New Web-Accessibility Laws in Ontario

Graphic image with icon for each disability such as visual, hearing, and physical

In 2021 new laws will be enacted in Canada that demand web-content be accessible to people with disabilities. The law applies to any organization with 50 or more employees and fines can be up to $50,000. The new regulation sets the gold-standard for compliance at WCAG 2.0 “AA” (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines double A) standard. This is the second level of the three levels included in the WCAG.

If you are a website owner and you want assitance makign your website compliant with the new regulations, please contact me by email at joseph@ripplesoftare.ca or contact me using the website contact form. web-developer or compliance officer tasked with making sure your website meets this standard, read on to find out what the standard is and how you can make your site compliant.

Overview of Web-Accessibility Laws in Ontario

By January 1, 2021, Ontario businesses must make their public-facing websites conformant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) to Level AA, as required by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) [1]. A guide has been produced with to guide web-developers on understanding the new laws [2].

Summary of WCAG 2.0

WCAG is a standard specifying best practices for making website content more accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG 2.0 guidelines [3] [4] [5]are categorized into three levels of conformance in order to meet the needs of different groups and different situations: A (lowest), AA (mid range), and AAA (highest). Conformance at higher levels indicates conformance at lower levels [6]. The highest level (AAA) is mostly considered to be wholly unachievable for an entire website, and the mid-range level (AA) is recommended by the University of California.

In order to get a general understanding of the W3 WCAG better, some quotes from the documentation are included below:

WCAG 2.0 success criteria are written as testable statements that are not technology-specific.

[Conformance] require(s) that something be done in the Web content that would make it possible for assistive technologies to successfully present the content’s information to the user. For example, a picture that you were supposed to click on to go to a topic would not be accessible to a person who was blind unless text alternatives for the picture were provided in a way that user agents including assistive technologies can find and display them.

The WCAG Working group and the W3C do not specify which or how much support by assistive technologies there must be for a particular use of a Web technology in order for it to be classified as accessibility supported.

Principles of WCAG 2.0

There are 4 principles of WCAG guidelines that describe the deliverable website. These principles are (1) perceivable, (2) operable, (3) understandable, (4) robust.

Disabilities Covered

The disabilities covered by WCAG 2.0 include; (1) visual, (2) audio, (3) motor, (4) cognitive (learning disabilities).

Testing Tools

The University of California (UC) advises 3 steps to achieve the goal of accessibility compliance: to make sure a website is accessible (1) have well-trained web developers create it, (2) evaluate it with software tools, and (3) have end users test it. There are several tools referenced on the UC website to evaluate a web-content for accessibility [7]. An evaluation of the Coleman Township homepage was made [8] using the Functional Accessibility Evaluator 2.1 [9]. This evaluation serves as a guideline to highlight technical areas of improvement but must be interpreted and changes made to the HTML source code of the website.

Examples of Web-Content Issues

Most people who are near or fully visually impaired will use a screen-reader application or browser extension plugin to access web-content. These screen-readers analyze the underlying HTML syntax and read the web-page content to the user and understanding how they work and interpret HTML is an important step in making web-content WCAG compliant.

In order for the screen-readers to be effective, the web-content should be able to be navigated using a keyboard in addition to a mouse, and its layout designed with the consideration of using a keyboard to cycle through items on a page and navigate the website.

HTML also has some syntax built into it which is purposed to assist these screen-readers in determining what to read to the user. For example, the “aria-hidden=true” attribute [10][11] indicates that the screen-reader should not read that item or its children items to the end user. Therefore, page content should be labelled with this attribute if it makes the page confusing when read through a screen reader.

In order for the screen reader to relay content effectively, all images should be labelled with “title” and “alt” attributes that provide context. According to W3C Accessibility Guidelines, for code to be considered W3C-valid, it is important to include both image alt text and image title text in the image for important images on the page [12].

Also, for those who have colourblind impairment, tools exist (for Windows and MacOs) to check your screen contrast levels [13][14].

Finally, a quick reference guide is available to guide an organization’s web-development team through the fundamental steps to W3 WCAG conformance [15]. This quick reference guide is an excellent resource for categorizing the major aspects of web-content accessibility organized by the 4 principles of WCAG.

Summary

WCAG compliance is not a specific standardization that can be measured quantitatively and the WCAG does not specifically define how much support is required for a particular web-technology such as a website to be classified as “accessibility supported”. However, there are principles, tests, and tools to qualitatively determine compliance to 3 levels (A, AA, AAA). WCAG specifies a list disabilities to consider when designing an accessible website and a quick reference guide is available to guide web-content accessibility conformance.

References

[1] NewsWire Canada: WCAG 2.0 compliance deadline, https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/the-one-year-countdown-to-web-accessibility-begins-in-ontario-807926582.html

[2] Include Everyone, Keep Everyone: Your 2020 Guide to Web Accessibility in Canada, SiteImprove, https://hello.siteimprove.com/en-ca/ebook/2020-guide-web-accessibility-canada/download

[3] W3 WCAG 2.0 Guidelines, https://www.w3.org/TR/2008/REC-WCAG20-20081211/

[4] W3 WCAG 2.0 Overview, https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/

[5] W3 WCAG 2.0 Conformance, https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#conformance-reqs

[6] The University of California: Standards and Best Practices for WCAG 2.0 Conformance, https://www.ucop.edu/electronic-accessibility/standards-and-best-practices/levels-of-conformance-a-aa-aaa.html

[7] University of California: Testing Tools, https://www.ucop.edu/electronic-accessibility/web-developers/tools-and-testing/testing-tools.html

[8] Coleman Township Homepage Evaluation, https://fae.disability.illinois.edu/pages/17524e12b2e69f6a/rc/all/page/1/

[9] Functional Accessibility Evaluator 2.1, https://fae.disability.illinois.edu/anonymous/?Anonymous%20Report=/

[10] W3 Using Aria, https://www.w3.org/TR/using-aria/

[11] Mozilla Using Aria, https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/Accessibility/ARIA/ARIA_Techniques/Using_the_aria-hidden_attribute

[12] Search Engine Journal, https://www.searchenginejournal.com/image-alt-text-vs-title-vs-file-names/259441/

[13] Section 508 US Government, https://www.section508.gov/

[14] The Paciello Group Color Contrast Analyzer, https://github.com/ThePacielloGroup/CCAe/releases/tag/v3.1.1

[15] W3 WCAG Quick reference, https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/?versions=2.0

 

 

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