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A Long and Arduous Journey: the Fight for Equality in Canada and Worldwide

By Donna Jodhan.

In 2000 I embarked on a journey to encourage the Canadian Government to work with blind Canadians to make their websites more accessible to all Canadians. At that time, my main objective was to raise awareness of the inaccessibility of government websites, and to convince officials of the importance of making their websites fully accessible as soon as possible.

I started my mission by taking my concerns to various departmental heads within the government and my presentations focused on the importance of making information fully accessible to all Canadians. I focused specifically on the fact that we are now living in an information society and a knowledge-based economy and blind Canadians, like everyone else, needed immediate access to information to make vital everyday decisions that affected such things as our health, safety, security and social welfare.

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‘Historic’ Accessible Copyright Treaty is ‘Miracle In Marrakech’

An historic international treaty to increase book access for blind and visually impaired people has finally been adopted at a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) after almost six years of wrangling, negotiations and setbacks.

Signed at a WIPO conference in Marrakech, Morocco, the treaty will allow exceptions to copyright laws so accessible versions of books and other printed material can be shared internationally for blind and visually impaired people to use. Up to now, such sharing of books has not been possible due to objections from copyright holders in some countries.

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Accessible Copyright Treaty Hits New Roadblock

The World Blind Union (WBU) has reacted angrily to a new setback to long-running work on an international copyright treaty which could improve access to accessible books for blind and visually impaired people.

The union has been a key negotiator in talks at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which have been going on for almost five years. Following the latest round of talks from 18-20 April in Geneva, the WBU released a statement saying the discussions “devoted almost no time to insuring that the treaty will encourage the cross border sharing of desperately needed books for the blind”, concentrating instead on protecting the rights of existing copyright holders.

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Courts Freeze Samsung Battle Against Apple Screen Reader

A lawsuit in Germany in which mobile handset maker Samsung is attempting to force its rival Apple to remove the VoiceOver screen reader function from its iPhone smartphones in the country has been halted by the courts.

VoiceOver allows users to have content on the screen read aloud to them. It is marketed as an accessibility aid for blind and visually impaired users, since it can help people use and navigate an iPhone by touch and audio alone.

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“Finish Line In Sight” for Accessible Copyright Treaty

After what will have been five years of negotiations, an international treaty to allow the sharing of accessible copyrighted material across borders for use by blind and visually impaired people could finally be signed in 2013, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

A “roadmap” for formalising a treaty, which would increase book access for disabled people including blind and visually impaired people, has finally been approved at this month’s World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) general assembly in Geneva ( http://bit.ly/OqkKxp ).

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Go ON Gold Supporter Diane Mulligan Elected to UN Committee

Diane Mulligan OBE, one of the UK’s leading national and international disability rights campaigners and advisors, has been elected to the United Nations Expert Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee, of 18 independent experts, monitors implementation of the convention by “states parties” – countries who have signed up to it. Its work includes assessing individual country’s reports on how they have implemented the measures of the convention, taking into account what improvements have been made and difficulties faced since the last report.

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Long Legal Battle Ends for Blind Accessibility Advocate

The long legal battle between Donna Jodhan, a blind accessibility advocate from Canada, over the inaccessibility of government websites – as chronicled by E-Access Bulletin over several years – is over. With the Canadian government having now taken satisfactory remedial action, Jodhan has decided not to take any further legal action, declaring her victory “an opportunity to create a more accessible environment for all Canadians”.

Jodhan first noticed that she was unable to use government websites due to her impairment in 2006. She sued, with a judge initially ruling in her favour, stating that the Government had infringed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and giving a time period for the government to make its websites accessible to blind and visually impaired users. The government appealed this decision in 2011, but in May 2012 the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal upheld Jodhan’s initial victory (see E-Access Bulletin issue 138: http://bit.ly/QHacrm ).

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DOTCOM Maps Out European Disability Laws

A searchable online database of laws, policies, strategies and initiatives upholding the rights of people with disabilities has been launched to measure how well European nations are implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“DOTCOM: the Disability Online Tool of the Commission” has been developed by the Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) – in collaboration with the European Commission and EU Member States – building on the commission’s European Disability Strategy 2010-20.

The information, taken from 34 countries, is organised into eight themes: UN convention status; general legal framework; accessibility; independent living; education; employment; statistics and data collection; and awareness and external action.

Data can be searched by country, group of countries, theme or sub-category – for example the three sub-categories of accessibility law are transport accessibility; built environment accessibility; ICT and web accessibility.

Searching for the UK’s ICT accessibility laws and policies returns information on the Equality Act 2010 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, among others.

Final Draft of Mandate 376 Set For Review

The latest and final draft of a new European Standard for the accessibility of ICT products and services procured by the public sector – known as “Mandate 376” – is to be placed online next week, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

Users, developers, manufacturers, public bodies and procurers will have until October to offer feedback on the standard and associated documents before formal work begins on legislation this autumn.

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Appeal Court Upholds Canadian Woman’s Web Access Case

A blind accessibility consultant who took the Canadian Federal Government to court over the inaccessibility of its websites has won a second victory, after the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal upheld an initial decision in her favour.

Canadian citizen Donna Jodhan, who is blind, won her first case against the government in 2010, after claiming that her rights were breached when she could not apply for a government job online or complete an online census form using screen-reader technology. The government then appealed the decision (see E-Access Bulletin issue 133), continuing a long legal battle.

In its defence, the Canadian Government had claimed the case should be thrown out since the information was available to Jodhan by other means – by telephone, post or in person. However, the appeal court has now upheld Jodhan’s 2010 victory, which included a ruling that the Canadian Government must make its websites accessible for blind and visually impaired citizens within 15 months.

Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin she was “absolutely delighted, humbled, and relieved that this decision has been handed down.” She said: “It is my sincere hope that the Canadian government will now take the initiative to work with our community to ensure that the court’s ruling is adhered to in full and in the spirit that it was meant to be. Now we need to build on this and use this as a launching pad for creating more awareness and to encourage all stake holders to work together for a common goal.”

In a press statement about the ruling, a spokesperson for the Federal Government said: “Our government is continuing to implement the Federal Court decision from 2010. We are committed to web accessibility and to date over 100 government institutions are converting their content in line with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.”

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