The first deadline of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) just passed on June 1, creating an important reminder for Canadian businesses to focus on their accessibility practices. The law sets out to remove accessibility barriers in Canada by 2040. It requires government-regulated employers with 100 or more employees to publish an accessibility plan.
Future deadlines will require smaller government-regulated employers to soon do the same. What makes this task somewhat challenging is that the ACA doesn’t offer explicit requirements for online accessibility. Business leaders are therefore finding it harder to properly navigate and approach accessibility.
In addition, companies are facing requirements outside of the ACA alone. Other laws apply and also may differ based on whether an organization is public or private, where it’s established, whether it serves multiple provinces and how many employees it has. As a result, it’s best for all businesses in Canada to take steps now to ensure their websites and online resources are accessible, whether the ACA applies to them yet or not. After all, about 22% of Canadians have one or more disabilities. Companies that neglect to offer accessibility, therefore, exclude a large percentage of the total market.
Fortunately for Canadian companies and anyone doing business in the country, working with accessibility partners like Verbit can streamline the process and make it easier to meet government expectations. Here’s our overview of the ACA, as well as a few tips for anyone working in Canada to make their websites accessible.
The ACA explained
The ACA’s goal is to remove barriers and make life and work better for people with disabilities. Currently, it only applies to certain entities, including:
- The Canadian Government
- Crown corporations, or federally regulated private sector companies
- The Canadian Armed Forces
- Telecommunications service providers
- Financial institutions
The law leaves out most private corporations, and therefore limits its ability to truly make Canada accessible.
Why online accessibility guidelines remain blurry
The ACA applies to physical spaces, but one of its main goals is to make technology and telecommunications more accessible. Currently, the law doesn’t offer technical guidelines regarding how to achieve accessibility online. Therefore, organizations that the law applies to are left without concrete guidance on what the ACA would consider an accessible website. Fortunately, there are other places to find this information.
Strict accessibility standards in Canada
While the ACA may lack many of specifics Canadian professionals need, it isn’t always relevant. Many Canadians live in states with robust provincial online accessibility laws. For instance, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) applies to corporations with 50 or more employees and requires that online spaces meet the standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA.
Although Ontario is just one of 10 provinces, it accounts for 40% of the country’s population. As a result, the AODA likely impacts many companies located in other parts of Canada that still do business in Ontario. Making yourself familiar with WCAG standards and the AODA is, therefore, critical.
What makes a website accessible?
Ontario follows WCAG standards for accessibility. WCAG is a highly respected set of international guidelines that governments around the world incorporate into their own online accessibility regulations. Using WCAG’s standards makes for consistency, even across national borders.
The organization that publishes the WCAG, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), also updates its standards periodically. These updates are important to keep up with technology and expectations as they evolve over time.
The WCAG offers detailed technical requirements in four broad areas, which deem that content must be:
Perceivable refers to the need to offer alternate communication formats. Professionals must consider braille, speech, captioning or audio description based on the use case. Requirements are also laid out for adequate color contrast for text. In essence, content must be available in various forms so that people who are Deaf, blind, colorblind or have other disabilities can access it.
This requirement pertains to web layouts. Keyboard navigation is one instance that allows people to move around a site without the use of a mouse. Other considerations within the “operable” category are the need to use headers, which make it easier to navigate using a screen reader, which is a device that reads on-screen text aloud for the benefit of people who are blind.
Even if the content is in the right format, it might be confusing and difficult to understand for some. This section of the WCAG addresses the importance of writing content in a way that’s easy to interpret. For example, it’s best to use writing that doesn’t require a reading level above lower secondary education.
This section addresses the ability of online resources to work with assistive technologies. It also requires things like status messages, which let users know when form submissions are accepted, pending or fail to work.
The WCAG is a great resource for anyone who wants to make their online content more accessible. For business leaders who want to avoid violating Canadian accessibility standards, WCAG can offer far more precise guidance than the law does.
How Canadian businesses should approach accessibility
Accessibility shouldn’t be about trying to do the bare minimum required by the patchwork of Canadian accessibility laws. Instead, following updates to international standards like the WCAG can help offer clear guidance while also allowing a business to reach more potential customers.
If you’re unsure where to start, consider reaching out to Verbit to support your accessibility initiatives. We’re working with institutions around the world. We can help to provide guidance on the laws in Canada, as well as solutions like captions and transcripts to begin implementing on your site and videos now.