Most of take browsing the web for granted. All we need is a device, a solid Wi-Fi connection and we’re good to go, right?
But imagine being visually impaired, or having a mobility condition that interferes with your ability to hold a phone or use a keyboard. That’s why Ontario’s AODA law – which lays out regulations for how businesses accommodate people with disabilities – has a component on website design and usability.
If you have a business based in Ontario, your website is now subject to certain usability standards. It’s a big reason why companies have been investing in accessibility auditing lately, ensuring they are complying with the law’s digital regulations.
AODA what does it stand for?
Here’s a brief primer for you: the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) first came into effect in 2005. In a nutshell, it establishes accessibility standards for companies and professionals and lays out timelines for when certain classes of companies are required to put these standards into place. The standards address things like physical barriers to buildings, policies for service animals, various formatting of documents and accessibility training for staff. It’s all part of the province’s plan to make Ontario fully accessible to all residents, regardless of their abilities.
What does it mean for websites?
By law, you must make your website accessible by 2021 if you are either a public sector organization or if you are any type of an organization with 50 or more employees. Some of these regulations have been in place since 2014, and many companies aren’t even aware. This is where usability consulting comes into play, because, depending on your site, this could mean major overhauls to its appearance, functionality and content.
Here are some of the features your site either needs – or will need – to be AODA compliant:
- Text alternatives for non-text content. For example, a video would require a transcript and an image would require a written description
- Alternatives for time-based media, for example, a live video or audio sample that may take some users longer to view or process
- A layout that can be presented in different ways, for example, read clearly by text-to-speech software without losing information or meaning
- Distinguishable content. For example, content must have sufficient colour contrast to be read by those with low vision, and audio must have minimal background noise
- Time-sensitive tasks (filling out an online form, for example) must be kept to a minimum. Users who have sensory disabilities or who use assistive technology may take longer to access, read or engage with web content
- Websites are prohibited from using visuals that could cause seizures
How can you make sure your site complies?
Sound overwhelming? Though the laws are put in place with good intentions, it can definitely seem like a lot for the average company owner to take in, especially if web design isn’t something you’re intimately familiar with. That’s why accessibility auditing is a great tool to have at your disposal. Here’s what an audit can help you with:
Assessment using assistive technology
Accessibility auditing can include a final evaluation of your website to take note of any usability issues. It can even include a review of your site using assistive technology – like a screen reader, for example – which will ensure that both the look, feel and technical aspects are in line with AODA standards.
Web development plan
If you’re building a website from scratch or planning a significant overhaul, building accessibility auditing or usability consulting into the process can kickstart your accessibility. Be sure to ask your web development company if they have staff who are familiar with WAG 2.0, which is the level of regulation most websites are required to have.
Strategize for the future
Another thing an accessibility audit can help with is creating a record of enhancements or fixes you have made thus far to comply, as well as any steps you may have to take in the future. Not only does this help your site meet the new requirements as comprehensively as possible, but it’s good to have a record like this if your business is asked to prove that it’s compliant.
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