that looks a lot different than scripted, where you’re basically, obviously making up everything from scratch.

What are your characters? What is your narrative arc? Where is it going to be? What are their motivations, all the things, so that was reason one. And I think the other reason really was I’m gonna say, an impatience on our part, to start seeing some of this content, see the light of day. And so, on the scripted side, you well know that gosh, it takes years and years and years for something to go from concept to execution. It’s very complicated, there’s so many steps and stages.

Whereas a short doc, the destination for which is CBC Gem, is a lot faster of a turnaround. And so, it was really that impatience as well, from concept to screen that we wanted to start seeing some of these things that—

Bill: Results.

Lisa: That’s right. And we wanted our audiences importantly, one in five of which have a disability, we wanted one of them also to start seeing things. And so, it was really that that motivated, not just the two streams, but also the architecture of the streams, what we thought and as we collaborated with ReelAbilities, what they also thought would work for creators with a disability in both of those two areas.

Bill: All right, well, tell us a bit about the scripted program and what you were looking for in terms of the successful participants. Perhaps eligibility criteria, application requirements, that sort of thing. And they were paid a stipend of $2,500 each too, and what was that for?

Ophira, do you want to take a crack at that?

Ophira: Sure, yes. So, I’ll first say that in terms of the eligibility criteria, that was quite a discussion, we really put a lot of thought and intention into this question of wondering who this program was for. And a lot of that centered around this idea of market readiness, because the concept of market readiness can mean many things in different contexts, but often the key component involves sort of a creator and their concept, being able to navigate the industry as it currently stands as independently as possible, which again, is not necessarily the case for someone with a disability.

Often, we communicate in different ways, require different forms of support, really prioritize interdependence. And some of the hallmarks that can mark something as professional might be actually grounded in some forms of ableism. So, for example, there’s a line of, oh, if there’s a typo on an email, then clearly someone isn’t taking something seriously. But if someone’s using voice to text technology, trust me there is going to be a typo. It is pretty impossible to avoid.

And so, we really wrestled with this idea and played around with how we could address this feeling of professionalism and how that in itself can be a barrier and came to really focus on story and creators. And we took sort of this two-pronged approach of both offering that folks could submit in whatever format works for them. So, some people had just an interview with us and chatted and we took down notes and sent back those notes to them and saw how that fits and we’d go back and forth with their applications.

Some people signed their application in ASL, some people completed a Google form in audio recording. And we also really emphasized making sure that we weren’t evaluating these applications on those hallmarks of sort of format and structure and really getting to the core of, what are these stories? Who are these creators? What are they bringing forward? And to address the question about payments, it’s so, so essential to pay, I believe all creators for their time, but especially within the disability community.

The majority of the disability community lives far below the poverty line. And in order to be able to take the time to participate in a program like this, to both gain skills, but also offer their own perspectives and experience and develop their content, is something that a lot of people would not be able to engage in unless it was a paid opportunity. And that’s something that on the ReelAbilities side, we’re both passionate about, and also really, really proud that that was able to come together.

Bill: Very good, very good. Lisa, can you tell us a bit about the short documentary stream? I think I understand that there is or will be one documentary selected for production and all ten received a $6,000 development deal?

Lisa: I will.

Bill: Or is it 11?

Lisa: No, it’s ten.

Bill: Okay.

Lisa: But it’s 11 filmmakers, yes.

Bill: Okay.

Lisa: But just before I do that, I just want to just skip back a little bit to the scripted program and what was in that program. We were looking– and Ophira did an excellent job at sort of

sharing the discussion around, you know, how do you get the materials in terms of looking at them, and then judging them, ultimately, for whoever is the successful participant. But I’d say also, I think it’s interesting to highlight the program design, and when I was talking about how different the sort of scripted program was from the unscripted, what we did for the scripted program was that it was helmed by Garcia Camila and Sara Kwan at CBC, they brought in experts, but the focus was a series of workshops, that really delved into the pitch, because the pitch is important, because that is the thing you take around whether or not it’s the CBC, or anybody else.

