Web accessibility has become a critical issue in today's digital landscape. With the increasing importance of the internet in our daily lives, it is essential to ensure that websites and digital content are accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. In Canada, web accessibility laws have been implemented to protect the rights of people with disabilities and promote inclusivity in the online world.
This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Canadian web accessibility laws, their requirements, and best practices for compliance.
What is Web Accessibility?
For a website to be accessible, it has to offer people with disabilities and those using assistive technologies easy ways to interact with the entire content found on the site. By supporting your visitors to overcome accessibility barriers in their interaction with your site, you position your brand as a trustful one. Therefore, the benefits of web accessibility extend to your business as well, not only your website's users.
Web content accessibility doesn't just include people with disabilities. It also refers to content that can be easily understood and interacted with by smartphone users, elderly people, persons with low literacy, or those who have low English skills.
An accessible website includes the following:
- ALT text for all types of images
- Captions and transcripts for audio and video content to help persons with disabilities, hearing loss, or low English skills understand the information provided.
- Link names that contain meaningful and descriptive text which can be easily interpreted by screen readers.
- Relevant, appropriately formatted headlines that help people with disabilities that use assistive software easily find the information they are interested in. This accessibility step also improves your SEO and SERP rankings.
- Use meaningful link texts that clearly describe what the URL i about. Try to include specific keyword and avoid raw URLs.
- Clear website instructions that make your users' interactions with your site more straightforward and streamlined.
What Is Accessible Content?
Maybe your website is an Ecommerce platform, or it might be a publishing site on various topics. Regardless of its scope, your website has to provide clear, meaningful, and concise content in order to be considered accessible.
As a content editor, you need to pay attention to how you write your copy so that it is always:
- Perceivable. Website users should easily perceive any piece of content that is presented on the site.
- Operable. When structured, a site's content should focus on operability.
- Understandable. Accessible content is comprehensive, concise, and includes meaningful structural elements.
- Robust. A piece of content is considered robust when it can be easily scanned and interpreted by assistive technologies.
By doing so, your web content will be accessible to all your users (persons with disabilities, smartphone users, elderly people, non-native English speakers, etc).
Now let's have a look at the most important web accessibility Canadian laws.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a provincial legislation in Ontario that sets accessibility standards for public and private sector organizations. The AODA has specific requirements for web accessibility, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. Organizations in Ontario must comply with these guidelines to ensure their websites and web-based content are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Canadian Human Rights Act
The Canadian Human Rights Act is a federal legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disability. Under this act, organizations that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as federal government departments and agencies, banks, and telecommunications companies, are required to ensure their websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Although the Canadian Human Rights Act does not provide specific technical requirements, the WCAG 2.0 Level AA is widely regarded as the de facto standard for web accessibility compliance.
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is responsible for regulating and enforcing accessibility requirements for broadcasting and telecommunications services in Canada. While the CRTC does not have specific regulations for web accessibility, it has taken a stance that online broadcasting and telecommunications services should be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The CRTC may assess complaints related to web accessibility issues on a case-by-case basis.
Accessible Canada Act
The Accessible Canada Act is a federal legislation that aims to ensure a barrier-free Canada for individuals with disabilities. It sets out a proactive approach to identify, remove, and prevent barriers to accessibility in various sectors, including information and communications. The Act requires organizations under federal jurisdiction, including federal government departments, agencies, and Crown corporations, to make their websites and digital content accessible. The WCAG 2.0 Level AA is again considered the standard for compliance.
Best Practices for Web Accessibility Compliance
Adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): The WCAG 2.0 Level AA provides a comprehensive set of guidelines for making web content accessible. Implementing these guidelines is the best practice for ensuring compliance with Canadian web accessibility laws.
Provide alternative text for images: Including descriptive alternative text for images allows individuals with visual impairments to understand the content when using screen readers.
Ensure keyboard accessibility: All functionality and navigation on a website should be accessible using a keyboard alone. This is crucial for individuals who cannot use a mouse.
Use clear and consistent headings: Properly structured headings make it easier for individuals using screen readers to navigate through the content and understand its hierarchy.
Provide captions and transcripts for multimedia: Videos and audio content should include captions or transcripts to make them accessible to individuals with hearing impairments.
Conduct regular accessibility audits and user testing: Periodically reviewing and testing your website for accessibility issues can help identify and address any barriers to accessibility.
How can your business benefit from complying with accessibility laws?
Improving your website's accessibility is wise regardless of legal compliance regulations. It is also good for the business. Some key benefits of optimizing your site for accessibility are:
- Higher traffic rates on your website. By making your site accessible, you are opening the door for a wider range of visitors, which may lead to increased traffic, engagement, and conversion rates.
- More customers. Web accessibility is all about meeting a wide variety of customer needs, and it can grow your customer base in the long run.
- Improved SEO rankings. Some practices to make your site more accessible include writing relevant, concise content, adding ALT-text to images, or selecting simplistic layout designs. Also, these practices are good for SEO, as they increase your SERP ratings and your website's visibility.
- Faster page loading speed. By working on your website's accessibility, you also improve your page loading time and the overall user experience.
Keeping up with the evolving web accessibility laws in Canada is a must.
The next step is to become proactive on your accessibility journey by designing and optimizing your web apps and sites to comply with the rules and regulations of WCAG. This will not only keep you away from lawsuits and penalties, but it will also boost your brand reputation and your business outcomes.
If you need a hand in building websites and web apps that are compliant with the latest Canadian accessibility laws, we are happy to help with proactive Drupal support for your development projects.
Check out our Drupal Website Accessibility services and let's discuss how you can embrace an inclusive mindset that supports all your customers.
Photo credit: Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash.
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