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Digital Design Without Inclusive Accessibility Is Blind

Going Digital

I have just returned from the three day inaugural FWD50 Canada's Digital Government conference, and would like to share my experience with you. I was invited to speak at the FWD50 Conference, Which was held last week in Ottawa, on the growing digital communications gaps for blind Canadians. Earlier this year the Treasury Board of Canada launched the Canadian Digital Services (CDS) without any apparent user engagement strategy that included blind Canadians, which I believe should be a major concern. We need to be participants in the design and development of the CDS, and not just consumers of the end product.

The FWD50 was a government technology event, bringing together citizens, the public service, elected officials, technologists, and innovative thinkers from around the world, to talk about digital transformation. There is tremendous potential to dramatically improve the lives of everyone, increasing engagement and dialogue while streamlining bureaucracy, but only if there is an inclusive dialog. The FWD50 event offered keynote speakers, workshops, panel discussions, debates, and plenary sessions on government technology innovation. I would like to thank the FWD50 conference organizers for their responsiveness in supporting blind participants, and for giving us a voice at this important mainstream event.

Session Topic

Democratic governments live in the tension between two often competing ideas: The will of the popular vote, and the constitutional rights of the individual. For digital government to work, it must not just be for the masses, but for everyone. While technology holds great potential to streamline government processes, it also runs the risk of widening an already significant digital divide by ignoring those who need it most. What does accessibility means for a connected citizenry, and why digital government for everyone isn't just a constitutional right; it's the right way to build sustainable platforms. From my perspective, there were three main themes throughout this event, that I would like to share.

1. Open Collaboration

Many of the speakers talked about the importants for an open collaboration in the Canadian digital transformation process. Today, access to online information and services is a critical requirement for successful inclusion in society. But many digital resources are still not accessible to people living with vision loss. The FWD50 event was a great opportunity for networking, and meaningful conversations; But does Open Collaboration mean the same thing as Inclusive Collaboration? In open collaboration anyone can contribute and anyone can freely partake in the sharing and interacting of the group activities, but only if the mode of communications and the format of interaction processes are accessible to all. Does AEBC have a role in the design and development of the Canadian Digital Services, and what are the open access barriers preventing Canadians with vision loss from full participation in the CDS engagement process?

2. Enabling Productivity

Another theme common to most speakers was the idea of creating accessible and flexible workplaces. Emerging technologies, such as desktop virtualization and cloud software, enable Canadians to work remotely in secure and accessible ways. many Canadians are choosing remote work to avoid traffic, reduce travel expenses, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and to increase productivity; But is this an option for Canadians living with vision loss? With collaboration taking place within the social media framework and withengagement software tools that are inaccessible to blind users, the productivity challenges are overwhelming. Accessibility is a measurement of productivity not disability, and the Canadian Digital Service strategy must become more inclusive with productivity techniques.

The Code for Canada group, as a government partner, provides digital talent for the design and development of government digital services, but has no inclusive accessibility strategy. That is, the engagement processes, and the Fellowship work program, are not compliant with accepted accessibility standards. Should AEBC partner with the Canadian Digital Service to drive productivity changes? Is inclusive employment as important as the delivery of accessible digital services?

3. Positive Action

The Government of Canada, across all levels of operations, must adjust more quickly to rapid digital communication developments and the accessibility needs in our society. Several speakers identified the government need to take innovative approaches to keep up with new procurement needs and enhance collaboration with an increasing number of partners. Alex Benay, the Government of Canada's Chief Information Officer, stated that "A fundamental change is required in our public service to keep pace with this new world. We must adjust to meet both traditional needs and new realities in modernizing the public service technology landscape for the benefit of all Canadian citizens." To this end, the Canadian Digital Service has developed a set of principles to guide digital development in the Government of Canada. These principles, based on international best practices and consultation feedback, will shape how the government manages information, technology innovation, and provide digital services. So, in the spirit of collaboration, we need to review The Digital principles and advise the Treasury Board of Canada Chief Information Officer on AEBC digital accessibility expectations.

It is imperative, due to the digital divide experienced by persons with disabilities, that Canada's new Digital Economy Strategy is inclusive. A successful digital strategy for Canada would be one that includes a mechanism that ensures that investments in digital innovations are designed to be inclusive for all Canadians. The Digital Advisory Board is a new space for government to interact with experts in the public and private sector, to seek strategic and informal advice on digital government transformation. To learn more about who represents blind Canadians on the Digital Advisory Board, email the Open Government team at

The Government of Canada Information Technology Strategic Plan 2016-2020 is intended to guide federal organizations and the Information Technology community on IT priority setting and decision-making. The Government of Canada’s Information Technology Strategic Plan sets out the four-year strategic direction for Information Technology (IT) in the federal government. In responding to government priorities and current challenges, the plan charts the path forward from an Information Technology perspective. Positioning the government to manage and use Information Technology as a strategic asset, in innovative ways, to deliver better programs and services and ultimately value to Canadians. However, the accessibility challenges, and the priority given to accessibility innovation is not defined in this strategic plan. It simply states, "Tools that respect government requirements such as accessibility, privacy, security, information management and official languages will be used to promote digital collaboration." The Appendix B: Key Performance Indicators, Appendix C: Government of Canada Modernization Priorities 2016-19, and Appendix D: Roles and Responsibilities, makes no reference to accessibility measurements, priorities, or responsibilities. With no clearly defined inclusive accessibility strategy, blind Canadians have been marginalized in the design and development of the Canadian Digital Service plan. Should this be a concern for AEBC members? Who represents and speaks for blind Canadians in the CDS transformation process?

Harnessing The Power Of Collaboration

"None of us is as strong as all of us"
There were a lot of exciting conversations at the FWD50 conference about security, privacy, accessibility, open information requirements, and artificial intelligence. However, it was disturbing that the focus of the accessibility conversation was primarily onaccommodating disabilities rather than inclusion strategies of enablement. Canadians demand a digital experience that is optimized, integrated and diversely client-centric. Employees in a modern workplace need digital tools that promote collaboration, information sharing and increased productivity. Should we expect anything less? The Government of Canada strives to be an innovative organization that provides its employees with modern technology that supports information sharing, collaboration, and that will attract, retain and encourage public servants to work smarter, be innovative, greener and healthier so that they may better serve Canadians.

there is a digital divide that is marginalizing the disability community from the economic prosperity in Canada. It is estimated that people with disabilities in Canada are about 30% less likely to have basic computer skills, as compared to a person without a disability; And it is estimated that more than 80 percent of blind Canadian adults are unemployed. AEBC has a huge challenge and a tremendous opportunity to take the leadership in shaping positive actions for the Canadian Digital Service strategic plan. Positive action is a range of measures taken to encourage and train people from under-represented groups to help them overcome disadvantages in competing with other applicants. there is a large "digital divide, and we need a positive action plan to build digital skills through colaboration. The FWD50 conference organizers have opened a door for greater advocacy and partnership colaboration in building a smarter and more accessible Canada. What are your thoughts on moving forward with positive actions? Please post your comments or send me an email at


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.
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