Connect 4 Life is making sure people with disabilities are heard with its new An Accessible Voice in Broadcasting program. The 24-week class is the first of its kind designed for people with disabilities, and will be held in the fall at the Broadcast Training Centre (BTC) in Mississauga.
The program is designed to immerse students in the world of radio broadcasting, giving them an intensive course in hosting and interviewing, production, advertising, and related fields. “It’s an introduction to everything to see what areas you really enjoy and where your strengths are,” said Melanie Taddeo, Founder and President of Connect 4 Life.
Taddeo, who is legally blind and cannot read, decided in 2014 that she wanted a way to get information out to anyone with any kind of disability. The fact that nobody sees a person who is talking on the radio was appealing to her. “I can’t see a lot of things, and so perhaps when I’m in front of other people, we don’t connect the way [others do], but behind the scenes…behind the microphone, as I say, you have an opportunity to express yourself and get your message across in a comfortable situation, because no one’s really watching you.”
She came up with the concept for Voices 4 Ability, the world’s first online radio station produced for, about, and by people with disabilities. The station runs weather, sports, news, and entertainment programs. “What’s really amazing about it,” she elaborated, “is everybody that works on our station has some sort of disability, or they’re an ally, or caregiver, advocate, or somebody that likes to work with individuals with disabilities. It’s a great way for individuals with disabilities to learn about what’s happening in their communities, but also to be able to share their messages and to tell their stories.”
However, simply operating the station presented some challenges for some people who wanted to participate. “All of our volunteers,” explains Taddeo, “some would come with no experience at all, and some would have very little self-confidence. Once they started with us, and started learning all of the different techniques of radio, they really blossomed and they’ve shown their talents and their skills.”
She said that only about 2% of individuals with disabilities are employed in the broadcasting sector, but she believes there are a lot of opportunities for people, provided they have the right tools.
That’s where An Accessible Voice in Broadcasting comes in. As opposed to the many colleges and universities that offer radio broadcasting programs, this course is designed to accommodate everyone, regardless of their ability. There is a teacher (with over 30 years’ experience in the industry) for every five students, meaning each person can get the attention they require. Every person’s specific disability will be accommodated; people in wheelchairs will have accessible workstations, the visually-impaired will have appropriate computer software, and those with intellectual delays will have the work presented to them in a manner that they understand.
Each week brings a new project, from writing skills to finding out what is going on in the city that people may want to know about. As the program continues, students get the chance to interview people and host shows. “We want our clients and students to be prepared if they got a job anywhere,” said Taddeo, “to be able to do anything from the weather, sports, the news, to hosting an actual show, right down to the final project where they put everything from the commercial, the interview, the whole show together themselves, which is really exciting.”
These projects, once completed, will be aired on Voices 4 Ability, as well as Connect 4 Life’s other stations – 4 Corners Radio and thehazefm. Students can also use the projects in portfolios to get into postsecondary programs or the workforce. Perhaps the biggest prize, though, is that participants receive a volunteer internship position at a larger radio station following the program’s completion.
Classes start September 8th, running Monday through Friday, and are available at 9am-12pm or 1pm-4pm timeslots. The fee is $20/hour, totalling $7,200 for the entire six-month period. Taddeo acknowledges that such a price may be a barrier for some, but notes that they provide resources that can help with funding.
“What you’re walking away with, and the education you’re going to be getting, it actually works out to be very cost-effective. We help our clients navigate the funding process, because we know it is difficult. We provide a funding resource board to help them find out where there are funds available for them to use to pay for our program.”
Besides the fees, the only other requirement is an intake interview, where Taddeo determines if the individual is able to cognitively understand the content of the course. “Because it is a very intense course, we want to make sure we’re setting everybody up for success.”
Anyone interested in receiving an information package or setting up an enrollment interview should contact Taddeo at 647-454-1252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.