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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.”


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