POLITICS

Blind advocate wins again in fight over accessibility of federal websites

05/31/2012 04:56 EDT | Updated 07/31/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - A blind businesswoman has won a second round in a fight to force the federal government to make its websites accessible to people with visual impairments.

Ironically, though, the file containing the Federal Court of Appeal judgment which supported her was itself not in an accessible format when she received it from her lawyer.

Donna Jodhan originally sued in Federal Court after she tried to apply for jobs and get government information through various federal websites and couldn't access the material with her screen-reading technology.

In 2010, the court agreed that she was discriminated against because of her disability and gave the federal government 15 months to change its websites.

The government appealed and now has lost the second round.

In a 3-0 decision, the appeal court agreed with the earlier judgment and again gave the government 15 months to make the websites accessible.

"She has not received the equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on her physical disability," Justice Marc Nadon wrote in the decision.

The government had argued that the charter rights of people with vision disabilities were not violated because they could still get the information or apply for jobs in person or by phone or fax.

The judgment said the government was saying that if one person gets information within minutes on the Internet while another has to go to a government office, wait to see an official and then get the information, then both persons essentially received the same information and benefit.

Not so, Nadon wrote.

"In my view, one of the above two persons has not received the same benefit. They have not been treated equally."

The justice agreed with Jodhan's argument that "forcing her to rely on sighted assistance is demeaning and propagates the point of view that (people with vision disabilities) are less capable and less worthy."

Jodhan, who runs a special-needs business consultancy in Toronto and holds an MBA, said she was pleased by the ruling, although there's obviously a long way to go on access for the blind.

"I am going to attach the PDF file that I received from my lawyer to this response," she wrote in a email to The Canadian Press.

"I will note here that this file is not in accessible format so that blind persons can read it."

But she also noted that the ruling is an important step.

"This is a victory for all blind Canadians, not just for me," she wrote.

"We now urge our government to work with us to ensure that we too can access information on an equal basis."