That’s the thing that gets you in the door. If your pitch is no good, you’re not getting in the door. And so, it was a series of workshops, there was one on the written pitch, there was one on a verbal pitch, a different workshop was on the visual pitch, different workshop was on pitching to an agent. And then those workshops which have happened, were launched by a session with Garcia and Sara around the participants. What did they think? How did they find it useful? Again, that idea being propelled by the feedback that we’re getting from ReelAbilities, from abilicrew, and also from the participants themselves. And then the last piece, which is in process, is one on ones. So, I just say that that was the architecture of the scripted series with scripted workshops, and why we approached it in that way.

The approach on the short doc side was very different. We were looking for a concept to be pitched, a concept and the idea was that each of the successful applicants would be paired with a mentor from CBC, they would work intensively and then the final product which hasn’t come in yet, August 15th, will be a formal treatment and depends on the project, some other things. And so, I think Ophira I’m sure has some things to add about, you know, the process and the eligibility, but the contract itself, we looked at again from the perspective of, are we being simple enough for everybody?

We held some workshops on what those contracts look like, but generally, it’s the regular development process that we go through with a short doc. We did those sessions with the creators. And the other thing that I think is worthy of note, and I’d say for anyone in the audience that’s thinking of pitching us a short doc, look at ReelAbilities description of the list of what we were looking for, because we didn’t stop at, oh, well, you know, you need a short doc with a strong concept. There’s a whole list of the type, and examples from CBC Gem, of short docs. So, diversity.

Bill: Quite a long list.

Lisa: That’s right, I actually brought it with me because I won’t do it justice, because it was written beautifully, but, you know, provoke conversation, capture an important moment in time in a unique way, shed light on hidden worlds, like, it really was an attempt by our creatives, and in that case, Jessica Schmiedchen led that with Yasmin Abbasakoor, of bringing to life, what is it when you say concept of contemporary, what do you really mean? So, giving examples really to help shine a light on that. So that was really the difference, you know, in execution and intention of those two streams for the short docs.

Development to August 15, then the creative team will pick one to go into production, which we hope will be in production in early next year.

Bill: Okay. The mention of workshops, Ophira. Did I see somewhere that you conducted a workshop, something along the lines of what Lisa was describing in Calgary? Does that ring a bell?

Ophira: I’ve done a couple of different workshops. I wear a few different hats.

Bill: Yeah, I was trying to wrestle with that.

Ophira: I personally wrestle with it constantly. I sort of have the facilitation and consulting and accessibility side, but I also do work within storytelling and disability narratives and work on facilitation as well.

Bill: Just a little parenthesis here, the feedback I got on the Calgary workshop was that it was excellent. So, whatever it was, it was good. Ophira and Lisa let’s not bury the lead here. So, AccessCBC, tell us about those 21 originally 20 successful participants, and both how and why they were chosen, please. And who are they? And why did they make the cut? And what have they been working on?

Lisa: Shall I start, or do you want to start?

Ophira: Go for it.

Lisa: Just high level, you know, detail on the successful candidates. It was a really interesting process. So, on the scripted side, we had 150 applicants. 109 went to the jury process. And what were we looking for? Oh, we’re looking for what we always look for. Who had the best, most authentic voices. The applications were split into groups. There was discussion and debate. Some of the groups involved people from abilicrew and other aspects of CBC and the successful candidates came from a whole variety of backgrounds and experiences.

The majority had intersectional backgrounds by POC and LGBTQ2+. They had a range of experience levels, some had less experience, some had quite a lot of experience, the types of stories that they’re telling, and I can’t get into that too much because that’s their property and they’re still developing it, but huge range. So, small town policing, everyday life, you know, paranormal type story, so a real range of types and different stories that were told. So that’s on the unscripted side, maybe I’ll turn it to Ophira if she wants to add something and then I’ll go to the doc side.

