Why is Web Accessibility Important?
The Internet is perhaps the greatest inventions since the wheel. Think about what you use the Internet for in your daily life. Do you use it for work and leisure, for communication, shopping, government licenses and forms, or for education? Our lives revolve around the Internet and the services it provides, however, much of the Internet is inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Over 16% of Ontarians have a disability and that is expected to rise over the coming years as the population ages. By 2036, 47% of Ontario’s population is expected to be over 65 years of age. These are figures CSAE members cannot ignore! Everyone knows someone with a disability and that is why accessibility is so important to Ontario’s future. Accessibility affects multiple lives. It affects everyone.
Barriers to Accessible Communication
Vision impairment is one of the most common forms of disability. Do you wear glasses or know someone who does? There are many visual elements on a website that contribute to person’s experience or use of your site. Low contrast between text and background, small font size, long line lengths of text, or spacing that is too great or too small are some of the factors that can prevent someone from reading your web content.
Going deeper, many blind website visitors use a screen reader to access content online. However, much of the web is inaccessible to them due to lack of semantic coding, images with alternative (ALT) text, meaningful hyperlinks, keyboard navigation, and other factors.
There are other disabilities too, such as cognitive and mobility impairments. Barriers to people with cognitive impairments can include inconsistent layout or navigation elements, too much information on one page, unclear content, and flashing elements. We have found through our work with people with disabilities that web applications such as BrowseAloud are helpful, because they can read text aloud, highlight and define words for readers, or make audio files of website content.
People with mobility impairments sometimes use assistive devices to browse a website, such as a pointer stick, switch, or operating a computer through breath, eye gaze, or voice control. To ensure your website can be accessed through alternative means, make sure it can be navigate with a keyboard with clear and easy-to-access links and menus.
Everyone has the right to communicate. Your organization’s ability to provide information in accessible formats is not only the right thing to do, but allows you to reach all clients, staff, and the public – no matter what their abilities are. As our population ages and medicine advances, accessibility continues to become more and more important for you, your organization, and your community.
Ontario’s Accessibility Law
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) became law in 2005 with the aim to create a fully accessible province by 2025. The AODA includes rules that all businesses and organizations have to follow to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility in Ontario. The AODA has specific dates and guidelines for organizations like yours to follow to help you progress towards being a fully accessible by the 2025 deadline.
One important standard that the AODA includes is the Information and Communication Standard which lays out the requirements for Internet and intranet websites. The standard states:
“Designated public sector organizations and large organizations shall make their internet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, initially at Level A and increasing to Level AA…” O. Reg. 191/11, s. 14 (2).
Website Accessibility Compliance
Starting January 1, 2014, all new websites and web content, or significantly redesigned websites, published by large businesses and nonprofit organizations are required to abide by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A. And, as of January 1, 2021, all internet website and web content will be required to be fully accessible under WCAG 2.0 Level AA. Failing to meet these requirements can have severe financial repercussions.
Fortunately, WCAG lays out a clear and thorough set of guidelines for organizations to follow in order to become Level A and Level AA compliant. Although it is tempting to start with Level A, we have found in our work that it is more cost effective for organizations in the long run to aim towards Level AA or Level AAA compliance when first thinking about accessibility. Further information on WCAG, including examples and techniques, can be freely accessed through the website, How to Meet WCAG 2.0: Quick Reference.
Would you like to learn more about website and document accessibility? Accessibility Services Canada offers workshops and webinars for technical as well as non-technical staff. Check out our accessibility training sessions.