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Pan/Parapan American Games Sends AODA Alliance Chair an Inaccessible Invitation to Kickoff for Countdown to Toronto 2015 Games – What Example for Digital Accessibility is Ontario Showcasing for the World?

August 27, 2013

SUMMARY

We can’t make this up! Last week the Government-subsidized Toronto 2015 Pan Parapan American Games sent AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, who is blind, an inaccessible (and hence, unreadable) email invitation to an upcoming “good news” kick-off of the lead-up to the Games. Lepofsky gets and answers dozens, and at times, hundreds of emails each day and was shocked when this inaccessible one arrived.

Lepofsky immediately replied to the email, advising that it is inaccessible. The Pan/Parapan American Games did not respond by re-issuing the invitation in an accessible format, and indeed, did not reply to him at all.

We therefore brought this story to the Toronto Star. The August 27, 2013 edition of the Toronto Star includes a great article reporting on this. We set out that article below.

This incident, and the Star news article about it, help highlight the very disturbing fact that the Ontario Government is still in open and clear violation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, because it still has not appointed an Independent Review of the effectiveness of the AODA’s implementation. The law required the Government to appoint that Independent Review by May 31, 2013, fully 88 days ago. To learn more about the Ontario Government’s ongoing violation of its own accessibility legislation, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05312013.asp

This incident also shows that with over 1.7 million people in Ontario who now have a disability, those who create accessibility barriers need to remember that any new barrier they create is just one embarrassing news story away. Here the Toronto Star reports that this inaccessible email was just a mistake. Yet that is no excuse.

That mistake could have been avoided at no cost whatsoever to the Government. We are told over and over that the many accessibility barriers we face are just “mistakes”. The AODA requires more effort than that. Ontarians with disabilities deserve better.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario to be fully accessible by 2025. We are clearly behind schedule. The 2015 Pan and ParaPan American Games in Toronto will take place right at the halfway point between 2005, when the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was enacted, and 2025, when it requires a fully accessible province. Depending on whether the Ontario Government changes course now, these Games will either show the world that Ontario is indeed on schedule for full accessibility, by being halfway there, or it will show Ontario to still sluggishly be dragging behind schedule.

All political parties unanimously voted for the AODA in 2005. We want the Ontario Government to now kick-start the stalled implementation of this important disability accessibility legislation.

We want Ontario to get on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. In her December 3, 2012 letter to us, Kathleen Wynne, now Ontario’s premier, and then running for leadership of Ontario’s Liberal Party, pledged that she would ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. You can read Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12032012.asp

The Ontario Government has taken a number of positive steps to improve the accessibility of its digital information, to people with disabilities. However, overall, it is acting too slowly and has quite a way to go. Here are some publicly-documented stunning examples that this recent incident mirrors:

* On January 22, 2009, we made public a brief to the Ontario Government’s Information and Communications Standards Development Committee, appointed under the AODA. In the introduction to that brief, we documented a short list of show-stopping examples of inaccessible public electronic communications by Ontario public agencies. We wrote:

“On December 4, 2008, the day after the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, the Ontario Government proudly unveiled its long-awaited Anti-Poverty Strategy, to much fanfare. Yet on that day, it was posted on the Government’s website only in PDF. This is a computer file format that is well-known and widely-documented to present accessibility problems for the adaptive technology used by many computer users with vision and learning disabilities.

Just days before, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Ontario’s flagship public agency for promoting equal rights for minorities like persons with disabilities, widely circulated via email its announcement/invitation to attend a John Humphrey Freedom Award, also in the problematic PDF format. Around the same time, it also circulated an invitation in GIF format, which is even more inaccessible, to a celebration of December 10, the International Day for Human Rights.

The cost to these government organizations of also providing these documents in a fully accessible HTML and/or txt or MS Word format would have been microscopic. Both organizations ought to have known for years that what they did was create an easily-avoided, entirely unnecessary barrier to equal access to information and communication for persons with various print disabilities.

These are powerful examples of things that happen all too frequently in the public and private sectors. Persons with disabilities in Ontario face too many barriers to access to information and communication when they try to fully enjoy the goods, services, facilities and employment opportunities that are offered to the public in Ontario. One point five million Ontarians with disabilities deserve better.”

