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Launch Of The Canadian Digital Service

As a follow up on the government’s Budget 2017 commitment, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) undertook a cross-country engagement process, Between September 2016 and February 2017, to solicit ideas and perspectives on an emerging Government of Canada approach to improving digital service delivery. This cross-country engagement process gave inspiration for the creation of the Canadian Digital Service, to adopt new ways of serving Canadians. Numerous stakeholders spoke of the challenges they faced because of outdated or difficult-to-use online services.

On Jul 18 The Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board, Launch the Canadian Digital Service (CDS), a made-in-Canada approach to digital government. This is an exciting announcement, as it is the first step toward a more inclusive Canada. However, should digital accessibility be introduced at the step 1 design phase, or integrated at a later date once the digital processes have been put in place?

The stakeholder cross country engagement was intended, to begin a conversation on what the future of digital government should look like in Canada, and to build a network of digital government practitioners across Canada to enable the sharing of experiences. The Government of Canada has a responsibility to deliver accessible and inclusive services to Canadians. The CDS is rethinking the service design and delivery process from the user’s perspective, and engaging users every step of the way. However, does this include blind, low vision, and deaf-blind Canadians? Was the AEBC organization invited to participate in the cross country engagement process? Does AEBC have a voice at the CDS table?

The Canadian Digital Service website is founded on the principle of helping government design, build, and deliver better services. To achieve this, the CDS is building a team with diverse skills and backgrounds, to collaborate in the creation of this made-in-Canada digital delivery service. This is encouraging, but it appears screen reader accessibility is not a priority at the design phase. The website design fails the most basic accessibility guidelines, and obviously was not tested by screen reader users. The screen reader user experience, depending upon the browser and screen reader being used, will very widely as region landmarks, text labels, and focus are improperly implemented. However, don't worry, a link to a basic HTML version is available. Is this an inclusive design, or an accommodation requirement for the design phase? At what development phase will accessibility be integrated into the design?

The CDS team understands that people expect government services to be simple and easy to use, and realize that there is a lot of work to be done, and yet have marginalized groups that depend upon accessible digital communications, like blind Canadians, from the most important phase of the project. The CDS team, no doubt, is passionate about their work, driven by empathy to get the job done, and committed to making it easier for people to use government services, but yet do not have an obvious accessibility strategy or even an accessibility champion. Governments worldwide, at every level, are facing similar challenges around digital transformation, and many of them have developed targeted strategies to confront the new world.

The Canadian Digital Service Report: Beginning the Conversation highlights the importance of incorporating new digital tools, techniques, and approaches into traditional government organizations accountability structures, to meet the digital information needs of the public sector. This means taking a user-centric approach to the design and delivery of the next generation of services to Canadians in the digital world. These processes can be disruptive, making it important to ensure standards are followed, and a dedicated champion is appointed to help address barriers, create partnership opportunities and garner support across the enterprise. However, despite the Government of Canada initial steps towards accessibility inclusion with the implementation of the Web Experience Toolkit (WET) (an Open source code library for building innovative websites that are accessible, usable, interoperable, mobile-friendly and multilingual), the CDS team has chosen not to follow this standard. Like the Ontario Digital Service, accessibility inclusion of persons living with vision loss is not a design priority. Should this be a concern for AEBC? Should AEBC expect to be a participating partner in the design of government digital services?

Digital design standards can drive change across the whole government enterprise, but need to be tailored to the Canadian context. This includes a focus on issues such as accessibility, low-bandwidth access, and official languages requirements, which were identified in the CDS report. The CDS team must find better ways to connect the federal government with external talents, skills, and opportunities, so as to be more inclusive. What role should the AEBC organization play in the government digital transformation? The world is changing, and the digital divide in the delivery of information and the accessible modes of communications, is having a profound impact on the lives of Canadians living with vision loss. The quality of life, from education, to employment, to human rights is worth fighting for. Do you believe the Canadian government is falling short in their digital accessibility responsibilities? Do you feel AEBC should do more in advocating for digital inclusion? The CDS report, the beginning of a conversation about a made-in-Canada approach to digital government, presents an opportunity for AEBC members to express their digital accessibility transformation concerns. your feedback and ideas will play an essential role in keeping efforts focused on the needs of blind Canadians.

Post your comments here, and send your ideas on digital accessibility inclusion to the CDS team at:

David Best
Accessibility Information Technology Specialist


This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.


Yes, I think AEBC should be concerned about this and should advocate on behalf on the blind on this issue. I also believe they should be a stakeholder and should be in consultations with CDS to develop digital accessibility. I am extremely disappointed with the CDS report and lack of action on removing barriers for the blind and creating an inclusive digital world for all abilities. AEBC should also be in contact with the Minister of persons with disabilities to discuss this issue. It is clearly discrimination in my opinion.