Social Justice Reporter
Published On Thu May 31 2012
Donna Jodhan, a Toronto special-needs business consultant, won court of appeal ruling that orders Canadian government websites to be accessible to the blind.
A Toronto woman’s 2010 legal victory ordering Ottawa to make government websites accessible to the blind within 15 months has been upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal.
In the decision released late Wednesday, a three-judge panel upheld the earlier Federal Court finding that Ottawa had discriminated against the woman and others with vision disabilities due to its lax and obsolete online accessibility standards.
More than three million Canadians are unable to read print due to blindness or partial blindness, the court heard.
Donna Jodhan, an accessibility consultant and one of the first blind people in Canada to earn an MBA, launched the constitutional court challenge five years ago after she was unable to apply for government jobs or complete the 2006 census online. She argued that her equality rights had been denied.
Federal lawyers argued its information was accessible in person, by phone or by mail.
People with vision disabilities typically use screen readers that convert text into voice or Braille. But the technology doesn’t work if websites aren’t programmed properly. That was the problem with most government websites when Jodhan launched her case in 2007.
Jodhan was surprised the government appealed the earlier ruling, but was relieved at this week’s decision.
“It is gratifying and humbling to know that the court has ruled that there is discrimination,” she said. “My biggest concern now is that the government does what it is supposed to do and doesn’t find any more excuses.”
Jodhan’s fears are real, said her lawyer Meryl Zisman Gary of Bakerlaw.
Although the appeal court upheld the ruling of discrimination, it struck down the lower court’s supervisory order that would have allowed Jodhan to return to the trial judge seeking evidence the government was complying with the decision.
“We know the government has introduced a revised standard of internet accessibility.” Gary said. “But we don’t know what steps the government has taken to implement the standard.”
With between 23 million and 45 million government web pages, it is very difficult to know if the government is complying, she added.
The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, which was an intervener in the case, urged the government to abide by the ruling.
“It is now time for the government to stop fighting against the Blind community and comply with their obligations to make all of its websites fully accessible,” past president John Rae said in a statement.
The government is reviewing the decision, said a spokesperson for Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement.
“Our government is continuing to implement the Federal Court decision from 2010,” said Sean Osmar. “We are committed to web accessibility and to date over 100 government institutions are converting their content in line with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.”