The Government has never disputed the accuracy of this information, which remains publicly available on our website. You can check out our entire January 22, 2009 brief on the draft Information and Communication Accessibility Standard by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01222009.asp

* On November 8, 2012, the Ontario Government made public the controversial final report of an Independent Review of the effectiveness of the way that people can enforce their human rights in Ontario. It initially posted this report only as an inaccessible PDF. Here is what we publicly posted on our website on November 16, 2012 – something the Government has also never disputed:
“It is a cruel irony that on November 8, 2012, when the Pinto Report was finally released to the public via the internet, the McGuinty Government only posted the Pinto Report on its website in an inaccessible PDF format. The Government only fixed this after the AODA Alliance brought the creation of this new and embarrassing barrier to the Government’s attention.”

You can read our November 16, 2012 announcement of that accessibility barrier by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11162012.asp

The Ontario Government repeatedly claims it is a world leader on accessibility and that it aims to set a good example for Ontario on how to be fully accessible. It has also said that accessibility is a top priority for it. Back on January 18, 2012, Ontario’s Minister of Government Services said the following to us in a letter:

“The Ontario Public Service (OPS) is proud to be a leader in the area of accessibility, both as an employer and as a service provider. We will be the first organization in Ontario to meet all of the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA), well ahead of the 2025 target. As such, we are setting a strong example and providing leadership to other organizations.”

You can read the January 18, 2012 letter from the Minister of Government Services to the AODA Alliance by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05042012.asp

In other accessibility news, a breath-taking 215 days have passed since we wrote the Ontario Government to ask for its plans to keep its pledge to effectively enforce the AODA. We have received no substantive public response to that inquiry. To learn more about our request for the Ontario Government’s plans to enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, visit http://is.gd/XdwlVG

The Ontario Government now has 20 days left to respond to the Freedom of Information Act request that AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky filed. He resorted to filing this application for access to information on the Government’s actions and plans to keep its promise to effectively enforce the AODA. To see what information on enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that has been requested under Ontario’s Freedom of Information Act, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08152013.asp

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Text of the August 27, 2013 Article in the Toronto Star

Toronto Star August 27, 2013
Greater Toronto
Pan/Parapan Am email angers blind activist; Games invite sent in a format that
couldn’t be read by software used by the visually impaired

The 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games organizers have run afoul of disability
advocates with an email invitation that isn’t readable by programs commonly used
by the blind.

David Lepofsky, a lawyer and chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with
Disabilities Act Alliance, said the games secretariat sent the email in a format
not compatible with his screen-reading software.

“The government wants to showcase for the world how we’re doing, including how
we’re doing on accessibility, and this is a pretty bad way to start,” said
Lepofsky.

The invitation to an event announcing province-wide plans for the games was
emailed on Aug. 22 to 534 recipients as an image attachment, rather than as
plain text in the email body. That format can’t be read by the software used by
blind people such as Lepofsky.

“In this instance, the secretariat was using a new email system to send out the
invitations and an error was made in setting up the email delivery options in
the application,” explained Padma de Souza, spokeswoman for the provincial body
overseeing Ontario’s financial commitment to the games.

“I don’t think anybody is being malicious; they never are,” Lepofsky said.
“People don’t say, ‘Let’s create an inaccessible document so blind people can’t
read it.’ That’s not what we’re fighting against. We’re fighting against people
who do exactly this – they don’t think about it and they get it wrong.”

Lepofsky, who is well-known for leading the charge to have TTC vehicles
routinely announce stops, replied to the email immediately but, as of Monday
afternoon, still had not heard from government officials.

De Souza said the ministry will reissue the invitation in an accessible format
and take steps to avoid the problem in the future.

“This is just an illustration of a simple thing they can do. And it’s in
relation to an initiative that relates in part to accessibility, namely the Pan
and Parapan Games, and it’s being done with government money. If they can’t get
the little things straight, how can we be confident on the bigger things?” said
Lepofsky.

The government set a deadline, when it passed the 2005 Disabilities Act, to
become fully accessible by 2025.

The act is supposed to be reviewed every three years. The last independent
report was tabled May 31, 2010, meaning the deadline for the latest report was
May 31, 2013. The government is still in the process of appointing a reviewer.

“They still have missed the deadline. It’s 12 weeks later and they’re still in
breach of their own law, and the first thing we’d want to tell the independent
review is: Hey, they can’t even ensure their own emails are accessible,” said
Lepofsky.

Tim Alamenciak
Toronto Star