Technological Accessibility: The Future Begins with Federal Government Websites

  • August 16, 2017
  • BakerLaw

In June 2017, the University of Pennsylvania Press published Disability, Human Rights, and Information Technology, edited by Jonathan Lazar and Michael Ashley Stein. The work is a collection of essays discussing barriers and accommodations for persons with disabilities in an increasingly technologically-driven world. Chapter 6, “Using Provincial Laws to Drive a National Agenda: Connecting Human Rights and Disability Rights Law”, by Ravi Malhotra and Megan A. Rusciano, pays tribute to Jodhan v Canada (Attorney General), a landmark Canadian disability case in which bakerlaw’s David Baker acted for the applicant, Donna Jodhan.

See our blog posts about Donna’s case here (link) and here (link).

Malhotra and Rusciano identify several issues with the current legislative framework in Ontario, specifically, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Of primary concern are the long phase-in periods for implementing accessibility standards.

The authors instead suggest that “[sometimes] the publicity and legal remedies resulting from one high-profile litigation case can advance the law more dramatically than a mountain of regulations” (Malhotra and Rusciano at page 104).

Jodhan v Canada, 2010 FC 1197; varied 2012 FCA 161, was just such a case. Donna Jodhan, a legally blind systems engineer with a degree in business administration brought a Charter challenge against the federal government after she was unable to complete a job application online without assistance from a sighted person. The Federal Court held that, under s. 15 of the Charter, the visually impaired have the right to equal access to online services and sighted persons (2010 FC 1197 at para 164). The use of alternative channels, such as by mail, would cause a visually impaired person frustration, loss of independence and dignity, loss of freedom and instantaneous response, and may result in receiving unreliable information (2010 FC 1197 at para 172).

While the decision in Jodhan was a clear victory for persons with disabilities, Malhotra and Rusciano note that there are continuing issues with the accessibility of internal government websites – which could “seriously undermine the potential for people with print disabilities to work for the federal public service” (Malhotra and Rusciano at page 109). Bakerlaw is equally concerned with the continued inaccessibility of inward-facing government websites for public servants; you can read about one way we have challenged this inaccessibility here (link).

We are hopeful that the issues concerning internal government websites can be challenged by recourse to the equality rights guaranteed by the Charter, such that Canadians with disabilities can receive equal treatment and equal benefit while employed by the federal public service.

You can read the Jodhan Federal Court decision here (link) and the Federal Court of Appeal decision here (link).

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