Accessibility Requirements for Ontario Websites
Ontario provincial legislation may require your new website (or updates to your existing site) to accommodate disabled users, effective immediately. Many people are unaware of this, including a surprising number of web designers.
"All private and non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees and all public sector organizations will need to make their websites accessible."
Websites exist to deliver content. Whether the ultimate goal is to sell, educate, influence, inspire, amuse, or something else, it all starts with getting your content to the user.
"Responsive web design" is what we call it when a website works on all devices, but it doesn't account for the wide variety of users of those devices.
"Accessibility" is a second layer of consideration that makes websites useful for everyone.
It's only when these two things are put together that we have websites that work on all devices and for all users. Even today we see new websites being built that fail on both counts!
Accessibility is a broader, deeper, better way of thinking about websites in general, that ensures everyone can access your content.
Why Were The Guidelines Created?
The Ontario Ministry of Community & Social Services created the guidelines to benefit disabled people, for whom many websites are of little use. Specialized products like screen readers for the blind can help in some cases, but don't solve the underlying issue of poor design. The guidelines address disabilities such as:
- being deaf
- being blind, partially blind, or colour blind
- having no use of fingers/hands/arms
- having motor skills issues
- having epilepsy
- having a learning disability
But the guidelines also make your website more useful for anyone who:
- is elderly (i.e. issues can involve eyesight, hearing, coordination, etc.)
- speaks English as a second language
- isn't a savvy web user
- is using a device outdoors (i.e. bright sunlight)
- has a display that's dark, faded, scratched, under a protective cover, etc.
Do These Guidelines Apply To You?
As quoted above, the legislation applies to "all private and non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees and all public sector organizations" in Ontario. If your business or organization falls into that definition, then you must find a webmaster who is familiar with, and capable of implementing, the guidelines.
This came into effect on January 1, 2014, yet websites are still being built that are not in compliance. Some web designers (both freelance and agencies) are simply not implementing the guidelines as required.
I personally encourage you to include accessibility in your future website plans regardless, because it makes the web a better place for everyone, and aside from anything else, it's a good investment in the long-term success of your site.
What Does It Mean For Your Website?
Here's a sampling of what the Ontario legislation requires of websites:
- your users must be able to navigate with only a keyboard (i.e. without a mouse or touch screen)
- images and graphics must have meaningful alternative captions and text
- text must be easy to read, even for those with poor eyesight
- links must clearly say what they do (i.e. not "Click here", but "Click here for warranty details")
- links that go to another website should say so (i.e. "External link to Google maps")
- all content (text, images, etc.) should scale properly when zooming in and out (responsive design takes care of this when done right)
Under the Ontario legislation, things like these are obsolete:
- anti-spam and login tools that use only images (i.e. Captcha); an audio alternative must be available and easy to use
- text inside graphics - can't be seen by screen readers
- Flash - the content (images, video, text, etc.) can't be seen by screen readers
If these guidelines apply to you, updates to your current website from now on must be accessible. For a new website, or significant update of your existing one, it must fully comply with the accessibility legislation.
The Ontario legislation is called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).
One part of the AODA is called the Integrated Accessibility Standards (Regulation 191/11), and the specific standard that applies to websites is the Accessibility Standard for Information and Communications.
The foundation of the Ontario website guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level A, published by the W3C.
For more information, you can read this Ministry guide to the legislation (pdf) or talk to your web designer. If you'd like my help, feel free to drop me an email or phone call.