She's done asking! Now she's fighting for equality

Greetings!  I’m Christian Robicheau, assistant editor at
Today, I would like to share an article with you that appeared in the Toronto Star on May 08; it bears a direct relationship to the untiring work of our president Donna J. Jodhan.
I hope you decide to join us in supporting Donna in her efforts.
Here now is the article and I wish you a great May weekend.
She’s done asking, now she’s fighting for equality

Helen Henderson
The Toronto Star , May 8, 72010
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s relationship with democracy has come under
increasing scrutiny during his tenure. Little things like circumventing
Parliament and Canadians’ right to know come to mind.
You can add to that Ottawa’s obstinate refusal to provide Canadians who are
blind with equal, interactive access to government websites for everything
from pensions to passports.
Thanks to a tech-savvy MBA who also happens to be blind, the issue will be
aired in federal court, hopefully later this year.
The case, which will test this country’s commitment to Charter rights for
all citizens, including those with disabilities, is exactly the type of
legal challenge that could go right up to the Supreme Court, costing
taxpayers untold millions.
It’s hard to understand why. Affordable technology to rectify the situation
is readily available. And just two months ago, Canada ratified the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, pledging
equal, open access to everyone no matter how they move, communicate or
process information.
Yet Ottawa seems determined.
The genesis of this case goes back more than a decade, when Donna Jodhan,
who earned her MBA at McGill University, wanted to apply for jobs with
Statistics Canada and other federal departments.
To her dismay, she found the online application process wasn’t accessible to
her because she is blind. When she repeatedly tried to point this out, she
says she was rebuffed if not ignored.
Finally, she sought legal counsel.
Bakerlaw, a firm that specializes in human rights issues, took the case. But
it wasn’t the only entity with legal expertise that thought Jodhan’s
argument had merit.
She received funding from the Court Challenges Program of Canada, set up to
help those who would not otherwise have the means to bring forward
“important court cases that advance language and equality rights guaranteed
under Canada’s Constitution.” (Stephen Harper would later cancel the Court
Challenges Program, but not before it had agreed Jodhan’s case fell within
its mandate.)
In her suit against the government, she is not asking for any monetary
compensation. She just wants Ottawa to work with technical experts and
Canadians who are visually impaired to make sure that government application
forms for jobs, pensions, passports and other key services are accessible.
“The way things are it’s as if we just don’t count, as if we’re not
important enough to bother with,” she says. Yet a 2003 federal task force on
access to information for print-disabled Canadians tallied the numbers at 3
million “or about 10 per cent of the population.”
Also on board as an adviser for Jodhan in her court case is Jutta
Treviranus, director of the University of Toronto’s Adaptive Technology
Resource Centre.
The real problem is not that the technology isn’t readily available and
affordable; it’s that when it comes to interactive web technologies the
government’s road map is flawed, says Treviranus.
In the statement of facts it plans to present to the court, Ottawa says “the
Treasury Board adopted internationally recognized web accessibility
standards through the Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet in May
of 2000.”
Sounds good on paper but Treviranus says the way those standards are written
makes them counterproductive when it comes to designing interactive websites
accessible to Canadians who are blind. A Treasury Board spokesperson
declined to comment on the court case.
Jodhan started an online petition to Parliament asking it to ensure that all
government websites are interactively accessible by Dec. 31 this year. (Go
to and search on GCWAP.) Online is the only
accessible way for Canadians who are blind to participate. But she says she
has been told the government will not accept online petitions.
Not my kind of democracy.
Contact Helen Henderson by email at


About Donna Jodhan

Donna Jodhan is an award winning blind author, advocate, sight loss coach, blogger, podcast commentator, and accessibility specialist.
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