In 2005, the Ontario Government introduced the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Since then, businesses and organizations throughout Ontario have been required to update their business practices at their physical locations to make life easier for those people with disabilities.
However, the Act is not limited to the physical world. As of January 1, 2014, the Act requires that many new websites for Ontario businesses be made more accessible to those with disabilities.
Specifically, the Act states:
“If you launch a new public website or your existing site undergoes a significant refresh, the site and any of its web content published after January 1, 2012, must conform to the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level A.”
Currently, this requirement only applies to public sector organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees. Failure to comply with this requirement can result in fines of up to $50,000 per day for directors and officers of these organizations. In addition, fines up up to $100,000 per day can be levied against the corporation.
However for small businesses (less than 50 employees as defined by the Act), there are no requirements – yet.
What are the benefits of making your website accessible?
Even if you are not required by law to make your website more accessible, it may be a good idea to do so anyways. You open yourself up to being a good source of information to potential buyers of your products or services who may have disabilities when accessing the web.
It also means that you are set of the future, knowing that you already comply with the web’s “best practices” for accessibility and are prepared for any future laws that are enacted.
What is involved in making your website more accessible?
The AODA requirements follow the Website Contact Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0. WCAG 2.0 is an internationally accepted standard for web accessibility. It was created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) who are made of a collection of web experts from around the globe.
WCAG 2.0 provides guidelines for businesses to follows in order to ensure that their websites are accessible to visitors with disabilities. Included in the guidelines are suggestions for clear language, providing alternate text for imagery, and ensure that a mouse is not required to navigate your site.
There are three levels to the guideline: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. Level AAA provides the highest level of accessibility.
What level should we aim for?
For most businesses, Level A would be a good start to aim for as it is relatively easy to achieve. In fact, most web developers who follow industry best practices, are probably already creating Level A compliant websites whether they know it or not.
While it would involve more effort and planning, making your new website confirm to Level AA of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines would significantly increase its usability to visitors with disabilities. And you don’t have to sacrifice your website’s aesthetics to achieve Level AA.