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Online accessibility: Does your website comply with the new regulations?

Tips from Ottawa’s OPIN Software on creating an engaging digital presence for all audiences

OPIN Software
OPIN Software

When the Canadian Paralympic Committee approached OPIN Software in 2018 to overhaul its website, the Ottawa-based digital agency knew that creating an engaging homepage wouldn’t be enough. The website had to be accessible to meet the needs of all visitors to the national organization’s website. 

Armed with the knowledge to build a fully functioning accessible website, the OPIN team rebuilt the CPC site. They ensured all videos included closed captions and the text was navigable by a screen reader for those with visual impairments, meeting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought – it should be baked into the process,” says Tyana Awada, a web designer at OPIN Software. “When it comes to design and being creative or innovative, you don’t have to forsake accessibility.”

In 2021, government regulators will roll out mandatory new rules for all Ontario-based organizations to make websites more accessible for all users. With these changes on the horizon, OPIN is committed to helping businesses build accessibility roadmaps, ensuring they understand what these changes mean in practical terms. 

The digital agency has partnered with software-as-a-service company Siteimprove for its latest webinar series, which will focus on AODA website compliance and provide businesses with web accessibility strategies.

Siteimprove monitors websites with a crawler, checking for errors and finding ways to improve the site’s functionality and accessibility. With OPIN Software’s extensive knowledge of Drupal — the leading open source content management system – the two firms are looking to prepare clients with the tools they need to host a succesul, accessible website. 

Pairing a testing platform that identifies website errors and a digital agency such as OPIN enables businesses to create engaging and accessible sites, says Jennifer Chadwick, lead accessibility strategist and product expert for Siteimprove North America. 

“It’s a really powerful combination,” she adds.

Interested in learning more about the new online accessibility guidelines and how you can bring your business up to code? 

Register here for OPIN Software’s webinar on Oct. 30, 2019. 

Understanding accessibility 

Website accessibility can be understandably difficult to grasp at times. There are several barriers that can make content inaccessible to a user, says Chadwick, stressing the importance of working with a qualified, knowledgeable website designer.

Customers with visual, auditory or even physical impairments can’t click links, read small text or watch a video in the same way an able-bodied person can. Businesses need to be accountable for their content, Chadwick adds.

“The way you code a website might actually exclude a screen reader from navigating or reading things correctly, which is a huge barrier for a lot of people,” she says, adding that businesses that fail to offer customers an accessible website are excluding a large market of prospective customers – and may even find themselves tied up in lawsuits. 

Recently, Domino’s Pizza was taken to court in the U.S. by a blind man who was unable to order food from the website or app. Had the restaurant considered accessibility from the outset, the whole situation could have been avoided, says Chadwick.

OPIN software web designer

Awada and the team at OPIN took that into consideration when building the CPC website. The layout was structured with screen readers in mind, ensuring that visually imparied users could access all images by including alternative text labels and HTML formatting. 

“One of the biggest issues we find is a website’s colours aren’t accessible,” says Awada. “Blue text on a light grey background, for example, may not pass the colour standard, so we would go in, re-evaluate and make the appropriate changes.”

OPIN’s expertise

Under the incoming AODA guidelines, all large businesses – defined as having 50 or more employees – will need to abide by Level AA requirements. These include giving users the ability to resize text and adjust font colours to add more contrast, the inclusion of clear headings and labels as well as the use of consistent identification icons and phrasing.

While ensuring accessibility may sound like a large undertaking, OPIN Software has helped many of its clients through the process, ensuring they meet the AODA standard. In addition to the CPC website, OPIN recently rebuilt the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital website, creating a fully accessible platform set to launch later this year.

“Most of the basic or foundational items you need to make a site accessible weren’t there,” says Awada, adding that the team did rigorous testing to ensure the colours, text and navigation of the hospital’s site functioned with assistive technologies.

While going online is a seamless part of the daily routine of many people, Chadwick says it’s important to remember that there are those who can’t access online content as easily as others.

“Understanding the ‘why’ behind the need for online accessibility and caring about people and recognizing them as consumers in the community is really important,” says Chadwick.

Five ways to make your website more accessible:

1. Assess the status:

Run an accessibility check using an automated tool or through manual testing with assistive technologies such as keyboard-only navigation, a screen reader, zoom magnification, colour contrast inversion and closed captioning. 

2. Test with real people:

Run trials of the site with persons with disabilities or conduct an exercise where you consider a set of disabilities. Consider the limitations of blindness, having low vision, cognitive issues, colour blindness, deafness or hearing loss as well as mobility issues.

3. Design your interfaces inclusively:

Structure your pages logically – use headings, labels, clearly defined instructions and descriptive links.

4. Double-check videos:

Ensure all videos have captions for the hearing impaired. 

5. Think about the use PDFs:

Tag PDFs and re-design in Word, if necessary. Or, reconsider making them into web pages. If downloaded from the site they must accessible.