ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

TORONTO STAR REPORTS ON AODA ALLIANCE SERIOUS CONCERNS WITH GOVERNMENT’S WEAK PROPOSED INTEGRATED ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD

September 24, 2010

SUMMARY

Two recent Toronto Star articles have covered our concerns with the McGuinty Government’s weak proposals for new accessibility standards to be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

First, the Friday, September 24, 2010 on-line edition of the Toronto Star includes a very powerful article on the Government’s weak proposal for an integrated accessibility standard. The portion of the article addressing this topic is set out below. The Government’s accessibility standard proposal is supposed to address barriers that persons with disabilities face in transportation, information and communication, and employment.

This excellent article is by the Toronto Star’s widely-respected disability issues columnist Helen Henderson. It reports on the draft brief on the proposed integrated accessibility standard that the AODA Alliance has circulated for your input.

Second, the September 19, 2010 Toronto Star included an article on a woman’s court case, challenging inaccessibility of Federal Government websites. That article also reports on our objections to the Ontario Government proposed integrated accessibility standard, because it gives the Government up to 2018 to start posting information on its own websites in a fully accessible format, in accordance with international standards that were adopted fully two years ago. See the on-line version of that article below. The hard copy version of the September 19, 2010 edition of the Toronto Star had a shortened version of that same article.

It is very important to get as much media coverage as possible for our efforts to get this weak proposal for an integrated accessibility standard substantially strengthened. Please forward these articles to your local media. Urge them to cover this story. Also, forward this article to your own member of the Ontario Legislature. Urge them to support a substantial strengthening of the weak proposed integrated accessibility standard.

As Helen Henderson’s article reports, we are eager for your feedback on our draft brief. We are working feverishly to get this brief finalized so we can circulate it to you as soon as we can. You can send us feedback on our draft brief up to October 1, 2010 by writing us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

You can download and review our draft brief by visiting: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09152010-2.asp

You can see the Government’s summary of this proposal on our website at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09152010.asp


TORONTO STAR ON-LINE EDITION SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

Accessibility reforms ‘very weak'

Helen Henderson

Quebec singer/songwriter Martin Deschamps, who entertained the world as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Paralympics performs at the Abilities Arts Festival Oct. 7 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre on Jarvis St.

The path to an accessible Ontario is still littered with stumbling blocks and is way too long — not to mention excruciatingly slow.

We've been lumbering through committee after committee, tinkering with standards sector by sector, frittering away the 15 years remaining to the blurred 2025 deadline when all the barriers are supposed to disappear. Maybe.

Now, as it grinds into pre-election mode, Queen's Park says it has listened to public “feedback” and is planning to “streamline” and “align” the whole process with an integrated standard covering access to transportation, information, communication and employment.

The proposed new integrated accessibility regulation, on display on the provincial government's website, is open for comment until Oct. 16. Already the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, led by activist David Lepofsky, has some reservations, to put it mildly. It has posted a draft of the comments it plans to submit. But first, it wants input from its constituents.

The AODA Alliance finds the proposed integrated accessibility standard “very weak.”

“Its accessibility requirements are inadequate. Its timelines are far too long. It falls well short of what the Ontario Human Rights requires for the removal and prevention of barriers against persons with disabilities. It is a real letdown.”

The alliance has posted a draft brief of ideas for improvement on its website. It asks that you email feedback by Oct. 1. It also urges groups with expertise in specific disability issues to submit ideas to Queen's Park.

The alliance acknowledges that the proposed standard “includes some helpful ingredients.”

However, “it does not reflect the range of needs and concerns that the disability community raised over and over again during the standards development process,” the group says.

“Indeed, it will not ever ensure the full accessibility which Ontarians with disabilities were promised by the (Dalton) McGuinty government and which the AODA requires.”

Among other things, the group recommends:

Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays. helenhenderson@sympatico.ca


Blind woman says federal websites discriminate against the visually impaired

September 19, 2010

Laurie Monsebraaten

PHOTO: Donna Jodhan, who is blind, is taking the federal government to court because government websites are not accessible to blind and partially-sighted Internet users. Photo by CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR

Donna Jodhan was one of the first blind people in Canada to earn an MBA, in 1981, and one of the first in the world to obtain technical certifications from software companies Microsoft and Novell.

So the Toronto accessibility consultant was shocked in 2004 when she had trouble applying for a position posted on the federal government’s jobs website.

Despite her considerable technical expertise — she has won four accessibility design awards from IBM — Jodhan couldn’t get Ottawa’s online job application to work, even after repeated calls to the government helpline.

When Ottawa offered residents the option of filling out the 2006 Census online, Jodhan was thwarted once again.

“The Internet is something that is liberating to everybody — but not to blind and visually impaired Canadians,” she said in an interview. “Canada used to be at the top when it came to accessibility 10 years ago. It’s way down the list now.”

On Tuesday, Jodhan will argue in federal court that her inability to apply for a position on the federal jobs website or complete the online version of the 2006 Census breached her equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She will also argue that this violation and her ongoing inability to access the government’s online information and services constitute a breach against all blind and partially sighted Canadians, said Jodhan’s lawyer David Baker.

About 3 million Canadians have visual or other impairments that make it difficult to access the Internet.

“It is just so frustrating that (the visually impaired) can’t access government information, can’t apply for government jobs — can’t use the Internet. That’s what this case is about,” Baker said in an interview.

Blind people visit websites using screen reader software which converts text to speech. But the software can’t work unless a web page includes special coding, Baker said.

American and European governments have adopted the latest international web accessibility standards for their websites as have Canadian banks and many businesses, he said. But the Canadian government has not — even though the changes would not be difficult or expensive to implement, he said.

Jodhan, who launched her case in 2006 under the now defunct Court Challenges program which helped fund equality rights cases, wants the court to order Ottawa to upgrade its websites to the latest accessibility standards within 12 months and monitor compliance.

In its written defence, the federal government argues that the Charter’s goal of providing “substantive equality” and “reasonable accommodation” to Jodhan were met through telephone help lines, by mail and in person.

Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law, the government says in its written submission to the court.

“Alternative channels available did allow (Jodhan) to access services and information independently, in a manner that respected her privacy and dignity,” it says.

With more than 120 government departments and agencies and more than 23 million web pages, “it is unlikely that the government’s web presence will ever be perfectly accessible to all,” it adds.

A spokesperson for the federal government said Ottawa is working to make its online information as accessible as possible.

Ontario lawyer and disability rights activist David Lepofsky is waging a battle to make the provincial government’s websites and services accessible.

Lepofsky, who is blind, is particularly upset that the province’s new Presto electronic transit card is not accessible to the visually impaired and others.

Ontario is offering to adopt the most current international web accessibility standards, but Queen’s Park is giving itself up to 2018 and even longer for other organizations to get started, he noted.

“This is ridiculous,” Lepofsky said in an interview. “When it comes to creating new technology, experts have shown that there is . . . no significant added burden on organizations to adopt the latest standards for full accessibility. Moreover, accessibility for us usually helps lots of people, including those with no disability.

“There is absolutely no reason why any government in this country isn’t now complying with the latest international standards,” he added.