New online accessibility rules in Ontario are prompting thousands of businesses and organizations in Ottawa and across the province to rethink the design of their websites and other digital content.
Any business or association with 50 more employees must comply with the updated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) contained in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) by Jan. 1, 2021.
However, organizations of all sizes stand to benefit from having a website that’s accessible to all audiences, including those with physical or mental disabilities and restrictions.
Non-compliance can come with serious ramifications, says Nigel McKechnie, an employment and human rights lawyer at Mann Lawyers.
“The legal risks are important,” he says, adding that corporations can be subject to a costly Human Rights Tribunal complaint and penalties of up to $100,000 per day for failing to meet the accessibility laws.
“People are aligning with brands and organizations that not only provide products and services that they need and want, but that also share their values and vision for the world.”
“In addition to the costs of the fines or awards for damages, businesses could be put to onerous legal fees, either to appeal those fines or to defend those human rights applications,” he says, adding that the process could also damage an organization’s public image.
One of the local companies that’s helping businesses and organizations meet the new requirements is Ottawa-based digital agency OPIN Software, which has developed significant expertise in this area.
In recent years, the OPIN team has drawn on its deep knowledge of online accessibility to help clients such as the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and the Canadian Paralympic Committee transform their websites, making web experiences easier and more effective for users, says Chris Fenn, a senior account executive at OPIN.
“Having an accessible website sends a clear message about your values and how those values translate into actions for your audience,” he says. “In today’s world, people are aligning with brands and organizations that not only provide products and services that they need and want, but that also share their values and vision for the world.”
The upcoming requirements build on existing accessibility regulations and push organizations to go a step further.
Current rules include having clear page titles for easier navigation, supplying text alternatives for non-text content such as images as well as providing alternatives to colour-coded instructions. (For example, think how problematic, “press the green button to continue” could be for an individual with a visual impairment.)
The new set of rules includes additional requirements such as using consistent menus and buttons across a website, superior colour contrast and the ability to resize text without losing functionality. These technical updates will allow a website to better integrate with assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Providing closed captions and audio descriptions on both pre-recorded and live videos is also a measure contained in the new set of regulations. Businesses will be expected to implement both types of captions to allow those with difficulty hearing to better access their content.
It all adds up to more engaged interactions with all visitors to an organization’s website.
“Your digital experience should enable and empower your audience to engage and become informed, rather than frustrated,” Fenn says.
How online accessibility can benefit your business
By providing all users a positive online experience, your business is more likely to have repeat clientele.
Using alternative text for images, captions on videos and a navigable site map results in increased search engine optimization, making it easier for people to find your business online.
Broadening your reach
Reaching and engaging a wider audience can dramatically affect the ability of your organization to meet its goals, acquire new customers and provide a high-level customer experience.
While redesigning a website to be fully accessible may seem like a daunting task, Fenn says there are several online tools that can help businesses get started through a preliminary scan that identifies problematic areas of their website.
“Most sites have some issues present, so it’s important to document and understand the nature and impact of the issues that are flagged,” he adds.
OPIN works with clients to understand where their websites need adjusting before making recommendations that will produce the highest accessibility scores.
The digital agency team also continues to work with their clients after the initial website overhaul to assist in preventing future accessibility issues from developing.
OPIN has made accessibility a core value of the agency, reflecting its importance to the company’s work. All employees undergo accessibility training, which means all of the company’s projects are designed with WCAG standards in mind.
“Ultimately, OPIN does more than comply with accessibility requirements – accessibility has been a cornerstone of OPIN’s company, culture, and projects since the company’s inception,” says Fenn. “Just as an accessible website sends a certain message, so too does the choice to not offer an accessible experience to your audience.”
Get your site accessibility ready
OPIN Software can help your business implement an accessibility roadmap with its on-demand webinar “Preparing for Ontario’s Upcoming Web Accessibility Requirements (AODA).”
Learn more about what your website needs to become fully accessible and tips on how to achieve it.