Many businesses in Ontario are way behind on becoming compliant with Ontario’s newest website accessibility laws that come into effect next January, a mistake that could not only cost them customers but also a lot of money, according to the managing director of Siteimprove, Mike Cart.
“Most businesses will not be ready for the deadline… given they are not likely familiar with the accessibility act… thus, their websites and mobile apps are not designed, coded, and written with accessibility needs in mind,” wrote Cart in an email to IT World Canada.
Businesses that are not compliant will put themselves at risk of being reported, which could bring with it a daily fine of up to $100,000.
“A key issue is that most businesses lack an understanding that people with disabilities are active users of the web and mobile technology, with or without the aid of assistive technologies (software installed on their desktop or built into mobile devices) and with that, they are enabled to interact with your website,” he added.
Siteimprove is a multinational Software-as-a-Service company that creates cloud-based tools and services for website governance, one of its biggest focuses being accessibility.
According to Statistics Canada, as of 2017, one of every seven Canadians above the age of 15 reported living with a disability.
Cart said it can be very difficult for peoples with disabilities to live their everyday lives when they are restricted from using non-compliant websites and pointed out that the onus lies with business owners to stay in the know when it comes to such serious issues.
“People are people. They just want to get on with their lives – whether it’s to work, shop, bank, travel, enjoy entertainment and socialize with friends online. But what is common is that many business owners (and large corporations) do not understand an inaccessible website is causing the disability, not the other way around,” he said. “For the last 20-30 years or so, people have been employing assistive technology (screen reader, keyboard, switch controls, speech-to-text software, etc.) or their own adaptive strategies to become enabled and engage with online experiences. As a business, if your website is not compatible with assistive technology and/or continues to disregard the needs and preferences of several groups of people – the responsibility to lift the barrier is not of the individual’s, but yours. Anything less feels exclusive and demeaning.”
With less than a year left, Cart said he understands this can be a monumental task for some businesses to undertake, but explained that as long as you are actively improving the accessibility of your website and can show that, even if you are hit with a complaint, you should be able to avoid a penalty as you have an ongoing effort in place.
“Now, more than ever, it makes sense to create an accessibility plan and get started on your journey. Year over year, your business is demonstrating to the government and the community that it is making changes to be compliant with WCAG Level A and AA wherever possible,” Cart explained. “It is understood that accessibility is a process and not just a one-time project. Every time you add content or functionality to your website, as a business you are doing so the best of your knowledge and ability.”
He explained that businesses will be able to track this progress and make the government aware of it when they fill out their progress report that is mandatory every two years for businesses of over 50 people.
Some of the shortcomings that Cart said he sees most commonly include:
- Websites that cannot be navigated by keyboard only
- Websites that are too text-heavy or too heavy in visual imagery
- Websites with poor design choices like a lack of colour contrast or text that is too small
- Websites with a lack of closed captioning or transcripts for videos
For the businesses who would like to work towards compliance but have budgetary restrictions, Cart has a few budget-friendly suggestions which include:
- Use a content management system with accessible themes and features, like WordPress
- Train your staff in writing accessible content
- Access free tutorials and learning modules, such as those from the World Wide Consortium
- Use free accessibility checkers, like the one provided by Siteimprove