Accessible by Design

Not just about ramps and doors, websites are the next frontier for AODA compliance

Photo: Ryan Kelly of Ascend Applications

WHEN YOUR BUSIENSS designed its website, you ­probably tried to make sure customers could find information, complete purchases or get in touch with you easily. And hopefully, that’s what they’ve been doing. But what about users you might be missing out on because their disabilities keep them from using your website? Are you willing to write off these potential customers?

The challenges faced by internet users with disabilities is just one aspect being addressed by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or AODA. The legislation is all encompassing, but for businesses, it offers guidance and opportunities to start making chances to reach an even larger audience.

“Businesses that don’t comply aren’t able to connect with four million Canadians that have disabilities,” says Ryan Kelly, founder and CEO of app and web development ­business, Ascend Applications, and an expert on AODA compliance. “This number is also expected to grow with the aging population.”

A qualified web developer can help address technical details that managers might not even be aware of and will also keep a record of all the accessibility issues that have been addressed

Not every business is required to comply, but the potential benefits can outweigh the costs. For example, a private-­sector business with more than 50 employees is required to create a multi-year accessibility plan, however businesses with less than 50 employees would be exempt from this requirement.

“Businesses with one to 50 employees will need to train employees on the AODA laws and regulations. They will also need to create accessibility policies,” explains Kelly. “Larger businesses [50-plus employees] need to make web content accessible, make new public spaces accessible and create a multi-year accessibility plan in addition to everything that smaller businesses must do.”

In regards to website compliance, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 outlines the ways in which a website must comply. Making your website accessible means that you make available text alternatives for any non-text content. This will make it easier for your users to convert it into other accessible formats such as Braille. It also means adopting high contrast visuals that make it possible for persons with sight limitations to use your website.

With something as important and as technical as meeting AODA requirements, the best approach is to have a website evaluated by a specialist who can look at it from every possible angle, not only from a design perspective, but also from a programming perspective. Businesses might have to ­evaluate not only the content, but the web design strategies previously implemented and assess whether they will continue to meet the needs of the firm’s users. A qualified web developer can help address technical details that managers might not even be aware of and will also keep a record of all the accessibility issues that have been addressed.

While AODA compliance can seem somewhat overwhelming to begin with, changes start by simply informing employees and clients. “A good place to start would be by simply educating employees about the AODA,” says Kelly. “This still takes time if you are going to do this properly, however awareness is a great place to start as this was a requirement from 2016, and even as far back as 2012.”

The proposed penalties for noncompliance could be real and serious, so you don’t want your business to be left out in the cold. “A business that doesn’t comply with the AODA could face fines of $100,000 per day. Individuals can be fined up to $50,000 per day,” warns Kelly.

Companies that embrace the new challenges and ensure their websites comply with AODA regulations will not only avoid the chance of a hefty fine, but will increase the number of visitors who can enjoy their website.