Attention EMPLOYERS IN ONTARIO; Web Accessibility is now MANDATORY

The Information and Communications Standard of the Accessibility for Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act, now known as the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation or IASR, is now in effect in the Province of Ontario. Private sector businesses with more than 50 employees are now required to make their websites compliant to W3C 2.0 Level A guidelines. Ontario businesses and businesses who conduct business in Ontario (even if located outside of Ontario) have had years to prepare their internal processes and infrastructure to become compliant. This is now followed by an additional seven years from now to implement the W3C 2.0 Level AA.  These mandatory requirements not only include web accessibility , it includes internet, intranet and Apps used by your business(es) (look to the Employment Section of the IASR to see why Intranets and Apps must be accessible as well).

A Few Questions to Ponder

Do you have a business in this Province?

Do you know about this regulation?

Does your nearest competitor know about the AODA and are early adopters of the Web Accessibility requirement?

Does the restaurant down the road know about the AODA? Does the store in the mall you shop in have an accessible website?

Chances are smaller and medium sized businesses within Ontario do not know about the AODA let alone the need for accessible websites.

In some cases large organizations with hundreds or even thousands of employees, might know about the CSS section of the AODA and are now turning their attention to the IASR including web accessibility, the necessity for accessible kiosks and Point of Sale devices.  In fact some of the more informed businesses who always operate with the mindset and culture of embracing change and leading the field have already spent time and money to meet the compliance deadlines ahead of or on schedule.

If you think about it, businesses who have a clear understanding of the requirements of online accessibility have now given their business a large differentiator over their competitors. Already these early adopters have been able to meet the needs of a previously underserved section of their customer base, or ensured older clients with disposable income have been able to readily access the business websites kiosks and public spaces (see mandatory Design of Public Spaces 2013).

The community of persons with disabilities (PwD) and the aging population is aware of the AODA standards and they are starting to demand that everyone else figures out what the AODA is and learns what needs to be done.  Businesses are now legally required to provide accessible websites, intranet and Apps. Having just a general awareness of the CSS and IASR standards is no longer acceptable.  Individuals and groups within the PwD community will now start to push back more and ensure businesses who are not providing accessible websites, kiosks or Point of Sale devices know about it. This may include formal feedback through your feedback loops developed as part of the CSS Procedure.  It may also include complaints discussed in social media and in print media as well (think about how many articles have been published in 2013 about Air Canada’s lack of accessibility for its customers. Talk about brand damage!). Some PwD and older employees or customers may make their statements through the Ontario Human Rights Hearings or make formal complaints via civil suits quoting the mandatory regulations within the AODA.

Few businesses in Ontario are aware that our Province is internationally recognized as a leader in the provision of accessibility and as such the Province is well positioned to lead in North America. This translates into enhanced access to new and growing markets (remember 17-20% of the population in Canada has at least one disability and another percentage of your market are aging rapidly).

The AODA was initially developed by Premier Harris’s government in direct response to the fast changing demographic in the province and the looming threat of the aging population and PwD not being able to access & therefore enhance the economy.  It is critical for your IT, Web Design and Communications teams to quickly understand the current requirements for W3C 2.0 A accessibility standards for your websites, intranet and Apps. The risks of not putting this into place are large including brand damage, civil suits and loss of customer base to your competitors.

Where to start

Our in depth conversations with the web accessibility experts we team with at OCADU caution employers against using the packaged software that “diagnosis” where your websites are lacking accessible design. These short cut programs are limited in their ability to truly guide you and will not lead to compliance with the W3C 2.0 A or AA levels.  It is best to contact experts in the field of accessibility (Optimal Performance has an entire associate team of Web and Communication experts who can audit your websites, intranet and apps and develop enhancements or guide your IT and Web Designers towards full compliance with 2.0 A and AA requirements.

The essence of social media and websites is to allow businesses to communicant their value proposition to as broad a customer base as possible. It makes sense that having websites being accessible to people of all ages and abilities is the next logical step in the evolution of accessible design.

– See more at: http://g3ict.org/resource_center/newsletter/news/p/newsletterId_/id_472#sthash.4TEoMKyE.dpuf

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