Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

Comments on the Ontario accessibility spec, April 2009 edition

The committee writing an Ontario spec for information and communications accessibility sent around an internal “draft,” with comments due 2009.04.16. This would have remained a state secret had Sharlyn Ayotte not published the whole thing (blog entry).

I submitted comments via Sharlyn and stated that the Ministry of Community and Social Services had a week to contact me or I’d publish my comments. They didn’t, so here we are.

It’s better, but don’t get all excited

You removed many of the worst mistakes. Bravo – but you wouldn’t have made those mistakes in the first place had I been on your panel.

Nonetheless, the fact remains your committee is made up of non-experts (viz the private-industry and government members) and experts with an axe to grind or a service to sell (e.g., CNIB). You refuse to publicly acknowledge the fact that Jutta Treviranus of the ATRC is helping you. Perhaps you are keeping that a secret because Jutta is incapable of making this many mistakes and your committee keeps overruling her.

Most egregiously, your committee continues to completely disregard federal law, up to and including the Charter. Your standard actually compels people (political candidates) to meet, a clear violation of freedom of assembly as guaranteed by the Charter.

Don’t call this the final version

You aren’t anywhere near being finished yet, and if you toss a coat of paint on this existing version and call it a final standard, you’ll end up before a judge. I used to say I’d be happy to work as an expert witness for the defence, but I’m getting sick of this process and I would probably just launch my own complaint within 30 days of enactment. See you in court.

A bit more on the secrecy angle

You’ve taken barely any action to notify “organizations” in this province that, behind their backs, you are writing standards that will compel them to act a certain way, talk and communicate a certain way, and invest in certain technologies. Such compulsion will have the force of law.

You haven’t done a public-education campaign (one Web site does not qualify as such). You don’t even have RSS feeds. You have made negligible efforts to inform the hapless “organizations” you intend to regulate that they are about to be regulated.

Prediction: Most organizations will find out about this standard for the first time when they are served with a lawsuit for failing to comply with it.

Quite simply, your committee, in the guise of helping disabled people, is trying to pull a fast one.

Unconstitutional intrusion into personal rights

These provisions need to be thrown out no matter how attached to them you may be. They won’t pass constitutional muster.

Still busting copyright

You now claim that “guidance materials,” whatever those are, “should address” copyright. This sounds to me like an invitation to write guidance materials that lie about copyright, i.e., that state that disabled people have an automatic and equal right to whatever accessible format they choose exactly when they choose it for whatever price they wish to pay, including nothing. Under the Copyright Act, that kind of blanket right does not exist.

These “guidance materials” sound, in general, like government propaganda.

Schools have to provide e.g. captioned and described educational materials if “electronic,” even if they don’t have the legal right to do so.

Still unclear on the scope

Your committee seems unaware that companies like Google are “organizations” doing business in Ontario. By definition, your standard will require every video on YouTube to be captioned. Now, do you think you can make that one stick? In other words, are you willing to counter, dollar for dollar, Google’s legal expenditures when they sue you to have not just that section but the entire standard overturned?

The myth of inclusive design

Inclusive or universal design is simply a myth. Like unicorns or Atlantis, it’s fun and comforting to believe in, but has no bearing whatsoever on the real world.

Few, if any, products and services are “inclusively” or “universally” designed, and that isn’t going to change. Why? Because inclusive or universal design implicitly means accommodating people with disabilities, usually post-facto. (Quick: Is your car “universally designed”? Your toothbrush? Your computer? Your city?) Research by Bringolf showed that, even among designers, “universal design” just means “design accessible to people with disabilities.”

The current standard explicitly and implicitly requires respondents to bolt accessibility onto their products and services after the fact – just like in the real world. This isn’t “universal” or “inclusive” design in any guise. Organizations will continue to do what every organization does: Provide the real product or service first, then make it accessible. This isn’t and shouldn’t be illegal if people with disabilities have equal access to the product or service.

The difference here is your committee knows nothing of the design process and has failed to realize that accessibility is bolted on late in the design process, not after launch. (Launching an inaccessible product or service could be illegal. By definition we aren’t talking about that case.) Your committee can’t see the internal design process, so you think there isn’t one. There is, and accessibility is the very last step nine times out of ten. This isn’t “universal design,” but, providing that enough care is taken, accessibility results nonetheless.

Don’t hitch your wagon to a feel-good liberal buzzword that embodies a lie.

Not enough accessibility for Francophones

Only entities covered under the French Language Services Act have to provide accessibility in French even if they provide goods or services in French.

This thing still isn’t written in English

You’re mandating IP relay, i.e. you’re mandating fraud

Appendix A.2 (dot in original) clearly states that any phone call has to be usable via an “accessible Web site,” which means I.P. relay. We don’t have these services in Canada (a) because they provably aren’t needed and (b) because they are a haven for Nigerian and Ghanaian scammers, who clog the system with bogus calls designed explicitly to defraud hearing callers on the other end.

This again is an area of federal jurisdiction that your committee feels authorized to usurp. Not so fast.

You still haven’t gotten captioning right

As it stands, any supplier of video can just mail me a printed transcript later on and meet the spec.

Who, by the way, will have “determined” that real-time captioners “have the necessary competencies”?

