The internet is for everyone.
Internet access is shaping the future. It’s a requirement for education, in the workplace, for many forms of entertainment, and it’s a massive part of the economy. Yet many people cannot use the internet—not because they don’t have web access, but because websites aren’t designed to be accessible. From vision and hearing impairment to paralysis, epilepsy, and other neurological differences, roughly 22% of Canadians have at least one disability. Web accessibility is no longer optional; it’s the path to the future.
“It’s easy to say you’re customer-focused, but incorporating accessibility measures into your website is a perfect opportunity to show it. Any time we stop to think about our customers and their needs, it helps us serve them better and build a stronger business.”
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. As part of its mission, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) publishes and maintains a list of guidelines for keeping the internet accessible for people with disabilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the international standard for web accessibility.
WCAG covers a wide range of recommendations that make web content more accessible for people with disabilities. The limitations addressed include blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and some learning disabilities and cognitive limitations. It doesn’t cover every possible disability but seeks to address common issues on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.
The guidelines in WCAG fall into three different levels: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the most basic and the other two build upon it. A higher level of conformance indicates a more accessible website.
What is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)?
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) mandates that Ontario must be accessible to persons with disabilities “with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025.” Included in that is the requirement that all websites belonging to “a private or non-profit organization with 50+ employees; or
a public sector organization,” must conform to WCAG 2.0.
As of 2018, all Ontario-based organizations with more than 20 employees are required to file an accessibility compliance report. Organizations of all sizes must make their public information accessible upon request.
What are the compliance deadlines under AODA?
As of January 1, 2014, all new public websites, significantly refreshed websites, and any web content that had been posted since January 1, 2012, needed to meet WCAG 2.0 Level A. A “significant refresh” is defined as “changing more than 50% of the content, design or technology of the website.”
On January 1, 2021, that same content must conform to a slightly modified version of WCAG 2.0 Level AA. According to AODA, you don’t need to meet the requirements for live captions and pre-recorded audio descriptions (criteria 1.2.4 and 1.2.5). Focus on the other criteria.
What does it mean to “conform” to WCAG 2.0?
There are five criteria needed to conform to WCAG.
The webpage must satisfy all of the requirements for (at least) one of the three conformance levels. Always aim to meet as many criteria as possible, even if you can’t meet all the requirements for the next level.
2. FULL PAGES
If part of a webpage doesn’t conform, the page doesn’t conform. You can’t cherry-pick the accessible components of a page.
3. COMPLETE PROCESSES
If a webpage is part of a series of pages needed to accomplish something (e.g., purchase a product or register for an event), all webpages in the process must conform.
4. ONLY ACCESSIBILITY-SUPPORTED WAYS OF USING TECHNOLOGIES
Many of the requirements rely on accessibility through assistive technology or accessibility features in mainstream devices and applications. Content must solely rely on these to satisfy the criteria. Accessibility must be standardized.
You can use non-accessibility-supported technology, but you must also present the information in an accessibility-supported way. The non-supported material also cannot interfere with a user’s interaction with the webpage.
The official WCAG 2.0/2.1 compliance guide is available online. You can use filters to hide any unnecessary success criteria for a specific level. While the WCAG guide is the most comprehensive, it’s also a technical and lengthy read. To simplify the process, we’ve compiled a straightforward AODA compliance checklist.
The WCAG 2.0 success criteria fall under four principals to ensure web content is:
- Perceivable — “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
- Operable — “User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
- Understandable — “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
- Robust — “Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
Each principal is broken down into guidelines. Each guideline contains one or more actionable success criteria.
WCAG 2.0 Level A Success Criteria
|1.1.1 Non-text content||
|1.2.1 Audio-only and video-only (Pre-recorded)||
|1.2.2 Captions (Pre-recorded)||
|1.2.3 Audio Description or Media Alternative (Pre-recorded)||
|1.3.1 Info and relationships||
|1.3.2 Meaningful sequence||
|1.3.3 Sensory characteristics||
|1.4.1 Use of colour||
|1.4.2 Audio control||
|2.1.2 No keyboard trap||
|2.2.1 Timing adjustable||
|2.2.2 Pause, stop, hide||
|2.3.1 Three flashes or below threshold||
|2.4.1 Bypass blocks||
|2.4.2 Page titled||
|2.4.3 Focus order||
|2.4.4 Link purpose (in context)||
|3.1.1 Language of page||
|3.2.1 On focus||
|3.2.2 On input||
|3.3.1 Error identification||
|3.3.2 Labels or instructions||
|4.1.2 Name, role, value||
WCAG 2.0 Level AA Success Criteria
|All Level A success criteria||
|1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum)||
|1.4.4 Resize text||
|1.4.5 Images of text||
|2.4.5 Multiple ways||
|2.4.6 Headings and labels||
|2.4.7 Focus visible||
|3.1.2 Language of parts||
|3.2.4 Consistent identification||
|3.3.3 Error suggestion||
|3.3.4 Error prevention (legal, financial, data)||
WCAG 2.0 or 2.1?
