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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.


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.”

Digital books in Italy: Reading Without Barriers

By Michele Smargiassi

They can’t see their books: maybe this is why they read them with such an extraordinary passion. On average, in Italy, a blind person reads 9.2 books a year, while among sighted Italians only two in ten people read so many. Six blind people out of ten read a few pages of a book at least once a week, while 53.2% of Italians never, ever, read. In short, the blind read much more than the sighted.

“The thirst for knowledge is strongest where there is a barrier,” says Orlando Paladino, president of the Unione Italiana Ciechi (Italian Union of the Blind). Or perhaps, where a barrier falls. The data outlined above from a new survey by the Italian Publishers’ Association (Associazione Italiana Editori – AIE: ) would probably have been very different 15 years ago, when it was impossible to read books on a computer, or to have them translated into Braille on a tactile display. (more…)

New Setback For Global Copyright Exception Treaty

Moves to create an international treaty to allow accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books, received a setback this month following “aggressive” intervention by EU negotiators.

Between 21 November and 2 December, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) held a meeting in Geneva of its standing committee on copyright and related rights that negotiators for the World Blind Union (WBU) had hoped would clear the way for agreement on a copyright treaty.

Hopeful signs had emerged from a June session of the committee, at which WIPO member states had agreed to merge several previously separate positions into a single draft document which became known as “the chair’s text” (see E-Access Bulletin, July 2011). The new meeting, however, cast uncertainty on the plans after the chair, Manuel Guerra Zamarro from Mexico, unexpectedly invited members to submit further amendments.

Negotiators for the EU subsequently attempted to reintroduce clauses that would require rights-holders to formally authorise and pre-approve organisations to use any exception, a condition the WBU says would render the whole exercise close to pointless.

“The EU decided to submit a raft of new and aggressive amendments which moved us even further away from an agreed text”, WBU Vice Chair Dan Pescod told E-Access Bulletin. “They were trying to shoe-horn back in the idea of authorisation, but this is a no-no – the whole point of this exception is you will use it when you haven’t been given any help from rights-holders.”

The new proposed amendments have now been captured in a working document which Pescod says must be fully discussed between member states ahead of the next WIPO meeting in July 2012. “What we are now urging is for the member states to come together before the next meeting to agree the basis for a new single text, rather than have a situation where each time people throw down amendments, go away and don’t consider them until the next meeting,” he said.

Another vital issue remains, of whether the new agreement becomes a legally binding treaty – as urged by the WBU – or softer non-binding guidelines, but Pescod hopes all can be resolved in July. “I am still optimistic that we can finish this work next year, ahead of a formal diplomatic conference in 2013.”

If he is right, new ground will be broken: WIPO normally acts to reinforce protection for rights-holders, whereas this treaty would reinforce access for users. And it will not have been easy: formal negotiations on a treaty began two and a half years ago, in May 2009.

Disney Web Access Case Settles Before Trial

A US class action against the Walt Disney Company for the alleged inaccessibility of its websites has reached an out of court settlement ahead of a trial that had been planned for January 2012, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

On 29 June, California district judge Dolly Gee gave permission for three blind women from California and Kansas to proceed with a class action alleging Disney’s are inaccessible to screen reader programs, hampering the ability of blind users to make reservations for the company’s theme parks and download electronic tickets.

The three women are represented by Andy Dogali at Florida-based law firm Forizs & Dogali, alongside Los Angeles-based attorney Eugene Feldman. Dogali has now told E-Access Bulletin the terms of a settlement have been agreed by the parties, subject to court approval as required by US law.

“We are presently documenting the settlement, so most of the precise details remain confidential, although I expect the process to require no more than another few weeks”, he said. “The supportive documents will be publicly filed in the very near future, along with the request for approval.”

The news of a pre-trial settlement may disappoint some observers, as a January trial would have raised the issue of a need for greater corporate web accessibility worldwide. Last month Samantha Fothergill, senior legal policy officer at UK blindness charity RNIB, said the fact that a company with such a high profile was being sued was bound to have an effect on corporate behaviour and lobbying campaigns elsewhere.

