Into the Mainstream


Susanne Pettit-Crossman couldn’t talk just then. She had to finish transcribing an interview with Canadian author Pierre Berton. She writes a column on famous people and their pets for a Collie magazine, and had already interviewed “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” star Mary Walsh.

The five years she worked at CBC television has helped open doors for Pettit-Crossman, she later explains. The former host of “The Disability Network” (D-Net) was on the show from its debut in 1990 until 1995, also producing reports for the program.

Initially co-produced by the Centre for Independent Living of Toronto (CILT) Inc. and CBC, “The Disability Network” was the first program in North America on disability issues to be produced by people with disabilities. The Foundation on Independent Living took over co-production duties from CILT in 1993.

The program now reaches 300,000 people per week and has increased awareness about Independent Living. It has also been used to train people with disabilities to prepare them for careers in broadcasting. Last year, 64 per cent of trainees were working six months after completing their stint with D-Net.

Pettit-Crossman had already had her own company producing radio commercials for about 10 years by the time she began working for D-Net. She had also produced a series of three-minute vignettes on pet care for Toronto-based CITY-TV. She auditioned for D-Net because it was a chance to anchor a show about issues being addressed from an Independent Living perspective, and to get involved with the CBC.

“It gives you a solid base of credentials to open your own doors with,” she says. Some of those doors included a summer as a producer on “Midday,” contributing entertainment items to CBLT News, producing a report on children with disabilities for “Wonderstruck” and contributions to “Sunday Arts and Entertainment.”

“I’ve always been my own door opener, but it didn’t hurt to have CBC credits,” Pettit-Crossman says.

But the door hasn’t swung open as easily for many other people with disabilities, according to a January, 1993, report commissioned by the broadcasting industry. Titled “The Human Resources in the Canadian Broadcasting Industry,” it says: “Many industry representatives believe that employment equity principles are not as entrenched in broadcasting culture as they could or should be. Representatives believe decision makers (management and union) should be better informed about and convinced of the benefits of employment equity, particularly with respect to competitiveness.”

In 1993, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters developed an employment equity guide for its members. It illustrated how to implement an employment equity program and measure and report on progress. Another guide targeted managers and other people in broadcasting whose support is necessary to make it work.

A video called “Today’s Scoop” featured some Canadian broadcasters who have successfully implemented employment equity programs and reaped the benefits.

D-Net has been providing the public with a view on the world of people with disabilities, and that has changed attitudes. “You’re seeing a lot more integration of people with disabilities in film and television,” Pettit-Crossman says.

The Foundation on Independent Living continues to train people with disabilities in broadcasting through D-Net, as well as through a film documentary on land mine survivors in Cambodia and a French-language television pilot on disability issues.

But Pettit-Crossman worries that budget cuts to the CBC are making it hard for people without disabilities to get jobs in broadcasting, which “makes it an even smaller piece of pie for people with disabilities.”

Will private broadcasters pick up the baton from the CBC and make more room on their airwaves for people with disabilities? Only time will tell.

We are already working with two new partners, and by pooling resources we will be able to do more. Why not join us? If your organization has been thinking about improving the participation of people with disabilities, give us a call. We can talk!

If you want to hire people with disabilities, let us help you find them. We have a databank of qualified, experienced people searching for employment. Our service is free of charge.

In the fall, we will be looking for people with disabilities to work on “Disability Network.” We are also developing a new initiative in Montreal to produce a French-language program similar to D-Net. Send us your resume.

To apply for one of these positions and/or be included in our databank of people with disabilities who are looking to work in broadcasting, send us your resume.

TEL: (416) 593-5409
FAX: (416) 205-3399


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