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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 December 2013 the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) was passed. The legislation was designed to remove barriers for citizens of Manitoba, especially those with disabilities. The goal is to make the province more inclusive by 2023.

The Act is divided into Accessibility Standards surrounding the following key areas of daily living:

  • Customer Service Accessibility Standard – addresses the business practices and training required to provide better customer service to people with disabilities.
  • Employment Accessibility Standard – addresses the practices related to employee recruitment, hiring, and retention.
  • Information and Communications Accessibility Standard – addresses barriers to accessing information, including information provided in print, in person, on websites, or other formats.
  • Built Environment – this accessibility standard deals with access to those areas outside the jurisdiction of The Manitoba Building Code. These spaces include sidewalks, pathways, parks, and other aspects of the environment that are designed and constructed.
  • Transportation – this accessibility standard applies to public transportation and addresses barriers citizens might encounter while travelling to work, school, shopping, or other aspects of daily life.

The Accessibility for Manitobans 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.

It is vital 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 is currently focusing on standards for websites, and is expected to follow 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.

Each accessibility standard outlined by the Act provides details of the organizations or people who are impacted and the corresponding time period for compliance. Different types and sizes of organizations may have different requirements and timelines. Once a standard has been approved by the government, all organizations must comply within the given timelines. Non-compliance or infractions may result in penalties.

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.