Applying via Mail and Applying Online: Equal Access According to the Government of Canada

Last year Donna Jodhan, with a Master in Business Administration (MBA) in international business and finance from McGill University and certified computer skills with Microsoft and Novell programs,  took the Government of Canada to court, claiming the government’s online job application process was inaccessible to individuals who are blind and sight impaired.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one of the very few pieces of legislation available to Canadians with disabilities when pursuing accessible issues via the justice system. Section 15(1) reads:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Ms. Jodhan argued “that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees blind and visually impaired Canadians the same access to government websites as everyone else.” She asked that “the government to work with experts and visually impaired users to ensure that crucial services like job application forms are accessible.” (From Bakerlaw’s press release (PDF file).)

Being the first web accessibility case to challenge the Charter, this was a landmark case in Canada. Web accessibility had finally come of age in our country. In November, Federal Justice Kelen ruled, in part, “The failure of the government to monitor and ensure compliance with the government’s 2001 accessibility standards is an infringement of section 15(1) of the Charter since it discriminates against the applicant and other visually impaired persons” (Donna Jodhan v Attorney General of Canada, p72, PDF file).

Kelen’s reasoning, in part, included:

the visually impaired have not been “reasonably accommodated” because they allegedly can obtain the same information available online by other channels, namely in person, by telephone and by mail. These other channels are difficult to access, less reliable and not complete. Moreover, they fail to provide the visually impaired with independent access or the same dignity and convenience as the services online. The Supreme Court of Canada makes unequivocally clear that such alternatives do not constitute “substantively equal” treatment;

for the blind and visually impaired, accessing information and services online gives them independence, self-reliance, control, ease of access, dignity and self-esteem. A person is not handicapped if she does not need help. Making the government online information and services accessible provides the visually impaired with “substantive equality”. This is like the ramp to permit wheelchair access to a building. It is a ramp for the blind to access online services. (p69

The government was ordered to make its websites accessible to people with sight impairments within 15 months.

This was a great opportunity for the Government of Canada to lead the public’s awareness of the ability of people with sight impairments to use computers and the internet out of the Dark Ages reflected in the comment sections of the various CBC news stories.

However, last week, the government announced its intentions to appeal the decision. Government lawyers argue there was no discrimination because those same services are provided in other formats, such as on the phone, in person or by mail.

How is applying for a job via phone, in person or by mail the same as applying online? How is this equal access? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

5 Responses to Applying via Mail and Applying Online: Equal Access According to the Government of Canada
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Glenda Watson Hyatt , Glenda Watson Hyatt and Jennison Asuncion, Jennison Asuncion. Jennison Asuncion said: Applying via Mail and Applying Online: Equal Access According to the CDN Gov. Do you agree? HT GlendaWh – I vote no. [...]

  2. Tina Brooks
    January 22, 2011 | 12:45 pm

    It is about time that the accessibility that is easily available via any website be employed by Canada Government.

    It is unacceptable that anyone, especially the visually impaired be unable to access anything that is available to other Canadians via the Government website.

    • Glenda
      January 22, 2011 | 3:33 pm

      Tina, yes, definitely! Have you encountered problems while accessing government sites?

  3. Cliff Tyllick
    January 22, 2011 | 1:35 pm

    “How is applying for a job via phone, in person or by mail the same as applying online?” I would say you’re asking the wrong question. The question isn’t “How?” but “When?”

    When is applying for a job via phone, in person or by mail the same as applying online? I’ll tell ya. Let’s start with “by phone.” It’s the same when:

    - the phone is immediately answered 24 hours a day — with no holding queue.
    - the person at the other end of the line can transcribe — flawlessly — everything you say faster than you could enter it with a keyboard.
    - the person at the other end can’t tell or even guess at your ethnic background, age, or other irrelevant personal characteristics by your voice or accent.
    - the person at the other end can instantly enter an entire job description before you’ve even said it — when all you’ve done is to select the text, hit Control-C, changed focus, and hit Control-V. (Same for a resume, by the way, if the application allows you to attach a resume.)
    - the person at the other end doesn’t mind at all when you take a five-minute break to tend to the kids or your pet, get a snack, or floss your teeth.
    - the person at the other end can hear you just fine while you swallow a slug of coffee, snap a bite out of that apple, or chew that oatmeal.

    How about in person? It’s the same when:
    - the person receiving the application comes to you, whether that’s your house, the local library, an Internet cafe, or even a bus, if you have wifi service and a mobile device.
    - they get there instantly the moment you decide that you want to apply.
    - they don’t get upset when you change your mind halfway through and decide not to apply, after all.
    - they’re still not upset when you decide five minutes later that not applying was a bad decision after all so you need to start over from scratch — and not only are they not upset, but they’re instantly back at your side to fill out a new application with you.
    - they don’t notice whether you’ve showered, picked up around the apartment, done the dishes, emptied the litter box, made the bed, or even gotten dressed.
    - they don’t mind that you don’t share your cookies with them.
    - all your information is immediately in the hiring organization’s database as soon as you tell them you’re done, even if that is 3 seconds before the deadline to apply.

    How is applying by mail the same? Well, in addition to any of the relevant points from above, it’s the same when:
    - you don’t need to print your application out.
    - you don’t need an envelope.
    - you don’t need a stamp.
    - you don’t even need to find a mailbox.
    - as with “in person,” your application is on file just one keystroke after you finish completing it.

    So there’s hardly any difference at all, right?

    Yeah, right!

    • Glenda
      January 22, 2011 | 3:30 pm

      Cliff, great analysis. Thank you. I totally agree.

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