By now we’re used to the fact that most buildings with stairs have a ramp that allows those in wheelchairs to gain access, but the same isn’t true of our Web sites and other software. The Ontario government is thinking about closing that gap.

We recently received word from our colleagues at the CIO Executive Council about a roundtable that was hosted earlier this week to discuss a proposed standard by the province that would require more accessible online communication for those with disabilities. The Accessible Information and Communications Standard does not strictly apply to online, but it’s a significant component. Here’s what the proposed standard has to say about enterprise applications and portals:

• New IT systems must provide an accessible user interface and content file format by default (which means you don’t have to ask for it – it’s available) when these systems are made available for use by employees or the public.

• New content must be in an accessible digital file format on existing systems.

• User interfaces of existing IT-based information and communication systems must be made accessible

This standard would not only apply to public sector organizations but other organizations in Ontario. I gather there was some concern about this proposal among the CIO Executive Council, as many of those on the conference call hadn’t heard about it. We sent out an e-mail alert to some of our CIO readers earlier today. The government is accepting comment on the proposal until Feb. 6.

If this goes through, the impact on Ontario IT departments could be extraordinary, and IT managers will have to work out a plan with their CIOs to figure out how best to prepare their organizations for this change. At a basic level I see a lot more interest in speech recognition or other adaptive technologies, which we’ve covered extensively in the past. Look for a full story on this issue tomorrow on IT World Canada.

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