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Canadian Government To Be Taken To Court By Blind Woman

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A blind Toronto woman faces off against the Government of Canada later this month, launching a Charter Challenge in Federal Court in Toronto to seek improved government website access for blind and partially-sighted Canadians.

Donna Jodhan has urged the Federal Government to live up to commitments to make all of its websites fully accessible to Canadians with sight loss, for four years. "The Canadian Government knows the necessary standards, and exactly what to do to meet them," Ms. Jodhan states. “No special equipment is needed to bring web pages to W3C international standards. But, because they haven’t bothered - I feel forced to launch this Charter case."

Ms. Jodhan is supported in her challenge by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, a national organization of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians. "The Canadian Government took a great step forward this March by ratifying the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities," Alliance President Robin East of Saskatoon says, "but they still have not made their websites and related information fully accessible to blind and partially sighted Canadians as the Convention requires. Even more outrageous, they're spending taxpayer’s money fighting blind Canadians through the courts!"

Ms. Jodhan explains that most web pages are designed with fully visual orientation, for the vast majority of users. The problem for blind Canadians, Ms. Jodhan says, is that web pages written without "tags" or "labels" - extra notations embedded in PDF forms and other online documents - are not useful to users with sight loss, even with their own adaptive computer screen readers. "Because of this, we as blind Canadians often have to wait for months before receiving information in a format that we can read, or we must get sighted assistance to help us complete online forms. That means our right to the equality guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights, is trampled upon."

Ms. Jodhan says that with properly coded websites, people with sight loss or blindness would benefit professionally and personally just as much from using the internet as sighted Canadians do. "It's simply one extra step in writing pages. Web developers don’t need additional software or hardware. They should simply use accessibility experts and blind testers for their projects, to ensure that every Government website can be accessed by all Canadians in a meaningful manner".

AEBC President Robin East cautions the Federal Government not to take Ms. Jodhan’s court challenge lightly. “It’s not the David versus Goliath fight some people might think,” East comments. “Ms. Jodhan won cases against Air Canada at the Canadian Transport Agency, and Statistics Canada at the Canadian Human Rights Commission. She could come out of this battle with a hat trick. We want Donna to win this fight for full government website access, because accessible and useable websites are vitally important to Blind Canadians.”

Ms. Jodhan's court challenge will be heard September 21 - 23, at 180 Queen Street West in Toronto, from 9:30 a.m.

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians is a national organization of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians, whose work focuses on improving public attitudes and providing input in to public policy issues that affect our lives.