I REMEMBER
DISABILITY NETWORK 1991

cbc cpver

This the cover of a CBC publicity package for The Disability Network, a weekly series for and by people with disabilities. I was the creator and first executive producer. The series was based in Toronto and was co-hosted by Joe Coughlin and Susanne  Pettit . Both were disabled.  Joe, a jazz singer and composer, had multiple sclerosis, and needed crutches and a  scooter. Susanne, was a publicist and broadcaster, who had the lung disease, cystitis fibrosis, which eventually killed her.  She had two lung transplants, one during the course of the show. (At one point she used an visible oxygen inhaler while on camera). Joe wrote the theme music for Disability Network or DNET.

And here, on Youtube ,is  a video that we made to promote the show.]


DNet started life as radio series, The Radio Connection, on the University of Toronto radio station, CIUT FM. The idea of a program produced for and by people with disabilities was inspired by me seeing a Toronto woman called Barbara Turnbull on tv.  Turnbull was paralyzed from the neck down after being shot in a robbery at a Becker's convenience store. Her disability did not stop her from being a good speaker in television interviews and I thought she could easily host a radio or television show.  This led me to Sandra Carpenter at CILT and the radio project was launched. Turnbull later went to work with Toronto Star as a reporter.

sanra carpenter
Sandra Carpenter, the "Godmother" of

Radio Connection and Disability Network

The Radio Connection  was paid for by the Center For Independent Living headed by Sandra Carpenter, using a small grant ( I think about $ 30,00 from the Ontario Government which had a minister of disability at the time.  The program was a mixture of paid staff and volunteers.  Don Peuramaki was the producer and on-air presenters were Tracey Carpenter, John Sannon (?), a woman who later became John's wife, and Ed Wadley, an adult education instructor.  The program was produced in the basement office of CILT on Parliament Street.

The CBC's Ontario Regional Head, Rudy Carter, was responsible for putting Disability Network on the air.  Sandra Carpenter was also as leading force. Rudy and I had known each other for years and was on the lookout for new, innovative programming. 

The series was paid for with a federal government grant totaling a million dollars. CBC paid for staff training and provided all we need to make a tv series, including an office. Then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was personally  committed to helping people with disabilities. So too were Ontario premiers David Peterson and Bob Ray.  Ray actually paid a trip to our office in the CBC building on Church Street.

The plan for a series was put together by Don Peuramaki and myself.  Don was senior producer and took over the show when I left.

DNet enjoyed lots of media attention  in newspapers, magazine, and on radio and television.  One of the detailed report on the series appeared in the prestigious Ryerson (University) Review of Journalism magazine.



joe in ryerson mag
Joe pictured in Ryerson Review of Journalism magazine feature
 article
  about DNet titled "Out of the Shadows".

Ryerson article 1 of 2

Ryerson 2 0f 2

The glossy Imperial Oil Review magazine, with its great photograph of Joe in the CBC studio on Mutual Street, with crutches lying on the floor behind him, was one of the highlights of Disability Network media coverage in the first year.

joe coughlin in studio
Joe Coughlin at CBC studio desk in Toronto.
 Note specially built ramp behind Joe.

Imperial Oil Review  1
Imperial Oil Review 2
Imperial Oil Review 3

DNet's aggressive approach to disability issues upset the more cautious organizations in the disability community.  The  main-stream disability groups  believed  "bitting the hand that feeds you" was dangerous.  They felt  people with disabilities  should accept their lot without meaningful protest, and generally  be agreeable to government.

Two small examples of the changes DNet brought about were a wheelchair ramp built outside a Toronto office highrise housing a CBC office on Yonge Street and a building at Ryerson University. Both came about as a result of direct  protests by DNet on and off air.  In the on-air case the program was to receive an ACTRA award from Governor-General Lincoln Alexander in the an old Ryerson building.  But  the DNet crew, some with wheelchairs, crutches and electric scooters. discovered the building had no ramps and refused to attend the award ceremony.

Our biggest project was a one-hour documentary about Independence '92 an international conference and exposition held in Vancouver in the summer of 1992.   The $100, 000 dollars it cost to make was paid for by the Secretary of State of the federal government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.  I found Mulroney to be a genuine supporter of people with disabilities.  Here is that documentary broken into two parts.


joe rossJ
Joe Ross, DNet Production Manager, hostsVancouver documentary

Click here for part 1 of 2


Click for part 2 of 2