Three Simple Questions: Digital Accessibility in 21st Century Canada
By Derek Wilson on December 15, 2018
The following three-part article touches upon the personal impact of digital accessibility in the public, private, and nonprofit sector’s in Canada as we move into 2019.
Must The Show Go On?
November 27, 2018 was an auspicious occasion in Canada. “Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, just passed in the House of Commons!” said Carla Qualtrough, Member of Parliament for Delta, BC and Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility. This is timely because December 3 marks the 26th annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities. According to newly released findings from the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, “an estimated one in five Canadians (or 6.2 million) aged 15 years and over had one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities.”
As a certified career development practitioner in BC who happens to be blind, I make up part of that statistic. I use text-to-speech software known as a screen reader in order to interact with digital content on various devices. Unfortunately, certain features of apps and websites create barriers to accessibility. One example is the carousel feature also known as a slideshow. Without manual controls to pause the slideshow, this content tends to interfere with assistive technology such as screen readers. Fortunately, contributors to the World Wide Web Consortium provide free technical resources as part of the Website Accessibility Initiative.
Assistive technology without digital accessibility is analogous to the notion of autonomous vehicles without roads: stupendously underutilized. Imagine that you are on a website which automatically scrolls back to the top every 10 seconds. How long would it take you to abandon it? This is precisely what I experience on every website sporting an inaccessible slideshow. On a good day, my profanity filter is set to medium. On a bad day, I consume half a bar of soap.
Do restaurants exclude customers with dietary restrictions? Not if they want to stay in business. Do political parties exclude disgruntled constituents? Not if they want to stay in power. Visitors to your website are hungry for content and users of assistive technology are no exception. Are you going to let us eat cake?
Is That Your Final Answer?
I recently called Service Canada to ask if the CPP Disability benefit application form is available in an alternate format, as the Application form on their website is not accessible with a screen reader. I was told the answer was no and that I should contact a local advocate through the http://www.povnet.org website.
It turns out that local advocacy for CPP Disability benefit applications in my Community is done through a nonprofit organization. When I visited the nonprofit’s website, an automatic carousel, also known as a slideshow, made it impossible for me to access information on the website. this is because the slideshow caused the page to auto-refresh every 10 seconds or so, which redirects the focus of my screen reader to the top of the webpage as each new Slide appears.
Aside from the fact that Service Canada does not offer the CPP Disability benefit application form in alternate formats, or monitor the accessibility of digital services provided by their Community partners, the biggest surprise to me here is the thought of systemic discrimination. How many Canadians with disabilities living in rural communities without local advocates are being denied equal access to Federal government services?
Is My Kitchen Confidential?
Let’s think for a moment about the environmental impact of the 25 page application form sitting in an envelope on my kitchen table. The paper and ink used to create it. The fuel used to deliver it to my house. The fuel I will have to use to drive to an advocate’s office so they can sit across a desk with a pen to help me fill it out. The fuel that will be used to return it to our government offices.
Aside from the fact that this robs me of my constitutional right to privacy given that I have to share personal information with the advocate, it is simply bad for the environment. I am just one person. Imagine how many resources are being wasted across the country every day, not to mention the unnecessary expense of taxpayer dollars.
Canada was one of the first countries in the world to adopt the use of talking ATMs. I have been doing online mobile banking for half a decade. Why is our government so slow to follow the lead of our banking and financial sector? If the Canada revenue agency has enough digital security to allow Canadians to submit their taxes online, why can service Canada not provide secure an accessible digital services as well?
Sometimes it is helpful and motivating to understand Canada’s progress in relation to other nations. It is worth noting that in the United States, Congress has just passed the 21st Century IDEA Act. The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs has launched the Digital Accessibility Rights Evaluation (DARE) Index, “a Unique Resource for Advocates and Policy Makers to Benchmark Digital Accessibility.” The United Nations has declared access to information a human right. Canada has ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities along with the Optional Protocol. It is time for Canadians to hold our government to account for their commitments. It is time for Service Canada to provide all Canadians with private, secure, and equitable access to Federal government information and services while working to reduce our carbon footprint. It is time for us to take collective action.
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Derek Wilson is a Certified Career Development Practitioner, digital accessibility advocate, and outdoor enthusiast living with his wife and their two daughters in the Okanagan region of British Columbia. Email Derek at culturemate[at]gmail.com, follow him at http://www.twitter.com/culturemate, and connect with him at http://linkedin.com/in/culturemate.
The author’s point of view is that disability is not synonymous with functional limitation or impairment; disability is the product of interactions between an individual and their environment. In other words, disability is not owned; it is experienced. The mission of Barrier-Free Canada is to eliminate the experience of disability. This requires that Canadians experiencing disability have affordable access to assistive technology and training. It also requires that information and communications technologies be accessible to users of assistive technology.
1. Carla Qualtrough: https://twitter.com/CQualtro/status/1067587302829039616
2. 2018 IDPD: https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/news/dspd/idpd.html
3. 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/89-654-X
4. W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative – Carousel Concepts: https://www.w3.org/WAI/tutorials/carousels/
5. G3ict Launches DARE Index: https://g3ict.org/news-releases/g3ict-launches-the-digital-accessibility-rights-evaluation-dare-index-a-unique-resource-for-advocates-and-policy-makers-to-benchmark-digital-accessibility
6. Congress Votes For Better Government Websites, Digital Services – Nextgov: https://www.nextgov.com/it-modernization/2018/12/congress-votes-better-government-websites-digital-services/153478/