2. Understanding the Big Picture

North American Digital Accessibility Laws and Regulations

Knowing the lengths your company recently went to to ensure physical accessibility at the storefront locations, you are eager to gain an understanding about how accessibility legislation may extend into the digital realm. The added risk of potential legal action and reference to a human rights violation in the complaint has drawn concern from the company’s leadership. They have asked you to investigate further into what legislation might already exist with reference to digital accessibility.

You discover that, in fact, there is legislation in place in Ontario as part of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), specifically Section 12 and Section 14 that speak to digital accessibility, which cover accessible formats and web content, respectively. You see that, indeed, accessible websites are addressed in Section 14(4).

While you are reading about the AODA Information and Communications Standard, you remember the discussion at the last manager’s meeting, about the plan coming together that will see several new stores open over the next year, located in the United States, the European Union, and Australia. It occurs to you that these countries may have their own digital accessibility standards, and that you should look into those while learning about the local accessibility requirements.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)

The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) has become broadly accepted as the definitive source for web accessibility rules around the world, with many jurisdictions adopting it verbatim, or with minor adjustments, as the basis for accessibility laws that remove discrimination against people with disabilities on the web.

While you do not need to read the whole WCAG 2.0 document, it is good to have a basic understanding of what it covers.

Toolkit: WCAG 2.0 can be dry, and time consuming to read through and understand. We have created the 10 Key Guidelines that summarizes and helps familiarize you with the more common web accessibility issues.

After reviewing the 10 Key Guidelines, start by learning about the Canadian and U.S. web accessibility regulations, then take the Challenge Test to check your knowledge.


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

The materials here haqve been written in the context of the AODA, which came into effect in 2005 with the goal of making Ontario the most inclusive jurisdiction in the world by 2025. Part of this twenty-year rollout involved educating businesses in Ontario, many of which are now obligated by the Act to make their websites accessible, first at Level A between 2012 and 2014, and at Level AA between 2016 and 2021.

Key Point: AODA adopts WCAG 2.0 for its Web accessibility requirements, with the exception of two guidelines:

  1. Ontario businesses and organizations are not required to provide captioning for live web-based broadcasts (WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.2.4, Level A)
  2. Ontario businesses and organizations are not required to provide audio description for pre-recorded web-based video (WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.2.5, Level AA)

Otherwise, AODA adopts WCAG 2.0 verbatim.

Toolkit: For key information on the adoption of WCAG 2.0 in the context of the AODA, refer to the Integrated Accessibility Standards (of the AODA).

Canadian Government Standard on Web Accessibility

In 2011, the Government of Canada (GOC) introduced its most recent set of web accessibility standards, made up of four sub standards that replace the previous Common Look and Feel 2.0 standards. The Standard on Web Accessibility adopts WCAG 2.0 as its Web accessibility requirements with the exception of Guideline 1.4.5 Images of Text (Level AA) in cases where “essential images of text” are used, in cases where “demonstrably justified” exclusions are required, and for any archived Web content. The standard applies only to Government of Canada websites.

Toolkit: Full details of Government of Canada accessibility requirements read the Standard on Web Accessibility.

Accessibility 2024

In 2014 the British Columbia government released Accessibility 2024, a ten-year action plan designed around twelve building blocks intended to make the province the most progressive in Canada for people with disabilities. Accessible Internet is one of those building blocks. The aim is to have all B.C. government websites meet WCAG 2.0 AA requirements by the end of 2016.

Canadians with Disabilities Act

Currently a work in progress, this act intends to produce national accessibility regulations for Canada. Visit the Barrier-Free Canada website for more about the developing Canadians with Disabilities Act, and the Government of Canada on the consultation process.

United States

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA does not have any specific technical requirements upon which it requires websites to be accessible, however, there have been a number of cases where organizations that are considered to be “places of public accommodation” have been sued due to the inaccessibility of their websites (e.g., Southwest Airlines and AOL), where the defendant organization was required to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA guidelines.

There is a proposed revision to Title III of the ADA (Federal Register Volume 75, Issue 142, July 26, 2010) that would, if passed, require WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA conformance to make Web content accessible under ADA.

Section 508 (of the Rehabilitation Act, U.S.)

Section 508 is part of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act and its purpose is to eliminate barriers in information technology, applying to all Federal Agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Any company that sells to the U.S. Government must also provide products and services that comply with the eleven accessibility guidelines Section 508 describes in Section 1194.22 of the Act.

These guidelines were originally based on a subset of the WCAG 1.0 guidelines, and were recently updated to include WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA guidelines as new requirements for those obligated through Section 508. Though in effect as of March 20, 2017, those affected by the regulation are required to comply with the updated regulation by January 18, 2018.


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Digital Accessibility as a Business Practice Copyright © 2018 by Digital Education Strategies, The Chang School is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.