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Improving web accessibility – our own!

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Image: www.cnib.ca

Customers demand more of businesses in so many ways these days—better quality and safety, greater social and environmental responsibility, extra service, and accessibility. The law increases its demands frequently, too. Even our governments and public service providers have a hard time keeping up with the legal requirements! Making improvements in all of these areas can challenge an organization, but only accessibility offers the advantage of access to a market of unrealized potential.

Many businesses will find themselves in new territory when it comes to making workplace changes to accommodate disabilities and age-related conditions. With the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in place, and the accessibility standards on their way, we’ll all be finding our way together.

At First Reference Talks, we’ve recently received comments on difficulties accessing our web content, particularly leaving comments on our posts. We were using the common CAPTCHA system, which asks users to type a distorted series of numbers and letters before allowing them to comment—to prevent automated spam comments. But it turns out CAPTCHAs are incompatible with screen readers (devices persons with blindness and loss of vision use to access web content).

In addition, Glenda Watson Hyatt of Blog Accessibility writes:

CAPTCHAs do not keep out only people who are blind. With the distortion of characters or extraneous markings, people with learning disabilities, particularly dyslexia, can have difficulty deciphering what the actual characters are. Likewise, with poor colour contrast, those individuals with colour blindness or low vision can also have difficulty getting past the CAPTCHA step.

Even sighted readers with no disability were having trouble with the CAPTCHAs!

CAPTCHAs, suggests Watson Hyatt, are like “no blind people allowed” signs: “Sorry, your opinions, ideas, expertise—or purchases!—aren’t welcome here.”

Well, that’s not who we are, and it’s certainly not the way we want customers to see us. First Reference Talks has switched to a more accessible system that asks users to answer a simple multiple choice question, such as, “What shape does the Earth resemble?” Try it out; leave a comment on this post! (However, when choosing a more accessible encryption system for comments, you’ll probably have to combine it with a strong anti-spam plug-in.)

It’s not just that improving accessibility is the law, and it’s not just the opportunity for profit; it’s the right thing to do. And everyone benefits from more responsive, flexible and accommodating businesses. Disability is an issue that has remained out of sight despite its prevalence, and we are all realizing that the situation isn’t working any more.

First Reference is currently preparing to help organizations in Ontario meet their obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I’ve been surprised by the issues and potential solutions several times, and I can only imagine the effort over the next few years as businesses modify their operations for accessibility.

Of course, our switch from inaccessible tool to more accessible tool is only a small step in response to an unexpected problem. We’ll make many more changes, small and large, reactive and proactive, in the future. Tell us what you’re doing to make your websites more accessible for people with all types of disabilities.

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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