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Watchdog’s Request Reasonable: Reader

Letters to the editor
Posted December 10, 2010

Re: ‘Access watchdog blasts city for PDFs of minutes,’ Dec. 3

I fail to see what the issue is for the City of Kawartha Lakes in providing Mr. Collis with copies of council minutes in an accessible format.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act clearly indicates that organizations, and in particular governments, are to make their services, and
in particular their web sites, accessible to those with disabilities. Mr. Collis obviously has a visual disability, and the only way he can read written
documents or web pages independently is with a screen reader; a computer software program that reads digital text documents aloud with a synthesized voice.

The problem with using a screen reader on a normal PDF document such as the council minutes posted on the city’s web site is that the screen reader has
no idea how the document is set up. Is it in newspaper column format? Is text part of a photo caption? Is text part of a graph or table? What is obvious
to a sighted reader is not obvious to a screen reader program. The answer is to insert tags or section labels to create a “tagged PDF” document which identifies for the screen reader program the various elements of the document. Tagged PDF is a standard and accepted format under U.S. disability access legislation.

Mr. Collis’ request is perfectly reasonable. The law says he is entitled to accessible services. Our mayor, who is visually impaired himself, should understand these needs very well. Communications officer Brenda Stonehouse’s comment about the “significant financial impact” of providing tagged PDF documents implies that it’s acceptable to deprive the disabled of their rights under the law if we decide the cost is too expensive. This type of thinking is no longer tolerated in our society. Who knows, it might even lead to another expensive law suit.

It’s challenging enough dealing with a disability without having to struggle with an obstructionist bureaucracy that refuses to meet its obligations under
the law. If Mr. Collis wants to be able to access the information that will allow him to play an active role in municipal politics, this is commendable
and should be facilitated. Let’s give him what he needs to participate instead of leaving him marginalized, as so many others with disabilities are in
our society.


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