Ophira: Well, something that I’ll say, I was lucky enough to take as a sort of see all of the applications as they came in, so I will strongly echo Lisa’s point that decisions were tough. There were so many exciting stories and, narratives and really just goes to show how many voices and creators and stories are out there. And something that I’ll say with that, this applies to both scripted and the short doc side is that these are concepts and stories that really have not been seen.

And I mean that, not just been the narratives of the stories, some of that is true for the narratives, but also, some of the ways in which these creators are looking to tell their stories, some of the processes that they’re looking to weave into, you know, if they were to for short docs in their productions, or scripted, you know, if they were to develop to that stage, are really innovative and exciting. And it’s often not something that is, you know, necessarily the centerpiece, just a product of their creation style, which is really amazing to see.

Bill: Okay, all right.

Lisa: On the short doc side, you know, the story’s a little bit the same in the sense of, just to pick up something Ophira said, like, the response and the caliber of what came in, incredible. Incredible, in fact, at the programming team level, so on the short docs, 60 applications came in and the team says to me that the vast majority, actually they could have gone with any of them. That’s incredible. Especially from the programmers. So, what happened in that case for the short docs, is that there were nine on the jury, including, again, some from abilicrew, and they…

I don’t want to say they fought, but they debated over which should be the successful 10. And the hours and hours of debates, very spirited debates, I wasn’t in the room, but everyone was vying for the ones that they thought should be the ones to move on. And I think, from my perspective, when you look at the 60, all but one, we have not worked with those creators before. So again, really, really important about the program connecting us with people that we had not worked with before. And 60 of them, like, you know, if anyone ever says, hey, well, you know what, I really want to work with creators with a disability, but there just aren’t people out there. Not true. And this program proves it. So that’s just about the volume, I will say in terms of– there was a big range of experience again, majority were intersectional.

And the tone– I won’t get into– they’re developing those stories right now, the tone, very varied. Some joyous, some funny, some somber, so as you would expect, different tone, and all those debates I told you about? They couldn’t agree on 10, so we did 11.

Bill: I was going to try and get there.

Lisa: That’s why it’s 21.

Bill: Alright, so that’s how we have 21. Alright, that’s one mystery solved.

Alright, so I think I established it by counting on my fingers, that you’re about six months into this into this project. Half a year into this pilot project. Have either of you, or have you collectively modified the goals for AccessCBC? And by that, I mean, is the program meeting all of the original expectations, exceeding some of the original expectations? Is everything excellent, or have there been a couple of hiccups? Some learning experiences? You know, can you talk a bit to that? This is the longest pause so far.

Lisa: We’re just looking at each other, because I don’t know.

Ophira: I mean, I can chime in quickly, and then pass it over to you. I think accessibility, is inherently always a learning process. And I often get asked within my work of consulting, like, oh, do you have a checklist, like something we can just look at, and make sure we’re covering all of our bases. And you know, we can then put the title, “This is fully accessible.” We know that we are including everyone. And the fact of the matter is that access is so fluid, it’s individual, it changes day to day, it changes depending on the situation. It’s relational. One person’s needs can affect another person’s needs.

If one person has a migraine, and another person needs to make a lot of noise, how do you move forward and find the way for those connections to move forward? And so, I think an inherent process of any firm like this, is that there’s constant, constant learning and there’s constant you know, you think you make the plan and based off of your experience, you get into the room and then there’s something you haven’t thought of and part of the joy for me, mostly because truly I love access, I really, really get excited about these challenges, is being able to work through them in real time.

And I think that that’s happened a lot in this program, there have been so many learnings and so many moments of like, oh, okay, we anticipated that this kind of support would be the thing. It looks like it’s not the thing, what do we do? How do we move forward? How do we shift and adapt? So, on my end, that’s definitely been an exciting, challenging and also rewarding part of the process.

Bill: Good points. Lisa?

