The Federal Court of Appeal has released its decision in the case of Jodhan v. Attorney General of Canada. In this case, the Court considered whether the Federal Government had denied Donna Jodhan, a person with a vision disability, her rights to equal benefit and equal access to government information and services in violation of Section 15 of the Charter. Ms. Jodhan had attempted to apply for jobs and access government information through various federal websites. She was not able to access this information when she used her screen reading technology.
ARCH Disability Law Centre lawyers Karen R. Spector and Laurie Letheren represented the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) as an intervener before the Court.
The Government of Canada had argued that the Charter rights of people with vision disabilities were not violated because they could still get the information or apply for jobs in person or by phone or fax. The Court rejected this argument and agreed with Ms. Jodhan that “forcing her to rely on sighted assistance is demeaning and propagates the point of view that [people with vision disabilities] are less capable and less worthy”.
AEBC emphasized that the internet is a very important tool for achieving substantive equality for people with vision disabilities by eliminating many of the barriers that exist in daily life. As Cindy Ferguson, AEBC National Secretary, has stated, “With proper technology people with vision disabilities now experience information overload in the same way as everyone else”. The Court described the internet as “one of the most, if not the most important tools ever designed for accessing not only government information and services, but all types of information and services”.
AEBC and ARCH applaud the Court’s recognition that the government’s failure to provide its online information and services in accessible formats not only impacted the equality rights of Ms. Jodhan but the right to substantive equality for all Canadians with vision disabilities. The Court found that “there were very serious problems of accessibility… throughout the government apparatus” which justified the ordering of a systemic remedy. Karen R. Spector, counsel for AEBC, anticipates that the finding that a systemic remedy was justified in this case will have far reaching impact on future cases for people with disabilities.
John Rae, AEBC past president, states, “It is now time for the government to stop fighting against the Blind community and comply with their obligations to make all of its websites fully accessible.”We've written about this before. The Ontario Gov passed Accessibility Standards Law then failed to follow it and also on the UK Institute of Blind Suit against an airline.
Sometimes the path of least resistance (just get it fixed already) is a wiser course of action!