Website Accessibility

Posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 2:56 pm by bryna

42-15645269There’s this one women’s washroom in a restaurant (which shall remain nameless) here in Belleville that really irks me. I’m a pretty small woman, but the narrow L-turn in the hallway leading into it, bookended by two doors which open in the wrong directions, makes it really difficult to maneuver. Everytime I go through this obstacle course I think, “What would I do if I were in a wheelchair?” It’s ridiculous.

But it illustrates a good point: How easy is it for people with disabilities to access your business?

As you may, or may not know, January ushered in the dawn of a new era of Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, the government has taken it upon themselves to develop standards of accessibility, and to enforce them.

It’s about time. It boggles the mind that in 2010, people with disabilities still do not have equal access to services, employment, transportation, and information. But all of that is about to change, and the first target for reformation is the world of customer service.

As of January 10, 2010, all public service sector organizations (ie. government, hospitals, school boards) must be in compliance with these standards. By January 2012, everyone else has to be on board.

The standards include things like enacting policies and procedures for providing goods and services to people with disabilities. It also encompasses training staff and volunteers in accessibility issues. Another key element of these standards is in regard to communication: website accessibility.

What is website accessibility?

Many people with disabilities rely on computers and the internet as sources of communication. Assistive devices, such as screen readers, speech input systems, and others operate with their software to provide an optimal experience. Making your website accessible means that it is built to be compatible with these tools.

There are different levels of accessiblity for the web. Most businesses with be able to stop at the ‘A’ level, but others, like our awesome clients, Pathways to Independence, will want to take it a step further. It all depends on what your site is doing, who it’s reaching, and how accessible you feel you need to be (it would be pretty cool if everyone was at ‘AAA,’ but maybe someday.)

We here at Engine have been talking about website accessibility for awhile. You can check out a quick slideshow presentation we did on the topic on our Slideshare site.

In the meantime, consider the implications for your business. Check out the following resources:

Ministry of Community and Social Services, Ontario – AccessON

WorldWideWeb Consortium – Web Accessibility Initiative

Wikipedia – Web Accessibility

Feel free to call, email, tweet or Facebook us with any questions you might have. We’d be happy to help!

Tags: , , ,

{ 2 comments to read ... please submit one more! }

  1. It’s good to see Canada making this move. The US has adopted similar policies, but unfortunately, they’re not really enforced right now. They should be. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be inhibited from using the full capabilities of the Interwebz because of a disability.

  2. Hi Nate! Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’ll be interesting to see how Ontario enforces these laws. When I began researching the topic in the summer, our local Member of Provincial Parliament’s staff (the province, not the federal government regulates accessibility issues) hadn’t even heard of the law. Yikes! So, I’m not sure how it will translate. The public sector will have to implement the changes, and they have the budget to do so, I’m sure. However, small businesses will have a harder time. It costs money to make these changes, and without enforcement, I’m not sure how receptive people will be. However, when you realize that in the US, the tourism industry saw a 12% rise in revenue that they attribute to website accessibility modifications, that seems enough to make Canadian industries take note as well.

{ 0 Pingbacks/Trackbacks }