Through the Know Your Rights Project, the CNIB Foundation has developed plain language legal information and resources (fact sheets, videos, training, etc.) to empower Ontarians who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind to better understand their rights, navigate the Ontario legal system, and self-advocate to challenge discrimination.
The development of these important resources was graciously funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario.
We spoke with Jason Mitschele, Member, Steering Committee and Member, CNIB Foundation Ontario & Quebec Board, and Avery Au, Project Lead, about their experiences.
Why were you interested in getting involved in the Know Your Rights project?
Avery: In 2018, I presented at the Ontario Digital Inclusion Summit on how inclusive design and open access to legal information can improve access to justice. After my talk, I was approached by a CNIB Foundation board member who connected me with staff working on the Know Your Rights project, which was just starting up at that time.
Jason: There are not enough plain language materials that tell people in clear terms what their rights are and, most importantly, how to enforce them. I've heard from far too many people that the legal system in Ontario is too complex and too costly for victims of discrimination to pursue a claim.
What legal issues did you frequently hear about in the sight loss community?
Avery: Before I started on this project, I didn’t appreciate how common it is for people with sight loss to encounter discrimination. We began the Know Your Rights project by convening focus groups across Ontario. We found many patterns of discrimination, with serious issues in the workplace, housing, and accessing services.
How do you think the Know Your Rights resources will benefit Ontarians with sight loss?
Avery: Our goal was to present this information in a way that speaks directly to our community’s specific experiences and concerns. We have invested in training CNIB staff to be more knowledgeable and confident in their ability to provide relevant legal information and connect participants with legal services. I hope people will find these resources to be an essential stepping stone to connect with community supports.
If you could tell legal professionals one thing about providing accessible legal service, what would it be?
Avery: Be proactive in thinking about whether their practice is accessible. There are many times when we’ve heard from people who’ve received legal documents as scanned images even when the original file format was accessible (e.g. MS Word or accessible PDF). Not only is it incredibly frustrating to be shut out of a legal process, but it also deprives people of their independence and dignity.
Jason: Listen to the needs of the client. Perhaps they will require the assistance of a support person or other challenges that they want to communicate. The legal professional must be compassionate and empathetic in their pursuit of their client’s best interests.
The CNIB Foundation continues to seek out opportunities to advance this vital work. We will be working with law students from Pro Bono Students Canada over the next year to expand our legal information resources.
Read more articles from the September 2019 issue of Equalize:
- Call for National Elections Advocates/ Elections Accessibility
- Bill C-81 Royal Assent
- Tips for Accessible Airline Travel
- Educate to Advocate – Empowering Advocacy Across Ontario
- CNIB Foundation releases The ABCs of iOS manual
- Tales of a Guide Dog Handler
- Deafblind Community Services etiquette session at the London Community Hub
- Ambassador spotlight: Guy Carriere meets his hero
- Have your say on making information accessible in Ontario
- Become a Guide Dog Champion!