UK Charity Investigates Options To Back Disney Web Case

The UK’s leading charity supporting blind and partially sighted people RNIB is investigating whether people in the UK might be able to join a US class action against the Walt Disney Company for the alleged inaccessibility of its websites, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

On 29 June, California district judge Dolly Gee gave permission for three blind women – two from Southern California and one from Wichita, Kansas – to proceed with a class action against Disney alleging the company’s websites unlawfully include information which is visible to sighted users but not to screen reader programs, as well as options which are inaccessible to blind people such as the ability to make reservations and download electronic tickets.

Web accessibility is just one of five main areas of complaint being brought in the case, with others including issues in the theme parks themselves such as a lack of Braille maps. The plaintiffs are not seeking money damages, simply an injunction requiring Disney to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by making its services accessible.

In her ruling judge Gee rejected as irrelevant arguments by Disney that the women could have accessed the same services and information elsewhere, and also rejected arguments that “there is no accepted accessibility standard”. In dismissing the latter argument she pointed out that nearly three years ago — “presumably when website accessibility standards were even less settled” – a similar action was allowed to proceed against the US retailer Target for alleged accessibility problems with its website

The three women are represented by Andy Dogali at Florida-based law firm Forizs & Dogali, alongside Los Angeles-based attorney Eugene Feldman, with the case set for trial in Los Angeles in January 2012.

Talking to E-Access Bulletin this week Samantha Fothergill, senior legal policy officer at RNIB, said she had contacted the US lawyers handling the case to see if UK citizens could potentially play any part in adding an international dimension to the case.

“There is no recourse under UK law for the websites as you can only sue a website under the Equality Act if the provider is established in the UK, but because this is an international tourist attraction people from around the world, including Britain, could potentially be part of the US case.

“If so we might be able to find clients who had gone to those resorts, and could make people aware this action is going on – we would not be encouraging them to join, just passing on the information.”

UK class actions are rare in the field of disability law, Fothergill said, not least because all such cases tend to be settled out of court.

“Class actions are often used here in product liability cases but disability lawyers don’t often think in that way. We’ve looked at possibility of class actions but the cases that we have always get settled, so we’ve never really got to that stage.”

Whatever happens, the fact that a company with such a high profile worldwide is being sued anywhere is bound to have an effect on corporate behaviour and lobby campaigns elsewhere, she said.

“The Target case got more publicity probably among IT professionals than it necessarily did among blind people, but this case is more likely to raise the profile of access issues with those responsible for services and websites around the world, which can only be a good thing wherever you are.”

Disney is connected with a huge range of public-facing websites including sites for media partners ESPN and the ABC television network.

Canadian Government Access Guidelines ‘Not Fast Enough’

A blind woman who is battling the Canadian government in the courts over the inaccessibility of its websites has said a new initiative to improve the sites does not move fast enough.

Donna Jodhan, a blind accessibility consultant, sued the Canadian government last year over the inaccessibility of its websites after she was unable to apply for a government job online. In December 2010 a judge ruled in favour of Jodhan but the government is appealing against the ruling, claiming that the judge exceeded his jurisdiction in finding a “system-wide failure” of government through its websites, when it was only Jodhan who was proved to be directly affected (see our January issue ).

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) has now published a new standard on web accessibility for government agencies ( ). Under a phased programme, agencies have until the end of the year to submit a report on their current state of accessibility. Inaccessible web sites will then have to be made accessible in stages, with home pages and pages providing “the most important information and services” ordered to comply by the end of February 2012; and all remaining pages by 31 July, 2013. All new web pages published after 1 October, 2011 must immediately conform, although exceptions will be allowed to all deadlines in circumstances where “exclusion for a period of time can be demonstrably justified.”

A government-wide compliance report will be released by the board at the end of February 2012, with updates published annually thereafter. If government bodies do not comply a range of sanctions are possible including suspension of public sector staff from web duties.

Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin she thought the release of the new guidelines was linked to her legal action, but that it was an inadequate response. “It does not go fast enough; their time frame is too long,” she said. “I think that a year would be more reasonable.”

She also questioned the government’s commitment to accessibility in appealing the 2010 decision in her case. “If the government feels that this is going to address the issues raised in my court case, then why is it spending all this money to appeal the decision that was handed down on in 2010?” she said.

Dates have now been set for the appeal of 15 and 16 November.

Jodhan suffered a minor disappointment in August when two of three disability organisations which had sought intervention status in her case had their requests turned down by the court.

These were the national blindness charity CNIB, the Canadian Council of Disabilities (CCD) and the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) of which Jodhan herself was elected president in May of this year. In an August ruling, the AEBC was the only one granted intervener status, allowing it to speak in court about the wider implications of any decision taken.

Responding to this decision, Jodhan said: “These three organisations felt that they had a vital and vested interest in this case to represent other concerns on a broader level. We were all quite surprised that the other two were not granted similar status.” The two unsuccessful applicants would have offered a broader perspective to her case, Jodhan said, “but they can still help in other ways.”

Charities Push For Binding Treaty On Global Book Access

UK and European blindness charities are stepping up the pressure on politicians ahead of a decisive meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to consider rules allowing accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books.

Negotiations at the WIPO General Assembly later this month, followed by a meeting of the organisation’s standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR) in November, are likely to settle a long-standing debate on whether access rights to copyright works should be the subject of a binding international treaty of merely a voluntary ‘recommendation’.

EU negotiators have been lobbying against full treaty status under strong pressure from rightsholders in some member states. However the European Blind Union has now submitted a petition to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee to be heard on 3 October saying the EU’s position contravenes its own charter.

“By opposing such a treaty, the EU Commission and Member States are clearly failing to recognise and respect the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community”, the petition says. “In doing so the commission is failing to live up to its commitments to article 26 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on the integration of persons with disabilities.”

Meanwhile the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has responded to a UK government consultation on the copyright negotiations saying the EU’s position in calling for a voluntary code or ‘soft law’ runs counter to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which “makes explicit disabled people’s right to accessible information… and that ‘laws protecting IP rights should not place unreasonable or discriminatory barriers in the way of access to cultural materials’.”

“No rights holder organisation would accept the idea that voluntary codes of good behaviour signed by consumer organisations could be so effective in ensuring an acceptable level of rights holder protection that they would remove the need for binding copyright law. We likewise reject the argument that voluntary cooperation and licensing can replace a legally binding right of access to works by print disabled people.”

The RNIB rejected moves by some EU negotiators to suggest a ‘two-step’ approach, with a joint recommendation to be followed by returning to discussions on a treaty at a later date but with no guarantee any treaty would emerge.

“RNIB would like to underline that a two-step approach simply postpones – possibly for many years- a full and long overdue solution to a problem first identified back in the 1980s… it would put in place a second class solution for disabled people, in contrast with the first class solution –treaties – offered to rights holders to protect their interests.”

The November meeting is also likely to settle the final wording of the text of the proposed recommendation or treaty, including the relationship between the new copyright exception law and contract law, following progress in June towards a single draft document involving compromise on both sides (see July issue coverage).

US Law School Council Settles Web Access Legal Action

The Law School Admissions Council (LASC) in the US has agreed to make its website fully accessible to blind and visually impaired users following legal action by the country’s National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

The NFB filed a lawsuit against LASC in 2009 claiming that the organisation’s website – used by nearly every US law school to accept student applications – violated the California Disabled Persons Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (a California-based piece of discrimination legislation).


UK Fails To Support Accessible Copyright Treaty

The UK government has declined to offer full support to a draft international treaty to allow accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across international boundaries, giving those with print disabilities wider access to books, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The news comes in a response to a written Parliamentary question from Lord Low, President of the European Blind Union (EBU), in which he asked for the government’s assessment of the treaty. The draft was first put forward by the World Blind Union (WBU: ) in 2009 at a standing committee of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) ( see E-Access Bulletin issue 131: ).

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