The "Public Eye"

Noun. public eyepublic eye - a focus of public attention; "he enjoyed being in the limelight"; "when Congress investigates it brings the full glare of publicity to the agency".

Say what you will, the news is what counts when it is information you need.

The website accessibility divide

There is the digital divide and then there is the technology divide and now I'd like to add the website accessibility divide to this list.

The website accessibility divide refers to those of us who are unable to access websites due to navigable and usability reasons versus those who do not have any difficulty accessing websites.

The former often describes those of us who are visually impaired and for me as one who falls into this category I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in my personal life whenever I am unable to do such things as:

  • Access information independently and in privacy.
  • Complete forms on my own.
  • Request information without having to ask for sighted help.
  • Download and read documents without having to ask for sighted assistance.
  • Read content on a website on my own.

On a personal level inaccessible and unusable websites have a direct affect on my life. My ability to protect and maintain my confidentiality, independence, and privacy are all affected and in short I often have no alternative but to place all of this in the hands of strangers if I am unable to find a friend or family member that I trust to assist me.

For me and others like me, we are all in the same boat so to speak. We cannot have access to vital information if we are unable to access websites independently. We cannot make vital decisions on our own behalf if we are unable to read information for ourselves in an independent manner.

So for example; Important information that pertains to such things as public safety, security, health, job and financial markets, social programs, and up to the minute news are often beyond our reach because of the website accessibility divide.

This is the main reason why I launched a charter challenge against the Canadian Government in 2006 because their websites were inaccessible to me and to other Blind Canadians. I could not apply for a job through their online websites on my own and access to vital information was horribly lacking.

Yes! true it is that we won a landmark victory that mandated the Canadian government to make all of their websites accessible and true it is that things have improved in a noticeable way but there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to this.

Canada does not have any sort of legislation in place that mandates and penalizes federally regulated companies and agencies if their websites are not accessible to Canadians with vision impairments and as a result inaccessible and unusable websites continue to be a part of the lives of those Canadians with vision impairments.

We as visually impaired Canadians continue to live at the whim of website developers who do not believe that website accessibility and usability are important enough for them to include in their design and this is why I personally decided to take one more step.

In early 2015 I along with a small group launched Barrier Free Canada - Canada sans Barrières; a non partisan grassroots organization whose main objective is to lobby the Canadian government to pass a Canadians with disabilities Act. During the October 2015 Canadian election campaign, three parties committed to passing such legislation and this included the governing Liberal Party lead by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

This new government has committed two million dollars towards this initiative in its most recent budget and this is good news for us! We are now waiting on the minister responsible for disabilities issues to commence public hearings as part of the process to pass a Canadians with disabilities Act and it is our cherished hope that a CDA can be passed in time for Canada's 150th anniversary on July 01 2017.

As it stands now the majority of Canada's new Parliament supports the passage of a Canadians with disabilities Act so there is one major hurdle that has been overcome. Now comes the more difficult task of actually getting the CDA drafted and placed before the Canadian Parliament.

It is my personal dream that some day soon all Canadians would be able to access websites independently and in so doing they would be able to protect their privacy and confidentiality. This should not be a dream because under the Canadian charter of Rights all Canadians are guaranteed equal access to information. Yet I can only continue to dream. For me, for all Canadians who are visually impaired, but most of all; for our kids of the future.

As Robert F. Kennedy once said: "Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not!" Maybe I should be a bit more realistic but in my heart I know that somewhere over the rainbow I will some day realize my dream.

I promised Steve Jobs to help change the world and I will keep this promise because he kept his promise to us.