Jodhan v Canada – 10 Years Later

  • November 30, 2020
  • Khalid Mahdi

Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Federal Court of Canada’s decision, Jodhan v Canada, 2010 FC 1197. The Court held that the inaccessibility of public-facing government websites offended section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as they were inaccessible to Canadians with vision disabilities. You can read the full decision here (link).

Ms. Jodhan’s legal challenge began in 2006, as a result of the troubles she faced in creating the profile necessary to apply for jobs on the Federal government’s job bank website. Despite her efforts, Ms. Jodhan ultimately required the assistance of a sighted government employee to create a job profile. She also had difficulty completing the 2006 online Census without assistance because of the inaccessible website. In both instances, she was unable to review any of the information that was entered. Ms. Jodhan argued that both these scenarios were indicative of a widespread problem, the inaccessibility of public-facing government websites.

Ms. Jodhan argued that government’s failure to maintain its websites in compliance with the online accessibility standards that it had developed, violated her section 15 (1) Charter rights by denying her equal access to government information and services. The Federal Court agreed, ruling that the government’s failure to ensure the accessibility of its websites discriminated against the blind and visually impaired.

In the Court’s view, the inaccessibility of government websites created a distinction on the basis of disability, “as visually impaired individuals do not receive the benefit of the government’s online services and information equally with non-visually impaired Canadians (Jodhan, at para 157).” The inaccessibility of government websites perpetuated the stereotype that “blind persons cannot access and benefit from online government information and services which sighted persons can” (Jodhan, at para 158).

The Federal government appealed the decision in 2012, but the appeal was denied. The Federal Court of Appeal reaffirmed that the inaccessibility of the government’s websites violated Ms. Jodhan’s section 15 Charter rights. The Court gave the federal government 15 months to make its websites accessible for blind and visually impaired Canadians.

Ms. Jodhan’s win has been heralded as a major victory for Canadians with vision disabilities. According to Robin East, Past-President of the Canadian Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, “blind persons across Canada joined in celebrating the landmark decision”. Reflecting on the decision a decade later, Ms. Jodhan referred to the case as “a victory that was long overdue in the making”. It was a decision, she notes, “that would be used as a springboard to propel Canadians to fight harder to convince the Federal Government to pass legislation to enact an Accessible Canada Act which was given Royal assent in June 2019”. You can read her reflection here (link).

In the midst of a global pandemic, particularly as our lives have increasingly shifted online, it is more important than ever to ensure the accessibility of websites. This is particularly important for government websites which are one way in which Canadians are receiving important public health information.

Ms. Jodhan’s case was an important step for blind and visually impaired Canadians to have equal access to publicly-facing government websites: however, the Court did not address the accessibility of internal or “inward-facing” government programs for blind and visually impaired employees or recruits.

If you are a blind or visually impaired current or former federal employee who has experienced difficulty in your job because of software inaccessibility, please contact us here (link).