Talk Canada: But not if you're visually impaired

Yesterday morning Prime Minister Stephen Harper performed a first, by being the first Canadian Prime Minister to have his remarks streamed live through YouTube. Before and after the PM's speech, and up until Sunday at 1:00pm ET, Canadians can login to the Talk Canada YouTUbe page to submit and vote on questions, which the PM will answer in another live stream on Tuesday.

As a completely blind Canadian and an Information and Communications Technology Accessibility Consultant (I help make information systems work for persons with disabilities), I take exception to the PM using technologies such as YouTube and Google Moderator (used for the questions and voting). These technologies were poorly accessible to me, and to other blind and partially sighted Canadians, including Derek Wilson who wrote about the barriers he faced. This is not the way that things need to be, it would have been very possible, should the PM have cared, to make the Talk Canada event easily accessible to a much wider range of Canadians, including the blind and visually impaired.

Since 1999 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has recommended Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to provide web developers and content authors guidance regarding how to make sure that what they produce is accessible by the widest range of persons possible, including persons with disabilities. The first set of guidelines, WCAG 1.0, which was recommended by W3C in 1999, was surpassed by the WCAG 2.0 recommendation in December of 2008. This new set of guidelines reflects changes in technology and how people are using the web.

On January 1, 2007, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) made effective the Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet (CLF 2.0), Part 2: Standard on the Accessibility, Interoperability and Usability of Web Sites, which is primarily based on the WCAG 1.0 recommendation. The context for this Standard is that:

Canadians have the right to obtain information and services from Government of Canada Web sites regardless of the technologies they use. The key to effective
implementation of universal accessibility lies in designing sites to serve the widest possible audience and the broadest possible range of hardware and
software platforms, from adaptive technologies to emerging technologies.

For many Canadians, accessing Web content is more complicated than clicking a mouse and typing on a keyboard. Some Canadians rely on adaptive technologies
such as text readers, audio players and voice-activated devices to overcome the barriers presented by standard Internet technologies. Others may be limited
by their own technology.

The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has developed universal accessibility guidelines. Along with these WAI guidelines and,
in keeping with the client-centred approach of Common Look and Feel, this standard is directed toward ensuring equitable access to all content on Government
of Canada Web sites. (

Understanding that the CLF 2.0 standard applies in the strictest sense to Government web-sites with domains, I question the value of the standards if the PM can circumvent them by hosting his video stream and the related questions on a web-site that is external to the domain. Not only did Prime Minister Harper circumvent the CLF 2.0 standards, it would appear that he also circumvented both WCAG 1.0 and WCAG 2.0, as the Talk Canada YouTube page fails to conform to either of these internationally recognized guidelines.

I believe in free speech, and I believe in social media as a powerful tool for speech and democracy. I also believe that the Canadian Charter of Rights, which applies to the Government, provides that:

15 (1) 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

Because of Prime Minister Harper's choice of how to host his live stream, and the related social media event, I, and many other Canadians, were not treated equally

When persons with disabilities face barriers to accessing information, services, and public debate, they are put at a disadvantage. When persons with disabilities are unable to access information, services, and public debate, they are denied the right to be full participants in society, culture and the economy.