Access granted: AMI makes media available for all Canadians

While accepting his lifetime achievement award at the National Magazine Awards, long-time Toronto Life editor Stephen Trumper encouraged all Canadian publications to make their content available through Accessible Media Inc., a Canadian non-profit. Convergence Magazine profiles AMI, which serves more than five million Canadians who are blind or partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing, mobility or learning disabled, or learning English as a second language. 

*Tony King has worked as a producer for AMI Inc. for more than 20 years. Photo credit: Sara Miller.

By Sara Miller, for Convergence

Sitting at a computer desk, dressed in a brightly printed red sweater, Tony King works on the latest news recordings left by one of the volunteers. There is no mouse; only a computer screen, a soundboard and keyboard sit in front of him. His green eyes, covered by a milky white haze, stare blankly ahead while he concentrates on a comput­erized voice that guides him through his headphones. With a few taps of the keyboard, King works on the volunteer readings, listening and editing voice clips carefully. Tony King is a producer, and he also happens to be blind.

Tony King is a producer for AMI-au­dio at the Toronto bureau where he helps volunteers through the process of reading and recording newspaper and magazine articles to be listened to by the blind.

Born and raised in Jamaica, King worked as an accountant. Later on he noticed he was having problems with his eyesight and had surgery to correct them, to no success.

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“I had to leave my profession and go into something more practical since without my sight, I wouldn’t be a good accountant.”

In 1988, King moved to Canada and landed a job as a producer for AMI (then called VoicePrint). He was trained at Ryerson University for three to four months on how to use analog cassette machines in the studio.

Though the equipment has changed in the 20 years that King has been working for AMI, his duties are still the same. As a producer, his job is to help volunteers through the process of read­ing articles.

“We [producers] can communicate through a headset to volunteers and we record while they read,” King says.

When the recording is finished, King listens to the playback and edits any mistakes made.

Accessible Media Inc. is a Canadian non-profit multimedia organization operating two broadcast services; AMI-tv and AMI-audio, and a website, AMI. ca. The organization serves more than five million Canadians who are blind or with low vision, deaf or hard of hearing, learning disabled, mobility or print re­stricted, or learning English as a second language by making print, broadcast and online media accessible. Its mis­sion is simple: to make all media acces­sible to all Canadians.

Jon Nye has been a volunteer reader at the Toronto bureau for nine months, after a medical scare last year almost left him blind. Nye says his reason for volunteering at AMI was personal.

“Last year, I was diagnosed with an eye condition which, if left untreated, would have developed into glaucoma and eventual blindness,” Nye says.

“That was my motivation to start vol­unteering. Here I was, the luckiest guy in the world that caught something ahead of time and wanted to do something about it. This is a good opportunity for me to provide a service for blind people.”

Nye says AMI is an important orga­nization that provides Canadian audi­ences with an important service.

“It’s not so much about providing a service to blind people, it’s about pro­viding programming that is inclusive. If you and your family were watching TV and one of them is blind, all of you can enjoy the TV show together since it has descriptive video.”

At the Toronto head office, assistant National Editor Marianne d’Eon-Jones’ job is to pull articles and information from newspapers and magazines to be lined up for volunteers to read on the broadcast shows.

“You’ll hear a multitude of topics, like health, science, in-depth, news, fea­ture material, but someone has to pull that material out of the newspapers and magazines for someone to go into the studios to read,” d’Eon-Jones says.

“You can imagine the mountain of news in the world – this service gives our blind community a cross section of what all the rest of us take for granted. The mandate was always ‘if you can’t read The Globe and Mail in the morn­ing, then we’re voicing that for the blind community’,” says d’Eon-Jones.

Maureen Fish, a volunteer at the Ot­tawa bureau has been working for AMI for four years on and off. For Fish, who already had experience working in ra­dio and broadcasting, volunteering at AMI was a natural decision.

“It sounded like a wonderful idea because I have always thought about possibly reading to people at retirement homes. I also knew that doing this ser­vice would help a lot of people,” she says.

Fish used to work at a physiotherapy clinic and she asked a client with visual impairment if he had ever heard of AMI. “He told me that he loved VoicePrint and he would sit with his kids and lis­ten together.

“It’s really good to hear that people are listening and benefitting from the service that AMI provides,” she says.

AMI-tv is a specialty channel that provides entertainment to those who are blind, with low vision or other disabilities. It is CRTC mandated and funded by Canada’s cable and satellite operators. AMI-tv is available on every basic digital cable, satellite and IPTV packages.

It broadcasts a large selection of general programming – movies, current affairs, and series that cater to a broad audience. It also provides original AMI content, which primarily deals with ac­cessibility and disability-related topics. All of the programming on the chan­nel features closed captioning and de­scribed video. A team of 20 people to produce an hour-long weekly show called Sports Access. The team also does a half hour of original programming content every weekend. 

At the age of 16, Windsor-born Lyn­da Spinney’s eyesight was beginning to deteriorate. Since then, there has been a slight decline in her vision with each passing year.

“Descriptive video is important because it helps us to tell what is hap­pening on the screen. Describing things such as facial expressions and hand ges­tures makes us understand the show better,” she says.

For the past 23 years, as a partially vision-impaired and now registered blind person, Spinney has depended on the services AMI provides.

“For the blind community, AMI is es­sential” she says.

Sara Miller is currently a student at Humber College’s journalism program. In 2013, Sara Miller received a Certificate of Merit from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in New York for her story entitled “Youth without shelter,” which was written for Scribe, a Humber College student publication. With a focus on newspaper and magazine writing, Sara hopes to work for a women's lifestyle magazine after graduation.

This article was originally published in Covergence, a Humber College publication.

Correction: A photo caption incorrectly stated Tony King is a volunteer of AMI. He is a paid employee. AMI also originally launched as VoicePrint in 1990, 23 years ago. We regret the errors.