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The importance of being accessible

November 12, 2020 / Sarah Manley

According to Statistics Canada, over 6 million Canadians have some form of disability. This equates to 1 in 5 people, or 22% of our country’s population, dealing with issues relating to hearing, vision, mobility, memory, mental state or other function. For these individuals, participating in daily activities such as shopping, dining out, attending schools and surfing the web can be a challenge, unless the service providers ensure that their experience is at the same level as everyone else’s. This means providing a fully accessible environment for all Canadians.

In 2019, the Federal Government passed The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) with unanimous support by the House of Commons and Senate. This important Act transformed how the government approaches accessibility standards across the country in sectors such as financial transacting, transportation and telecommunications.

Before this, in April 2017 Nova Scotia passed its Accessibility Act, also known as Bill 59. The goal of this legislation is to make Nova Scotia inclusive and barrier-free by 2030. Through the Act, the government is developing accessibility standards in the following areas:

  • Goods and Services - ensure that people with disabilities have equitable access to goods and services.
  • Information and Communications - ensure all people can receive, understand, and share the information they need. This includes off and online interactions.
  • Transportation - make it easier for everyone to get where they need to go.
  • Employment - make workplaces accessible, and supporting people with disabilities in finding meaningful employment.
  • Built Environment - make public buildings, streets, sidewalks, and shared spaces accessible to all.
  • Education - make the education system accessible to all students, from early childhood to post-secondary.

The Act has established several accessibility standards to be followed when dealing with the public, in both private and public sectors. There are numerous tools and resources available to help with planning and implementation of the various standards.

Whether mandated by government or not, it is important to ensure that all aspects of your business are accessible to anyone. This includes consumers, vendors and service providers, employees – virtually any human being that may walk in your door, talk to you over the phone or visit your website. And, it’s important to remember that not all disabilities are physically obvious, so being prepared to provide an accessible experience to everyone is fundamental.

One focus of accessibility is ensuring your website is usable by anyone. The Act recognizes the standards laid out by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (currently referred to as WCAG 2.1). This includes ensuring your website is:

  • Perceivable: including alternative text for non-text content (images), providing captions and transcripts for multi-media, and making it easy to see and hear all of your content.
  • Operable: making all functionality available via a keyboard, giving enough time for your content to be read, avoiding flash or moving content that could invoke seizures, creating easy navigation and the ability to input through means other than a keyboard.
  • Understandable: making all text readable and understandable, ensuring content appears and operates in a predictable manner.
  • Robust: programmed to be compatible with various assistive tools.

While Nova Scotia is currently the only province in the Maritimes with a specific Accessibility Act being enforced, this doesn’t mean other provincial mandates aren’t coming. It’s a good idea to begin the work now to ensure your physical and online spaces are inclusive and barrier-free.

The good news is by ensuring all aspects of your business are accessible to everyone, you’ve opened your doors to potentially 22% more consumers who may be looking for insurance.