Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Canada says it will appeal ruling that many government websites breach equality rights because they are not accessible by blind people

From The Montreal Gazette:

OTTAWA, Canada — The federal government plans to appeal a court decision won by a blind Toronto woman who says many government websites breach equality rights because they are not accessible by blind people.

In a Nov. 29 decision, the government was given 15 months to comply with the Charter of Rights by making its websites accessible to visually impaired Canadians who want to tap into the federal job bank, fill in forms and apply for federal programs online.

Donna Jodhan (pictured), an accessibility consultant, launched a court challenge after discovering she could not apply for a federal job online or fill out the 2006 census.

On Jan. 11, the Treasury Board Secretariat said an appeal would be filed.

"The Government of Canada is filing an appeal with the Federal Court decision in the case between Donna Jodhan and the Attorney General of Canada in order to address some fundamental issues raised by the decision," Treasury Board spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold said in an email Tuesday.

"These include factual findings made by the Court, numerous aspects of the legal reasoning applied to those facts, and the unusual supervisory order of the court to monitor implementation of its decision."

The government insists it is "committed to providing accessible online information and services to Canadians, and is continuing to look at ways to make information more accessible to all Canadians."

Justice Michael Kelen found the government was not living up to its own 2001 accessibility standards. He said he would oversee implementation of Ottawa's online retrofit and he warned that the court will intervene if the government fails to act.

Kelen, in his ruling, noted that the government has about 146 departments and agencies that provide Internet programs and services.

The federal government argued in written court documents that federal services are available in other ways, such as by telephone, in person and by mail, and that it is unlikely that the Internet can be perfectly accessible to all, given that there are more than 23 million pages under the domain of gc.ca.

Visually impaired individuals access the Internet using available technologies, such as "screen readers" that read content aloud, or "braille output devices" that convert content into braille, provided the pages have special coding to accommodate the software. Jodhan has said her screen reader cannot navigate many web pages.