Disabled Face Tech Hurdles

By: Harry Wolbert  
Winnipeg Sun, Aug. 2, 2012 

Where would people with disabilities be without technology?

Many probably wouldn’t be living in the community, while others would see their “quality of life” greatly diminished. Information and communication technology has become an integral part of daily living for people living with disabilities.

It has the potential to deliver even more opportunities and make our communities more inclusive and accessible places.


The problem: ICT continues to be developed with “exclusionary barriers.”

A best-case scenario would be for any new technology to be developed without barriers from the design stage onward, so it would be usable by persons with disabilities upon its introduction into the marketplace.

It’s the federal government that has jurisdiction over information and communication and sets the framework for telecommunications policy through the Telecommunications Act. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is the body which regulates and oversees Canadian ICT.

It has gone with limited regulation as a means to achieving social objectives which benefit the public good. Other countries, like the U.S., make it mandatory for telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to provide access for persons with disabilities.

Canada’s disability community would like to see the creation of enforceable accessibility standards for new and emerging technologies.

Until 2008, the CRTC’s work on accessibility was a direct response to citizen complaints. That all changed in 2009 when the commission adopted a new policy and recognized the need to bring its policies more in line with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What are some of the critical issues of “access” faced by persons with disabilities? One obvious issue is that of poverty. Access to technology and poverty are linked.

While costs have come down, information and communication technology remains beyond the reach of many persons with disabilities. This is especially true for those living on social assistance. Women and aboriginals with disabilities are at a particular disadvantage.

Access to consumer goods and services is another issue. It’s to be noted consumer goods are regulated for safety but not for their usability by people with disabilities.

The deaf community has been asking Canadian telephone service providers to implement a Video Relay Service. This would allow deaf Canadian to communicate in their preferred mode of communication. It’s a service that’s available in the U.S. Why not here?


Despite its growing importance, neither the government nor the Canadian ICT industry has made accessible ICT technology a priority.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities would like to see the federal government pass some legislation with enforceable regulations and standards to
ensure access.

Access is a right and good social policy. Sadly, we continue to see an erosion of access with new barriers created by inaccessible technologies despite
constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination. 

— Wolbert is a disability and anti-poverty advocate.  

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