Lisa: Well, to pick up that point, that Ophira just made, is if you launch a pilot, and you’re not learning, you’re doing something wrong. So, I will say there’s been lots of learning, you know, with the teams, and, you know, this podcast is a great thing to also share the learnings out, because that’s also part of what we wanted to do. And saying that on, is the program meeting its goals? I would say that, yes, it is.

You know, especially around, you know, access, have we improved access to creators with a disability, yes. I mean, aside from the applications and things, we know in this industry, and you did a shout out to Barb, the fact is that it is a relationship-based industry. And so, part of that access, is those intense mentoring relationships, is the exposure to different people and the learned experience on both sides. So, I’d say in that respect, it’s absolutely met the goals.

It obviously in terms of the applications we got in, we didn’t know what we would get. The two other things I’d share is that it’s not over yet. We do have a number of stages that are happening both in the summer and the fall. And so, we want to wait and see and have that play out. And, you know, circle and underline is that we want to get the feedback of the participants, etc. about how they felt.

Did they think it was meaningful, did they think was useful? And so that’s really a foundational piece for us, as we are propelled by people with a disability, did it meet your needs? Because if it didn’t, obviously, we hope it did. But if it didn’t, then we’ll have to make some changes.

Bill: So, what Lisa, is one practical learning so far in this process for you?

Lisa: Well, I would say two things. One was that I think that we were a bit ambitious in the timing. If I think about the scripted workshops, originally, we had sort of had them going bang, bang, bang weekly, and that really does not leave you time to ingest the feedback, adjust as Ophira was talking about. So, you know that I think sticks out for me, as you know, one of the takeaways. And I think the other thing, and this is true of this program, it’s true of all of my work connected to accessibility, is that you think you’re talking about accessibility, and that’s true. And whatever you do and adjust, it makes change for everyone.

I mean, we at CBC, we want to welcome stories from everyone, from all sorts of groups, particularly ones that have been underrepresented. My gosh, you know, reducing the barriers for people connecting with us, applying. That works for everyone, whether or not it’s on the programming side, the creative side, or on one of my other hats on the business side. You know, how do we connect with people and make sure that there’s a common understanding of what’s needed? So, I’d say that continues to be an important lesson that I like to say, because I think sometimes people can relegate some of these things to a corner inbox. That’s not true. And we need to get better at really expressing that. So that’s what I’d say.

Bill: All right. Ophira, I referenced earlier… There are pages of things that you’ve done that are really exciting and award winning, and, you know, truly exceptional. But in there somewhere, there was this kind of clause that said that you work to crip the script. And I thought that was great. But I’d like you to, if you could please expand a bit on that crip the script notion for listeners and why that’s so important. I mean, I have some thoughts, but I want to hear them from you.

Ophira: Well, thank you for asking that. That’s, again, something that I hear a lot about. The word crip is a word that’s really in the process of being reclaimed by facets of the disability community, and to me, it means centering disability knowledge and experience as a creative force, as something exciting and powerful and generative. And so, when I talk about cripping the scripts, I’m really talking about the different ways that we can challenge, reframe, and reclaim language, systems, our stories, structures, and even physically our spaces to center disability and chronic identities experiences.

And that means, you know, if we take that into an artistic context, which is where I spend most of my time, and hence the word script. That means it’s often when we think of art, and accessibility, there’s the idea that we build something. So, let’s say it’s a short film, we create the short film of our dreams, and, you know, create it alongside the ways in which short films have typically been created. And then at the end, say, wait a minute, how do we make it accessible, and then maybe throw in some cautions, maybe make an audio description track, and those are great, and those are wonderful. And I’m a huge fan of both of those things. But when I talk about cripping the script, I mean, that from the very beginning of the process, we’re thinking about, how do we sort of harness disability knowledge and experience as an inherent part of this artistic process? So how does that affect the ways in which we film, how does that affect the stories that we’re telling? How does that affect you know, maybe instead of captioning being put in at the end, maybe there’s a way to integrate that throughout the filming process artistically as a core part of the film, maybe audio description is woven into the script itself. There’s endless possibilities, depending on the project. And it’s something that that I get really excited about, so I’ll stop talking there. And not go on for too long.

