World Braille Day: Empowering the Visually-Impaired under Canadian Law

January 4, 2024
Rosemary Bocska

Article written by Rosemary Bocska

As we commemorate World Braille Day on January 4th each year, it offers us a great opportunity to take a closer look at the tools the visually-impaired have available to them while navigating our complex legal system. In the following article learn more about ensuring everyone has proper access to justice, and specifically how Canadian Family Law empowers the visually-impaired. 

Blind man reading a braille book

Empowering the Visually-Impaired under Canadian Law

The discussion starts with the legal basics of accommodating for disabilities. Canada has a long and proud history of recognizing the unique needs of those with various challenges, and of ensuring their needs are accommodated in various realms. As this translates to Family Law access, the rights are enshrined in several sources including The Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, H.19., The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, S.O. 2005, c. 11., and The Accessible Canada Act, C. 2019, c. 10.

These statutes are the culmination of several decades worth of initiatives. Way back in December of 2006, for example, the Ontario government published a Report titled “Making Ontario’s Courts Fully Accessible to Persons with Disabilities”. It represented the findings of a newly-appointed Courts Disability Committee, which received input from numerous stakeholders. As it pertained to the challenges faced by the visually impaired who needed legal representation, the Report noted the results of its Survey:

Counsel reported that it was exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to get timely access to court materials in Braille and other alternative formats. Blind individuals too often cannot access court materials that are on-line in PDF form, because the PDF format is less accessible than other electronic formats for the range of adaptive technology that blind, low vision and dyslexic persons use to read electronic text.

Through that 2007 Report, the Committee recommended broad-ranging improvements to make the justice system fully accessible, all of which are currently seen in multiple aspects of the modern-day justice system. There has been recent scholarly research on whether Court websites are sufficiently accessible.[1]

Making the Family Justice System Accessible for You

If you are a person with visual impairment, then you’ll want to know how all of this translates into making the justice system accessible to you. Here are your key points and resources:

  • Accessibility policies work for you. All Ontario Courts must comply with the province’s Public Service accessibility policies.  This means that all public service staff have been trained to optimize accessibility, including facilitating the use of accessible formats and personal assistive devices, and support persons.
  • Accessibility Coordinators. Every Ontario provincial Courthouse has an Accessibility Coordinator on staff. This person is tasked with providing information, and identifying what accommodations are available for those persons with visual impairments or other disabilities. This might include equipment or services that make it easier to access the justice system. This is in line with the policies provided on the Ontario government’s document titled, “Going to Court: Accessibility”, which is found on its website.

    The Accessibility Coordinator does not provide legal advice directly (this is always the role for your own duly-qualified Ontario Family Lawyer). However, they can assist with physical access to and filing of documents, once you have taken steps to obtain the appropriate legal advice on what forms are needed, and how to complete them.
  • Discrimination-free legal representation. Finally, Ontario human rights legislation mandates that lawyers must provide their services without discriminating on the basis of visual impairment. Some Ontario lawyers specialize in assisting those with disabilities. (And note that for those who currently do not, the Law Society of Ontario has specific training. There are also Continuing Legal Education materials for lawyers, that delve into issues that may be unique to these individuals).

Legal professional explaining options to client

What Types of Accommodation Can You Expect?

If you are a visually-impaired person who has a Family Law matter to deal with, you can expect a range of accommodation and support from Court Services, depending on what might benefit you most.

This can include receiving accessible or alternative document formats of Court Forms or other documents (such as braille, or electronic formats that allow for braille displays, large print, and audio recordings). If obtaining the Court document, Form or needed information involves a fee to the public, then you will have to pay this in the normal course; however there is no extra charge for obtaining any of these materials in an alternative and accessible format.

What About Attending Your Family Law Hearing?

During your divorce process or other Family Law proceeding, you will be entitled to the reasonable accommodation measures that suit your needs. Once again, the Accessibility Coordinator will work with you to come up with the necessary arrangements. You will need to contact the Ontario Courthouse where your matter is being heard, and should do so far in advance of your hearing date.

Note that the judge on your divorce hearing may need to be informed of your request for accommodation in advance, and may need to approve it, especially if you are bringing your own personal assistive devices or assistive technology.

The judge may also provide instructions on how procedural steps – such as filing deadlines – can or might be changed. Depending on the nature of your Family Law matter, any support person you bring may have to sign a confidentiality agreement. All of this can be explored in advance of your hearing, again by contacting the Accessibility Coordinator.

Lawyer meeting with a client

Navigating a Divorce as a Visually-Impaired Person

Finally, you may be wondering about the broader challenges you may face, when dealing with your divorce and navigating the Family Law procedure.  The good news, is that you have many resources available to you. Here are some tips:

  • Get support from your own Family lawyer. As mentioned above, some Ontario lawyers specialize in assisting those with disabilities. Others have received specific training on how to help make the accommodation process easier, when navigating the legal system. This is key to getting the best outcome.
  • Exploit other available resources. If you have visual impairments or related disabilities, you have several community resources that you can take advantage of. For example:
    • The ARCH Disability Law Centre provides a limited range of free legal services to those who are visually-impaired, or who have other disabilities. It is funded primarily by Legal Aid Ontario.
    • Many other advocacy and awareness groups can give you non-legal, personal/emotional support during a difficult divorce process. These include the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), which is a registered charity and the “national voice” in advocacy for Canadians who are blind or partially-sighted. It provides programs and advocacy, along with regional information on support services. Another is the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), which offers advocacy, programs, and information for people with blindness.


The Family Law system can be daunting for anyone. As we celebrate World Braille Day, it’s important to renew our collective commitment to creating a legal system in Canada that embraces inclusivity. In this country – as in many others – access to justice is a fundamental right.

[1] Cody Rei-Anderson, Graham Reynolds (Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia), Jayde Wood, Natasha Wood, Access to Justice Online: Are Canadian Court Websites Accessible for Users with Visual Impairments? (April 19, 2018), The Peter A. Allard School of Law (University of British Columbia), Allard Research Commons, Allard Faculty Publications.