National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality

February 16, 2005 16:11 ET

Government websites open to hackers, closed to the blind

Auditor General's own web site unreadable by blind Attention: Government/Political Affairs Editor VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(CCNMatthews - Feb. 16, 2005) - The federal government's own web sites are easy prey for hackers yet are still largely unreadable by law-abiding blind Canadians, infuriating an advocacy organization of the blind.

A report released this week by Auditor General Sheila Fraser slams the feds for "unsatisfactory progress in strengthening information technology security since our audit in 2002." It doesn't even mention the government's failure to make its web sites accessible to the blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind community. And that doesn't surprise members of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE).

"What irony that a hacker can easily breach government websites but blind people can't," says Geof Collis, NFB:AE member and author of a web site evaluation report critical of the federal government. "Most other developed nations have laws ensuring government sites are accessible to every citizen. We don't have laws, only guidelines, and our government doesn't meet even minimum standards."

Collis did random checks of government web sites and found that even the Governor General's own web site only passed priority one, out of a possible three, for the government's Common Look and Feel guidelines. "It was just terrible. And the Federal Court of Appeal web site is just garbage. I was having a field day with that one. Very few of the sites met or exceeded the guidelines."

A web designer himself, Collis admits that before his eyesight failed because of Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, his own web sites were not fully accessible to blind people. He learned a screen reading software program called JAWS and became aware of how much of the web was restricted to him. "Even with JAWS, trying to read a simple PDF file is like having a door slammed in your face. You can't access that. That's where the blindness really affects me. Now in my web designs I can meet any standard and can use any technology," he says. "If I can do that research, why can't the government?"

Collis wants the government to first raise the Common Look and Feel Standards, make them laws rather than a guidelines, and then hire blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people to test the web sites. "What really irks me is that they'll buy JAWS, turn the screen off, and have a sighted person test the site. I can always tell when they do that by how the site is laid out."

The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality was formed in 1992 to empower its members and to break down existing barriers and stereotypes the blind must deal with daily. The non-profit organization offers mentorship and scholarship programs, public education, as well as The Blind Monitor, a magazine published in various alternative formats.

Judy Y. Smith: NFB:AE Public Information Coordinator in Vancouver 604.689.2577 cell 604.910.2266
(Geof Collis in Ontario 705.357.2117, picture available)
/For further information: Mentioned in story: Geof Collis 705.357.2117/ IN: POLITICS

Contact Information

  • Judy Y. Smith, Public Information Coordinator, National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality
    Primary Phone: 604-689-2577
    Secondary Phone: 604-910-2266
    Toll-Free: 800-561-4774
    E-mail: smith@nfbae.ca