Bill: So, if I can get it in a nutshell, for my little brain here, it’s about centering disability knowledge and experience to the process, the production, and the presentation of content. Is that it?

Ophira: Exactly, yeah.

Bill: Great. Another question Ophira, to be honest and shortcoming on my part. I didn’t know much about ReelAbilities Film Festival Toronto; I should have known more. But I understand that it’s the Canadian chapter of the largest film festival in North America, dedicated to promoting awareness. Awareness and appreciation of the lives and stories and, you know, expressions of people with disabilities, and those who are deaf as well.

What else should I know? What else should the audience know about? As you say, RAFFTO? And, you know, are there accessible screenings? Is it a year-round program? Tell us more so that we can do better.

Ophira: Yeah, RAFFTO originally started in New York, and now there’s chapters across the world in many different parts. And the Toronto one is the only chapter in Canada currently. And the mandate is exactly what you said, to promote deaf and disability cultures through film, uplifting, intersectional perspectives from the communities and spotlighting over all the work from Canadian, deaf and disabled creatives. And that comes through in collaborations with community partners, sponsors.

And sort of through this work, ultimately, being a film festival and wanting to platform content, we realized very quickly that there are a lot of a lot of threads that come out of that. And so, there’s an annual film festival, but we also provide and facilitate networking and professional development opportunities year-round, hands on workshops, funder panels. We also focus on modeling and innovating accessible screening practices, both at our festival, but we also work in advocating for the adoption of those practices through the entire film festival world.

We provide consultation and support. And I want to do a specific shout out to ReelEducation, which is the educational arm of the festival that brings films and workshops and conversations about disability and difference to K-12 classrooms across the city and country year-round. So, there’s a ReelEducation festival. There’s also year-round programming, and we work directly with educators to provide accessible lesson kits that specifically meet curriculum requirements and tailor workshops to classes and students. So, they’re sort of platforming films, professional development, industry advocacy, and specific education, working within the education system. And along with that side of it.

Bill: And Ophira, is there a website that people can turn to?

Ophira: There is RAFFTO, so is the website for that festival. It’s new, it’s pretty, and it’s screen reader friendly.

Bill: Great. Thank you. So, Lisa, we’re getting near the end of our podcast. We’re not at the end, but we’re getting near. What are the takeaways from, well, for the CBC as an organization of this project, AccessCBC?

Lisa: Well, I can probably deal with this kind of quickly, because well, three things. One is that, you know, we’re not at the end of the process yet, and so we want to get that feedback, so we’ll have a better sense of the takeaways in the fall. The second is the two things I mentioned, really, that there is a phenomenal wealth of creators with a disability that are out there and ready to be tapped into, so this is really proof of concept. And then the third thing is around lessons learnt need to be shared and are broadly applicable to every aspect of what CBC does to creatively connect, and to connect on the programming business side with creators more generally.

Bill: Okay, alright. Anything to add Ophira? What should the CBC have as takeaway?

Ophira: No, I mean, I think that’s great, right? The idea that accessibility is a process, it’s a framework. And that, you know, this is not the start of CBC’s work with accessibility, but it’s certainly not the end either, which is a hopeful and exciting thing.

Bill: So, Lisa, you’re a speaker, guest speaker on media and content and related topics at numerous conferences and festivals and universities. The last place I saw you on the schedule was that Banff World Media Festival, where you were speaking to, I think it was pays to go green and sustainable production. So, are you going to be integrating talking points coming out of AccessCBC into what you share with the more general public personally?

Lisa: Well, I guess I’m—

Bill: I’m getting to you later on this, Ophira.

Lisa: Yeah, a couple of things connected to that, you know, if you look at the UN’s definition of sustainability, is that all of these things intersect. So, I’m just going to say that, and you know, if you look at environmental sustainability, and the unfortunate path that we’re going down currently is that it has a disproportionate impact on people from the disability communities and other underrepresented groups. So, I’m going to say that there actually is a coherence to it.