All touch controls must be mechanical and vice versa

Your spec still requires anything with a button, switch, or lever to have a touchscreen and every touchscreen to have buttons, switches, or levers. You aren’t industrial designers and you know exactly nil about accessible kiosk design, which is the actual domain you are trying to write a standard for.

Who pays for “communication supports and services”?

The disabled person or the organization providing the good or service?

“All members of society”?

If the claim is that, “[i]n the future, all members of society will have access to the information and communication supports and services,” do you mean in every language and under every conceivable condition? We are writing a disability specification here, not a manifesto for a utopian neverworld. On the disability front, accommodation must be provided short of undue hardship, not across the board.

Quit picking on books and publishers

Your committee is still in the grips of a decidedly antidemocratic, unconstitutional mania for “equal access” to books and materials. You got rid of the requirement for every Ontario publisher to violate copyright law by publishing an accessible book at the same time as a printed book, but the requirement is actually still there via a back door. The principle of “provid[ing] the same availability in terms of time and place as is available to others” still means you are forcing publishers to publish against their will.

Essentially, schools and libraries have to procure “conversion-ready electronic versions” of books even if they don’t exist or even if “conversion” is so onerous as to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars and require weeks of work (e.g., ill-structured Quark Xpress file of engineering textbook). You are still in the grips of the outright lie that “electronic” files are easy to “convert” into accessible files, i.e., that electronic files are intrinsically accessible and any inaccessible files just have minor edges that need to be sanded off. In any event, those files may not exist to be procured in the first place.

It is still in no way clear that libraries, publishers, and bookstores do not (repeat: do not) affirmatively have to go out of their way to provide accessible books even in the absence of actual demand for them from real people with disabilities. It’s clear the committee thinks that publishing solely in regular print is, prima facie, a human-rights violation, and the only sticky wicket here is figuring out a way to ban it.

You state that libraries must have “the means to provide accessible materials,” but somehow failed to pick up on the irony that “means” is a synonym for “money.” How are libraries going to afford the stem-to-stern conversion of their collections that is your hidden agenda?

I can still write you in Braille

“Communications to and from persons with disabilities” still means that a blind person can write to an organization in Braille, which nobody there can read, and then file a complaint when the letter goes unanswered. In theory it also means that a deaf person – or, more accurately, a Deaf person with a point to make – can repeatedly telephonically harass a business by calling a voice line with a TTY on the assumption that every business must always have a TTY at the ready. (Clearly it would be illegal for a provincial standard to require deaf persons to use federally-regulated relay services to place such calls.)

Make up your minds about day-and-date

Either information has to be available in accessible forms at the same time as inaccessible forms or it doesn’t. The spec continues to contradict itself on this point on about every fourth page. (I’ve got the whole list of contradictory sections here, but you’ll have to look for them yourself – for the first time, I would assume.)

If there is next to no harm, beyond a philosophical level, for a magazine to be published in print on Monday and in electronic text the next Friday, can the committee explain why, in §7.4, legal notices that could result in somebody going to jail have to be provided in accessible form only on request? Why isn’t that automatic? If anything deserves to be, such notices do.

Symbols, pictures, gestures, body language

None of these make information accessible, unless you have in mind the exceedingly rare and specialized case of trained users of engineered symbol systems like Blissymbols. Tell me: How do you make this very same standard accessible via symbols, pictures, gestures, and body language?

How do you make the back of a soup can accessible in this way? The sign over a subway door?


Don’t “videos, [and] online methods” for training employees on their accessibility duties have to be accessible, too?

Evacuation procedures

How, exactly, are commercial tenants and landowners expected to provide accessible evacuation instructions to people with disabilities who either never visit their buildings or do so only once?

The one and only time you visit Kitchener’s airport, is the airport authority expected to hand you an audio CD of instructions on how to evacuate the airport?

Do you have any idea at all what accessible orientation and mobility instruction means here? Some things just can’t be made accessible; for all but seasoned employees who sit in fixed positions in a building most of the day, evacuation instructions are clearly one such case.

Web accessibility

Files don’t have interfaces

Your committee has never produced any kind of document with any tool other than a pencil or pen or Microsoft Office software, so you keep making category errors about computer files.

Any kind of file, including the ill-defined “E-text,” has no interface. It’s just a file. How some other software deals with it is another matter. Hence no computer file can have keyboard operation; font, colour, and contrast configuration; self-voicing; or searchability.

You’re still banning Photoshop

As commercially available software like Photoshop does not have “keyboard access to all functions,” it will be illegal to use such software in covered organizations. You still don’t understand the implications, nor, apparently, the outcome you actually want to create. Appendix B.7.0 (dots in original) essentially bans all commercial software, shareware, and freeware as such products currently exist.

You couldn’t carry out your jobs for 15 minutes using nothing but software applications that meet your own standard. (Or 15 seconds, as such software is simply nonexistent.)

Ontario already has digital signatures by law

But the best you can do is mention PIPEDA in that context.

Schools are not businesses

“Organizations that provide training or education as their core business function” may refer to for-profit training firms like Trebas, but the statement instantly excludes every publicly-funded or nonprofit school. Thirty years of right-wing influence have coloured your language, but not everything requires a “business case” (accessibility fails such business cases) and schools are not “businesses.”

Posted: 2009.05.01 13:24 ¶ Updated 2009.05.08 08:31

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