Donna Jodhan’s inspiring triumph on the eve of the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Donna Jadhan wins disability access case against Federal government

From NUPGE – Ottawa – On the eve of Dec. 3, the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), Canadians with disabilities have won a major victory in ensuring that government information becomes more accessible for people with sight impairment.

Earlier this week the Federal Court of Canada released a landmark decision concerning the right of Canadians with disabilities to access government websites.

Justice Michael Kelen ruled that the Canadian government must post key website content in a usable format for blind and partially-sighted Canadians.

This victory is the result of the courageous and persistent actions of blind activist Donna Jodhan.

Justice Kelen concluded the government breached Jodhan’s equality rights by its “system-wide failure” to provide the same services to the visually impaired as it does to those who can see.

“She has been denied equal access to, and benefit from, government information and services provided online to the public on the Internet and this constitutes discrimination against her on the basis of her physical disability, namely that she is blind,” wrote Justice Kelen. 

Specifically, Kelen found the government is not living up to its own 2001 accessibility standards.

In a rare move, the justice said he will oversee implementation of Ottawa’s online retrofit and warned that the court will intervene if the government fails to act.

The National Union of Public and General Employees is pleased to profile and pay tribute to Jodhan and her successful human rights complaint as an especially appropriate way to highlight the objective behind IDPD, which is celebrated each year on Dec. 3.

NUPGE has also produced a poster in its series – ‘One Good Idea Deserves Another – Full Human Rights for All’ – to help celebrate and mark the occasion. The union invites members and the public to download and distribute the poster as widely as possible. Please click on the graphic in this article or the link below.

Established by the UN General Assembly in 1982, IDPD aims to promote a better understanding of disability issues. It provides an international focus on the rights of persons with disabilities as well as the gains to be derived from the integration of such individuals in every aspect of the life of their communities.

The objectives of IDPD are positively reflected in the outcome of the successful human rights case undertaken by Donna Jodhan.

Donna Jodhan’s difficult mission to challenge Ottawa to make federal websites more accessible to vision-impaired Canadians began a decade ago.

A computer-savvy accessibility consultant who also tweets and blogs, Jodhan is an activist who also serves as a vice-president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC).

She began her quest for job opportunities within the Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2000 but quickly discovered that the websites were extremely inaccessible to blind and vision-impaired Canadians.

Her appeals for help to officials within the PSC and the Treasury Board Secretariat were in vain and she quickly ended up becoming a one-person advocate trying to convince the government of the need to upgrade its websites.

Then in 2005, after Donna was refused the right to write an exam in Braille by a high profile federal department, she took her complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

Eventually, she resorted to a challenge based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the only way to get the government to pay attention to the problem.

Although Ottawa attempted to have the case thrown out on technical grounds, hearings eventually went forward on Sept. 21-23 of this year.

Donna’s determination to continue what she knew would be a long and difficult fight for better employment opportunities and equal access to information is best described in her own words:

“I am here because others before me fought very hard to make things better for my generation. So now it is up to me and my fellow blind and vision-impaired Canadians to continue the fight.”

Donna’s resolve to improve accessibility and to break down barriers to job opportunities is inspirational.

Yet in her modest words, she emphasizes, “My objective was solely to help make a difference in the lives of my fellow blind and vision-impaired Canadians. Nothing more.”

In celebration of IDPD and its objective to advance disability rights, NUPGE salutes Donna Jodhan for her determination, commitment and success at advancing human rights for all Canadians with disabilities.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

More information:

• Justice Kelen’s decision – Donna Jodhan v. Attorney General of Canada – PDF

• Download Poster – Persons with Disabilities Day – December 3