I come back to that idea that we need to listen. And when you—you make me sound like I get around, don’t get around that much.

But one of the things through the accessibility work and this program that I know for sure, is that it’s not about Lisa Ann’s talking points. It’s about how I listen, and how– not just I listen, but how I amplify and put into action what people from the disability community are telling me. That’s been my role as the executive sponsor of abilicrew for the last six years. That’s been my role in other initiatives, one stop business workshop, which we haven’t touched on, but it’s also a training ground for underrepresented creators, including creators with a disability. So that is what I’d say. And when I do that, when I listen, my takeaway is that there’s a lot more work to be done. And there was an article in Forbes in 2021, from a disability advocate, and that person talked about disability on screen. And their comment was, “There’s a lot of activity happening, and disability is in the corner, and we got to get it out of the corner.” And my hope is that AccessCBC is one small piece of that. A piece, but an important piece.

Bill: Ophira, anything to add, in terms of your own many hats, and talking points, and learning?

Ophira: I was lucky enough to be part of a lot of the onboarding calls with the participants. And the majority of those onboarding calls we set aside half an hour to sort of chat through the program and the logistics, and most ended up being at least an hour because we were so excited at the chance just to connect. From my perspective, as a writer and working within access in the industry, I often can feel kind of alone in it, like I’m chipping away and working in a bit of a silo. And I think this program, echoing a clip from Lisa earlier, that you can’t say that there aren’t so many creators.

And this was just, you know, the folks who were ready with the concepts idea in this specific application period. And so, I think the talent is there and the importance of that community building that opportunity for us to share ideas, exchange, our learnings and, and processes, and experiences is a really huge takeaway from this, something that can sometimes be undervalued of, oh, yeah, friends are nice. The community is essential, TV is a collaborative medium.

Bill: Yeah so, on that note, Ophira, and Lisa, what’s next for AccessCBC, and what’s ideally or practically next for the successful participants?

Lisa: So on AccessCBC, what’s next is that for the short docs, August 15th, you look at the pitches, and the participants are going to be given an opportunity, if they wish to do a verbal pitch that will happen between mid-August and September, a successful project will be chosen, and then that project will go into production. So that’s what’s happening there.

On the scripted side, the piece of the workshops that’s not quite done yet, is the one on ones with all the participants, that’s happening and will continue to happen during the month of August. And we’ll grab the results of both of those pieces and do a postmortem, what worked, what didn’t, etc. So that’s what’s next for AccessCBC. You know, I would say that, generally, you know, what’s next, looking at this as a piece of what needs to happen, there are a lot of exciting things happening. Disability screen office, which we haven’t touched on, is in the process of being assembled by AMI. And we’re involved in some of those conversations, that’s a really exciting time. So, I think there are a lot of different things that are that are going to be next whether or not as AccessCBC are about some of the other programs and initiatives that are being driven and led by CBC or being driven and led by our partners like ReelAbilities.

Bill: Ophira, you, what’s next?

Ophira: Yes, I mean, echoing all of that, I think already AccessCBC and has influenced programming. I mentioned how, you know, some of the learnings and processes have impacted the Accessible Writers’ Lab. Even directly at the ReelAbilities Film Festival, we put together and accessible production master class inviting international experts to chat through how to create an accessible production on set and working with a filmmaker taking questions from the audience. And that program came about because of those onboarding discussions from participants in this program, where often we got the question of how do we make a film experience accessible to us and to the actors we might want to engage, the crew? What do we do?

And so already that has directly influenced programming. There’s so many exciting things in the realm of disability, and as Lisa mentioned the disability screen office getting put together, lots of partnerships on the horizon. But I’m going to be blunt and say my hope is that there can be, you know, both a lot more content being created. And on the scripted side, a disability led show that has a writer’s room filled with writers with disabilities and that experience. That’s my hope of where a lot of these threads can lead us.

