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Is Your Business Ready for the 2021 Website Accessibility Requirements?

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Is Your Business Ready for the 2021 Website Accessibility Requirements?

On January 1, 2021, the Ontario government’s AODA website accessibility requirements came into effect.

Whether you’ve just learned about the legislation, or you’re actively making website changes to ensure compliance, the AODA website requirements can feel daunting. In this blog post we’ll help you understand what it means for your business.

Which Businesses are Required to Comply with the AODA Website Accessibility Requirements?

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)’s requirements apply to both private and non-profit organizations with 50+ employees, as well as public sector organizations. If your business or non-profit falls under this category, you might be familiar with the first set (Level A) of AODA requirements that were due by January 1, 2014.

If your organization has fewer than 50 employees, you’re not on the hook to meet these requirements. However, from a best practice standpoint you may want to consider implementing them even if you’re not legally obligated to.

What is the Purpose of the Website Accessibility Requirements?

The AODA’s website accessibility standards are aimed at making websites more usable and adaptable for people with disabilities.

The number of people with disabilities in Ontario is increasing. In order to remove barriers and improve equity, the Ontario government established the AODA. Improved accessibility is not only the right thing to do, but there are also measurable improvements to business and the economy when all Ontarians are able to access businesses and services.

Compliance with the AODA is not only a legal obligation (and you can face steep financial penalties for non-compliance), but it’s also a matter of good business.

Look at it this way: 15.5% of Ontarians have a disability. When your website meets accessibility standards, you can better reach and include this population. Furthermore, following these guidelines will generally improve the UX design of websites, even for users without disabilities.

What were the Previous Requirements?

The AODA’s requirements are based on the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, a globally-recognized set of online accessibility standards that includes three levels: A, AA, and AAA.

Level A came into effect in 2014. As a starting point for website accessibility standards, it was applicable for new public websites, significantly re-vamped websites and web content published after January 1, 2012.

Areas covered by the Level A requirements includes:

  • Providing text alternatives for non-text content
  • Providing alternatives to video-only and audio-only content
  • Using captions for videos with audio
  • Presenting content in a meaningful order
  • Using more than one sense when giving instructions
  • Identifying the language of the page
  • Avoiding presentations that rely solely on colour
  • Making your site accessible by keyboard only (and avoiding trapping keyboard users)

A comprehensive list of the Level A requirements is available here.

What Changed in January 2021?

Level A provided a solid framework to make websites more accessible for users with disabilities. On January 1, 2021, Level AA requirements came into effect. Level AA includes all Level A requirements and builds on them.

Some of the requirements that were introduced include:

  • Using captions with live videos
  • Providing access to audio description for video content
  • Ensuring a contrast ratio between web text and the background of at least 4:5:1
  • Avoiding using images of text
  • Offering multiple ways to find pages
  • Using clear headings and labels
  • Ensuring consistent navigation and identification
  • Building in functionality to suggest fixes when users make errors (and reducing the risk of input errors for sensitive data)

You can read full descriptions of the level AA requirements here.

The accessibility standards are designed to build progressively upon one another. That means, it’s best to adapt the requirements in sequence and complete Level A before implementing Level AA.

Making a Compliance Plan for Level AA Requirements

In order to meet the upcoming compliance requirements, it’s important for businesses to plan ahead and gather the expertise they need.

If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth planning and delivery process:

1. Look Back and Learn from the Level A Process

If your business completed the 2014 Level A accessibility requirements, begin by looking back and evaluating that process. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did the process go as planned?
  • What difficulties did you encounter?
  • What worked well? What didn’t work well?
  • Did you meet all your deadlines?
  • Did you have the in-house expertise you needed?
  • Has anything changed in your organization that would affect your ability to meet Level AA requirements?

Sitting down and conducting a brief evaluation of this process will help avoid roadblocks and bolster your business’ ability to effectively meet the new requirements.

2. Develop a Clear Project Plan

The next step is to develop a clear project plan for implementing the Level AA requirements, including assigning areas of responsibility to key players. The plan should include what’s required, who will be doing it, and deadlines for completion of tasks and review processes. Be sure to leave ample time for making modifications and corrections. A phased approach will help ensure a seamless delivery and prevent an agonizing crunch time and unforeseen glitches leading up to the deadline.

3. Obtain the Technical Expertise Needed

In order to ensure compliance, you need to have the right experts on hands. The developers you work with should thoroughly understand and know how to implement web accessibility standards. Whether you’re working with an in-house team or an external partner, make sure you sit down with the web team to check their confidence in delivering the necessary changes and identify any gaps in your team’s knowledge or experience. You should also ensure that all software programs and testing tools support accessibility.

4. Test and Evaluate
As with any major development project, be prepared for extensive testing. The stakes are high here for your business, both from a user and legal compliance perspective, so you want to be doubly sure that everything is working right.

Conclusion

While meeting the Level AA accessibility standards may seem daunting, it’s an opportunity for you to enhance your website, expand your client base and grow your business.

And if you want some extra support, or to learn more about implementing these changes, we can help. Our team is well-versed in web accessibility and we have both the technical and project management expertise to bring your website up to standard. Contact us today for more information or a quote.

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