There has been lots of discussion about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) over the last few years, with many compliance deadlines having come and gone, and more still coming.
Accessibility on the web isn’t something that necessarily comes to mind when we think about providing accessible services, but as our lives migrate more and more into the virtual space, making digital content accessible is a crucial part of building an inclusive society. The AODA drafters did not overlook this, and AODA does apply to digital content.
While the AODA’s Customer Service Standards Regulation (which has since been revoked and subsumed into the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation) focused on ensuing accessibility to goods, services and facilities, the guidelines for digital content apply to information and communication.
“Information” is defined as “data, facts and knowledge” that exist in any format and that convey meaning. Under the Regulation “communications” means “the interaction between two or more persons or entities,” in any combination “where information is provided, sent or received.” This means pretty much everything, including information and communication conveyed by websites and apps.
Details regarding accessible digital content are covered under s.14 of Part II of the Integrated Accessibility Standards. Large organizations (50 or more people) were required to bring their new digital content in line with Level A of the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by January 1, 2014. All digital content published after January 1, 2012 will need to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA by January 1, 2021. The AODA does not apply to web content published prior to January 1, 2012, so don’t worry about trying to revamp your early 2000s GeoCities store!
The requirements to actually conform are set out in the WCAG 2.0, which is a technical standard. These cover things like “contrast ratios” and “keyboard interfaces,” and are firmly in the realm of the programmers and designers. The overarching goal is to have digital content that is equally accessible to all visitors. The WCAG seeks to accomplish this by removing common barriers such as print that is too small to read, or videos that don’t have closed captions. Content should be easily navigable and easy to both see and hear.
There are exceptions to compliance where meeting the requirements is “not practicable” or where content is “unconvertible.” This would cover situations where the technology needed to convert information is “not readily available” or where conversion is “not technically feasible.” Where information and communication cannot be made accessible, an explanation as to why must be provided and a summary of the unconvertible information should be available as a substitute.
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