Bill: Well, that sounds like a great thing, personally. Ophira, when do you see the disability screen office coming together? That’s a really interesting thing.

Ophira: Yeah, a press release came out about it a bit ago, and it’s currently in the process of being set up. So, I don’t have any specific hardware that hard dates to share. But I can say that work is definitely happening on it and even through just the process of pulling it together and the community consultations that have gotten into it. Already the networking and community building that’s come from it has been exponential and really impactful.

Bill: Okay, coming back to AccessCBC, Lisa, and Ophira, how do listeners– how does the audience keep in touch with AccessCBC? How can we follow the process here?

There must be a website, there must be some way of staying in touch.

Lisa: We have top class communications departments. And as soon as there’s something to say about the doc that gets picked up, when it’s ready to go on Gem, or what the next iteration of AccessCBC might look like, you can be sure that they’ll be telling people about it. I mean, we partnered obviously, with ReelAbilities, and that was part of it, but when we did the initial push, we did in fact, reach out to all of our community organizations, whether or not it was Accessible Media Inc, or the National Screen Institute, CMF. So, I think that your listeners will not be able to avoid hearing about what the next thing is.

Bill: And the website,, is that a good place to go?

Ophira: I would refer people to the one I mentioned earlier, So, RAFFTO. We recently switched and the AccessCBC information that’s hosted up on that new site.

Bill: Okay, good to know. Okay, now I come to the last question. What have I forgot to ask? What should podcast listeners really take away from this conversation today? What have I forgotten to explore or overlooked? Lisa and Ophira, tell me what I missed and what you want to make certain that our listeners really take away from this.

Lisa: I have two things just for your audiences. for those in your audience that are in the industry, I urge you to think about the inclusion of people with a disability. I link back to that stat that you mentioned, Bill, and Ophira has mentioned, that one in five people have a disability. And if you don’t see it reflected in your content, if people with a disability aren’t involved in creating your content, well, then I cheekily say that that’s science fiction, that doesn’t reflect reality. So that would be my message to the audiences from the industry. And for those that are listening, that are deaf or disabled, and have a story to tell, I really hope that you will consider CBC as the home for your story. We want to hear your story. We want not just to remove barriers; we want to welcome you and connect with you. So, we hope you’ll take us up on that.

Bill: Well said. Ophira?

Ophira: Yes, I mean, tying into this idea of just how prevalent disability is, I also want to say sometimes we think of disability, and I think Lisa mentioned this earlier, as sort of being in the corner a little bit. And disability is something that likely is going to affect every single living human being in this world. And it might be temporary, caused by an injury or illness, it might be related to aging, it might be something that’s invisible, it might be very visible. But disability affects every single community, and every single human, and so thinking through having that reflected back to us is so essential for all of us.

Knowing that this is an experience that that we all will face. And truly, because it hasn’t been reflected that much. We don’t know that much about it necessarily until we live it. These processes work for all of us make things better for all of us. And I’ll take my last point just to really highlight the importance of the intersectionality of these stories. Knowing that disability is not a monolith. There are so many nuanced experiences that are affected by race, by gender, by class, by body size, sexuality, by so many elements. And all of these stories need to be told and brought forward in all of our initiatives. And that that’s something I’m really hopeful of that we’re moving towards.

Bill: Well, thank you so much, Ophira Calof of the ReelAbilities Film Festival Toronto and Lisa Clarkson of The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Thank you for this conversation today, it’s so important to see the showcasing of what an accessible media landscape can look like. And to see this kind of partnership commitment to integrating peoples and as Ophira refers to, storytellers of all abilities into this Canadian media industry, it’s the stuff of, my own words, true culture of inclusion and celebration and represented diversity, not just diversity, theoretically, but truly represented diversity. So, again, thank you very, very much. I am Bill Roberts. This has been an exclusive podcast until next time, cheers.

This transcript was provided by CBC. 

Our industry and COVID-19

We've gathered a number of links where Canadian cable, radio, television, telecom and wireless companies have posted their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.