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Blind MBA challenges federal government over inaccessible jobs websites


From: John Foliot - Stanford Online Accessibility Program
Date: Aug 7, 2008 12:50PM

(Apologies for cross-posting JF)

Blind MBA challenges Canadian federal government over inaccessible jobs

Ground-breaking Charter of Rights case now before courts

Toronto - August 6, 2008 - Donna Jodhan had all the right
qualifications for the government jobs she wanted to apply for - an
MBA from McGill University's prestigious business school, high-level
technical certifications from Microsoft and Novell, and a strong
resume of relevant private-sector postings at companies like IBM and
Royal Bank.

There was just one catch: Jodhan, who has been blind since birth,
found that on-line application forms for the positions she wanted to
apply for were not accessible to visually impaired web surfers. No
matter how hard she tried, she couldn't even get in the government's
virtual front door.

"I got so darn tired," says Jodhan, who lives in Scarborough,
Ontario. "I followed up and followed up, but nobody seemed interested
in giving me the help I needed. I'd had to push hard with the private
sector too, but this was on a whole different level."

With the help of Bakerlaw, a Toronto human-rights law firm, Jodhan
has now taken the matter to the courts, arguing that the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms guarantees blind and visually impaired Canadians
the same access to government websites as everyone else. The
complainants are asking the government to work with experts and
visually impaired users to ensure that crucial services like job
application forms are accessible.

"Blind and visually impaired Canadians are shut out from crucial
services that everyone else can use," says David Baker, Jodhan's lead
lawyer. "That makes it an issue of discrimination under the Charter."
When it comes to employment, the need for fair access is particularly
urgent - recent studies report that the blind and visually impaired
have an unemployment rate of about 70%, and low per-capita incomes
compared to both the population as a whole and to other disabled

"One of the tragic things here is that Canada used to be an exemplar
when it came to on-line accessibility," says Jutta Treviranus,
director of the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource
Center, and an expert on accessible technologies. Treviranus, who is
acting as an advisor on the case, says that the technical resources
and strategies - web development toolkits, templates, authoring
tools, accessibility evaluation methods and standards - are readily
available and affordable.

"The real problem is the lack of a government-wide plan, a roadmap
for equitable access when it comes to interactive web technologies"
she says.

"Plus, there are only three people in the government's accessibility
office, which is responsible for supporting the accessibility of
hundreds of government websites across the country. When we approach
them with requests, they understandably say 'but we have so many
websites, it's too much to implement.' Clearly more resources are
needed and accessibility must be considered at all levels of
information and communication technology decision-making within the

Bakerlaw originally filed the Charter challenge in July of 2007. In
response, the government tried to have the case thrown out of court
on technical grounds, but that motion to strike was rejected by the
court in late June of this year, paving the way for the case to go
forward. Unless the government voluntarily agrees to make their
websites accessible, the case would likely move on to litigation
later this month.

Regardless of what happens with the case in the immediate future,
Jodhan and her legal team remain focussed on the long term. "If we
don't stand up and make ourselves heard, the government will keep on
dragging its feet," Jodhan predicts. "We need to act now, to make
things better for tomorrow's generation."

Media Contacts

Donna Jodhan
day: 416 491-7711
evening: 416 497-7306

David Baker
legal counsel
416-533-0040 x 222

Jutta Treviranus
Director, Adaptive Technology Resource Center, University of Toronto