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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 ).

The appeal court also ruled that the judge who had required the government to improve its website accessibility was not in a position to oversee this task. This meant it was left to Jodhan to determine whether the government had complied with its order to improve its websites – a difficult, time-consuming and expensive task, requiring auditing of millions of website pages – and then decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada if she felt the government had fallen short.

Jodhan sought the help of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), who agreed to conduct a full accessibility audit. CNIB concluded that the Canadian government had “done well in remediating and addressing many of the issues”, and “has largely met compliance obligations.” After several other smaller-scale audits which revealed similar findings, Jodhan has now decided not to take any further action.

Jodhan, who is president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, told E-Access Bulletin she was “delighted and humbled” that the case could finally be closed, but also said that this signals the beginning of a further drive towards accessibility. “The real work begins now, because we now need to monitor the Canadian Government to ensure that they do indeed live up to what they have been mandated to do”, she said. “As I have said in the past and continue to say, this is not just my victory but one for all blind Canadians, and one for our kids of the future. It is my cherished hope that the Canadian Government would look at this as an opportunity to create a more accessible environment for all Canadians.”

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