An article released by the Toronto Star recently revealed that 70% of Ontario businesses are not in compliance with Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

This means that only 30% of business owners in the province have taken the necessary steps to know that their business, including their website, is optimized for accessibility.

What is AODA?

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was established in 2005 to provide guidelines for Ontario organizations to follow in ensuring access to customers with disabilities. The Act covers standards for areas such as customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation, and design of public spaces.

Standards for information and communication also apply to websites. AODA adopted the international standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) Levels A and AA, which set rules for all websites and web applications to be tested against in terms of accessibility.

What is an accessible website?

An accessible website is developed, and its content written, so that all users can access the content and use the functionality, no matter of disability, location, experience, or the device being used.

For example, a blind user may use a screen reader to access your website, a deaf user would be unable to hear the audio in a video, and a user with issues with fine motor skills may be unable to use a mouse. WCAG 2.0 sets standards for how your content should be accessible in all of these use cases and more.

Why is website accessibility important?

First and foremost, creating an accessible website is the right thing to do. It is estimated that 1 in 7 people in Ontario alone have a disability, and this number is expected to grow as the general population ages.

These users may require assistive devices like screen readers and screen magnifiers, may be partially or fully colour blind, or may be unable to use a mouse. Under these circumstances, portions of, or an entire website may not be accessible to these users.

That is a significant percentage of your user base that may not be able to navigate your website to access content or purchase a product or service, directly resulting in lost revenue.

Beyond this, based on the size and type of your business, updating or developing its website to adhere to AODA is also the law. Soon, the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment will begin enforcement measures for businesses that do not comply with the standards set out in AODA. How the standards are to be enforced has not yet been released, but the Act itself does allow for monetary fines to be issued for non-compliance.

What other benefits does an accessible website offer?

It’s important to keep in mind that a website built or updated to adhere to WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards improves its ease of use for all users, not only disabled users.

Accessible websites can also improve search rankings, as the content is more easily accessible to search crawlers like Google. For example, under WCAG 2.0 standards, all images require alternative text descriptions. These descriptions create content that was originally only available in an image as text, which means that search crawlers can now “read” that extra content, too.

What do you have to do in order to comply with AODA?

The Ministry has created an AODA Compliance Wizard on its website where you can answer questions about your business to find out what portions of the Act you need to comply with, and the associated deadlines.

Most businesses are behind on compliance deadlines already. For a lot of businesses’ websites, the deadline to comply with WCAG 2.0 Level A web accessibility standards is quickly approaching on January 1, 2014. The Ministry aims to see that all websites and web content comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA by January 1, 2021.

With these deadlines approaching, it is even more important to have your website audited and updated as soon as possible. An Accessibility Audit will give you a comprehensive overview of your current website’s accessibility and flag any errors that may cause it to fail compliance.

Industrial offers auditing services which provide you with a report on how your website measures against WCAG 2.0 Level A & AA standards, and which identifies areas for improvement and recommended fixes. For more information about how an Accessibility Audit can benefit your organization, please contact Jeff Horne.