In searching for the WCAG guidelines, you’ll find that WCAG 2.0 is already outdated. In 2018, WCAG 2.1 replaced it—making it obsolete before the final AODA deadline. Additional changes will likely come in the next few years. To meet the AODA requirements, you still only need to meet the requirements for WCAG 2.0, but these are the minimum requirements. WCAG 2.1 represents the best practices for web accessibility and is a better standard. Remember: The international standard for web accessibility is the most current version of WCAG. Keep track of updates and stay current.
“There are some things we should do not just because we’re required to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Accessibility considerations are ultimately human rights considerations. If you believe in an equal access world with fewer barriers, this is one small way you can help create it.”
WCAG 2.1 is backwards-compatible with version 2.0. It includes all of the same success criteria for each level, plus a few new ones:
WCAG 2.1 Level A New Success Criteria
|2.1.4 Character Key Shortcuts||
|2.5.1 Pointer Gestures||
|2.5.2 Pointer Cancellation||
|2.5.3 Label in Name||
|2.5.4 Motion Actuation||
WCAG 2.1 Level AA New Success Criteria
|1.3.5 Identify Input Purpose||
|1.4.11 Non-Text Contrast||
|1.4.12 Text Spacing||
Note: Human languages and scripts that don’t use one or more of the above properties can conform by using only the properties used.
|1.4.13 Content on Hover or Focus||
|4.1.3 Status Messages||
What are the risks of non-compliance?
To prevent companies from choosing to pay a “tax” to keep their websites inaccessible, the Ontario government is imposing severe fines for non-compliance. Failure to comply with the AODA web accessibility requirements can result in penalties of $50,000 per day or part day for directors and officers and up to $100,000 per day or part day for the corporation. See AODA Part X, section 37, for more details.
If your company fails to meet the requirements for a full year, it could incur $36.5M in fines. An individual or director could incur up to $18.25M for the same timeframe.
In addition to the legal and financial ramifications, public opinion is shifting towards inclusivity. The future reputation of your company depends on your willingness to embrace these changes and adapt going forward.
What if I have content that can’t comply with WCAG 2.0?
Compliance is all-or-nothing for each page—and a website as a whole. However, the Ontario government (and WCAG) recognize that some things are out of your control — like third-part apps.
According to the Ontario government website, you may use content that is not WCAG 2.0-compliant, but you must provide it in an accessible format upon request.
“In the future, providing accessible services will be a given, not a nice-to-have. Acting proactively will go a long way to show you believe in the principles of universal access.”
How can I verify website compliance?
There are a few ways to check if your website is WCAG 2.0 Level A or AA compliant.
1. USER TESTING & FEEDBACK
Ask people with disabilities to test your new or refurbished website before it launches. Get feedback from customers and other users and implement any necessary changes.
2. REVIEW KEY MILESTONES & CHANGES
Track accessibility issues and repairs. Such a record is useful for demonstrating progress, areas of need, and is helpful if your organization is asked to show that your website is WCAG 2.0 compliant.
3. USE AN ONLINE ACCESSIBILITY CHECKER
Online tools like AChecker can help identify accessibility issues. Always have a person review the site as well; these tools aren’t a guarantee.
4. COMPLETE AN ACCESSIBILITY AUDIT
AODA experts will perform an accessibility audit to ensure WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. They will provide details on all issues and recommendations on how to fix them.
Summary: Key Takeaways
We’ve covered lots of technical information, and you will likely need to refer back to this resource as you move towards improved web accessibility. While everything covered is vital, we’ve summarized the key points below:
- WCAG is the list of guidelines used as the international standard for web accessibility. AODA uses these guidelines to determine the minimum acceptable requirements in Ontario.
- By January 1, 2021, all public websites and web content must conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA (with two exceptions).
- Try to keep up-to-date with the most current version of WCAG, even if it’s not a legal requirement.
- For a website to conform to WCAG 2.0:
- You must meet all success criteria for a specific level;
- All content on the page must comply;
- All additional pages in a process must conform;
- All content must be accessible using standard practices;
- Nothing on the webpage can interfere with the perception of or interaction with the webpage.
- The goal of WCAG 2.0 is to ensure that all web content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users. The best way to ensure that is to work through the checklists provided.
- There are massive fines for failing to conform to the AODA requirements—up to $36.5M per year.
- While the Ontario government acknowledges that not all content can be made to be accessible, such exceptions will not last forever. Start working on it now.
- There are four main ways to confirm that your website conforms:
- User testing & feedback
- Review key milestones & changes
- Use an online accessibility checker
- Complete an accessibility audit
While the January 1, 2021, AODA requirements may seem daunting at first, everything is manageable if you get started now. Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought—you should incorporate it into everything you do. Make the internet more accessible for everyone by following our handy checklist. Share your progress and any tips you have for other companies making the move toward accessibility.