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City of Kawartha Lakes Looking At a Human Rights Complaint

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Daily Post, February 21, 2006.

Kawartha Lakes--The city might have a discrimination case on its hands with the Human Rights Commission if it doesn't make improvements to its website pronto, a resident and member of the city's disabled persons committee (MACDP) said.

Geof Collis has given the city until the end of the month to make the site at (opens in a new window) more user-friendly for the visually impaired, and to start providing him the documents he needs as a committee member in a format he can read.

The Cresswell resident, who is legally blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, said he's been petitioning staff and council for changes for nearly three years, with little to no avail. If the city doesn't start providing him with readable documents, Collis said he will file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

"My frustration stems from the city's inability or unwillingness to make documents on your website available in an alternative format and not just (Adobe Acrobat)," Collis wrote in an email to the city, which he copied to the Daily Post. "Over the years, I have repeated this complaint to the city, over and over again. I have put forth numerous recommendations through MACDP to council and city staff, and each recommendation does not get implemented."

The city stated it's doing the best it can, but it can't stay on top of posting everything it wants online, let alone in various accessible file types.

"We have tried to put Word documents wherever we can," said Brenda Stonehouse, a communications official with the city. "The problem comes in that everything on the website is not in both."

Collis said he wants less Adobe Acrobat files which, as a visually impaired person, he said he can't access.

"When you use screen readers like I do, it's very difficult," he said, saying he prefers them in rich text format or Microsoft Word.

The city, for its part, said it has taken strides to make the site as accessible as possible, and is now posting as many files as possible in both Word and Acrobat formats. Stonehouse said the city likes Acrobat files because, with it, larger files can be condensed into smaller files, especially files with pictures and other graphics.

Stonehouse referred to one file in particular, a parks and recreation brochure that the city put online. In Adobe Acrobat, it's a file that can be downloaded in a few seconds with a moderately fast internet connection. As a Word file, however, it's a whopping 37 megabytes in size. That's massive, said Stonehouse, and its cumbersome size excludes just as many residents who might not have the necessary bandwidth to download that type of file in short order.

"I can't post that on the website," Stonehouse said.

"That's like saying it costs too much to put a wheelchair ramp in, so you don't get one," replied Collis. "That's just an excuse. They also tell me (they can't) do it for security reasons, but that can be broken too. It's just an excuse.

"I know they have large documents," he said. "How much would it be if you zipped it?"

Stonehouse said Collis designs accessible websites for a living, and has offered to do the necessary improvements for a fee.

"Geof has his business designing accessible websites," she said. "He would like the contract to do the municipal site.

"He has asked us to let him know when it comes up for tender."

She said, however, that making the site accessible likely won't be contracted out. Stonehouse said it will be done in-house.

"We are going to have a person dedicated to the website, including accessibility issues," she said. It's been asked for, and tentatively agreed to, for the 2006 municipal operating budget, she said.

"We know our website is not the best," she said. "We would like to be accessible to everyone. Being accessible to all taxpayers is our utmost concern.

"Our website is a tool," Stonehouse added. "But there's no way we can put all our information on there, ever, in any form."

Collis said he doesn't care about the website anymore, he just wants files he needs as a MACDP committee member in a format he can see. And the clock is ticking.

"I've long since given up on them. I'm not about to give them any more free (consulting) work. "I don't think this is a question of operating budgets or me being impatient," he added. "It is a question of discriminating against me and not providing me with the same rights and privileges as others."

Final approval of the budget is scheduled for Feb. 28, the same day as Collis' deadline.