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Let's Talk About A Digital Canada

Join me at the AEBC AGM 2018 on April 29 to discuss the AEBC advocacy role in the Canadian Digital Strategy. Review the fifteen Strategy Principles below, and reflect on the three discussion questions in preparation for our interactive session.

The digital revolution and the social rights movement are disrupting the traditional business models, and having an impact on the way we interact with machines and each other. These two global trends are rapidly merging together to form a new era of artificial intelligence that will enable all people to share in the economic prosperity. The driving forces behind rapid societal changes are shaping cultural attitudes and business strategies. The combination of technology and social innovation has created a new context for social change that makes solving complex problems possible. There has never been a more promising time to be involved in social change.

The digital economy is driving economic prosperity through increased productivity and market growth,, but the ability to use new emerging technologies is currently at the heart of social inclusion, with those excluded being left out of many work, entertainment, communication, healthcare and social benefits. About 15% of the world's population live with a disability, and the prevalence of disability is growing due to population ageing and the global increase in chronic health conditions. In 2005, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in Canada, and a world leader in implementing proactive, enforceable, compliance-based accessibility legislation. Unfortunately, much of the digital communication systems being implement throughout Canadian organizations are inaccessible to blind and deaf Canadians. This is revealed in statistics that show more than 80% of Canadians with vision loss are unemployed, and about 25% live below the poverty line. To reverse this trend we need greater participation of skilled blind professionals in the decision making process of government strategies that will build a more prosperous Canada. Currently Canadian digital communication strategies present barriers in the participation of Canadians with disabilities. We need an integrated accessibility growth strategy that link the Ministries of Innovation, Employment, Infrastructure, and Persons With Disabilities. We need competent and well informed leaders, who understand the impact of digital communications on the quality of life for all Canadians. We need a prosperity strategy that maximizes the skills of disabled Canadians, and promotes greater inclusion. We need to enable Canadian innovators by stimulating creativity, and enable disabled Canadians by getting smart technologies into their hands as soon as possible.

In recent years, there has been an important paradigm shift affecting the development of new legislation and policies concerning persons with disabilities, from segregation to integration, from institutionalization to mainstreaming, from the medical model of disability being viewed as a condition to be treated, to the social model of disability focusing on the removal of disabling barriers in the environment that hinder full participation in society. In response governments around the world are legislating Digital Accessibility Laws. In response to the shifting global cultural attitudes toward greater acceptance of persons with disabilities Ontario has adopted the AODA strategy, with the government of Canada currently in the process of creating new federal accessibility legislation.

The world is transforming, and government must adjust to meet evolving user expectations, but what does “digital” really mean? 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. This is reflected in the Government of Canada Strategic Plan for Information Management and Information Technology, which is the directive for the Strategic Plan, That provides insight into the digital direction being established by the Government of Canada.

Questions and Discussion

The Canadian Digital Summit stated:
"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."

The Open Government strategy is about equipping citizens to fully participate in democracy. Commitments describe how government can provide better access to information, data and opportunities to participate in policy making.
What does open government mean to you?
What is, or isn’t, working well so far?
How can Canada become the best country in attracting and developing talent despite a disability?

  1. Open Collaboration
    Access to online information and services is a critical requirement for successful inclusion in society, 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. what are the open access barriers preventing Canadians with vision loss from full participation in the Canadian Digital Services engagement process?
  2. Enabling Productivity
    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. With collaboration taking place within the social media framework and with engagement software tools that are inaccessible to blind users, the productivity challenges are overwhelming. How can the Canadian Digital Service strategy be more inclusive with accessibility solutions to achieve productivity gains for Canadians with vision loss?
  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. What innovative approaches does the government need to take to enhance collaboration with blind Canadians?

Canada's Innovation Agenda

Alex Benay, the Government of Canada's Chief Information Officer, stated:
"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.

Canadian Digital Design Principles

  1. Understand users and their needs. Start with user needs and build for them, and with them. Conduct ongoing testing with users. Do the hard work so that they don’t have to.
  2. Iterate and improve frequently. Develop in an agile manner using alpha, beta and live phases. Test end-to-end and continuously improve in response to user feedback. Test early and often.
  3. Build the right team. Create and empower multidisciplinary teams, linking policy with delivery.
  4. Build a service-oriented culture. Lead and implement a team and departmental culture focused on users.
  5. Work in the open. Share and collaborate in the open, plan to make data open from the start.
  6. Integrate proportionate security and privacy from the outset. Consider business context. Manage risks.
  7. Build in an open and interoperable way. Give equal consideration for open source. Use open standards. Build in an interoperable and reusable way.
  8. Use the right tools for the job. Use common government solutions and platforms. Build cloud first.
  9. Design and deliver transparent and ethical services. Be open and transparent in the use of automated systems and comply with ethical guidelines.
  10. Be inclusive and provide support for those who need it. Build in inclusiveness, official languages, and accessibility by design.
  11. Know your data. Manage data in line with standards. Implement analytical tools and use the data you collect.
  12. Be accountable to Canadians. Define user-centred performance metrics. Publish real time data.
  13. Develop open and innovative partnerships. Recognize that an organization can’t have all the best ideas. Create partnerships and collaborate.
  14. Spend money wisely. Enter into sensible contracts and comply with procurement standards.
  15. Test services with the Deputy Minister and/or Minister. Test all new public-facing services with the Deputy Minister and/or Minister responsible.


Design is the bridge between information and understanding, built upon three pillars of Security, Performance, and Accessibility. Information that you cannot understand is just noise, and a bridge with weak pillars will put people at risk. We now live in a digital world where the majority of people are accessing information systems through mobile connections, and the physical and virtual worlds merge reality and perception. The internet and information communication infrastructure ecosystems have grown increasingly complex, and access to data has become increasingly valuable, in our multicultural modernistic society. What are the knowledge and systemic gaps that keep blind, low vision, and deaf-blind citizens from accessing and benefiting from the digital world?

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. What is the AEBC advocacy role in the Canadian Digital Strategy? Is the government mindset "We will build it and you can use it" and "We will accommodate and you can innovate", sufficient for inclusive design? Has there ever been a time when separate but equal was a legitimate treatment?

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

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.