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The importance of being accessible

November 04, 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.

Long before this, in 2005 Ontario introduced the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (or AODA), which mandates that organizations in the private and public sectors follow an established set of accessibility standards when dealing with the public. There are a variety of obligations that all organizations must comply with, depending on the size and type of company. Should an organization fail to comply, the fines can be significant.

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.

A number of important deadlines have already passed. This snapshot of compliance deadlines provides a good overview of the various accessibility requirements by date.

An important deadline coming very soon is that all websites must be level AA compliant according to the rules outlined 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.

The deadline to ensure your website is compliant is January 1, 2021 (for organizations with 50+ employees).

Not to worry, however. There are a myriad of resources available to help you. Simply search “AODA Compliance Resources” and pages of results will be returned. There are also various checklists, and tools to help you complete your organization’s accessibility compliance report.

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.