Why Learn About Web Accessibility

Accessibility Law: The Global Perspective on Web Accessibility

The Global Perspective on Web Accessibility

While the learning here is being delivered in the context of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the AODA and similar laws around the world are typically based on the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). As a result, whenever we talk about AODA from an international perspective, you can think of it as WCAG.

In this day and age, we live in a global economy, so an understanding of accessibility laws around the world can be beneficial if you or your organization conducts (or is planning to conduct) international business. In many cases, if your organization complies with WCAG and local accessibility regulations, you will likely comply with regulations in the countries in which you do business.

Here, we’ll introduce the regulations around much of the world, starting with North America.

WCAG 2.0: The Basis for Accessibility Laws

The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are broadly accepted as the definitive source for web accessibility rules around the world. Many jurisdictions are adopting it verbatim or with minor adjustments. WCAG 2.0 is used as the basis for accessibility laws that remove discrimination against people with disabilities from the Web.

Toolkit: WCAG 2.0 can be dry and time-consuming to read through and understand. We have created the downloadable 10 Key Guidelines (PDF) that summarizes and will help 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.

Note: Though most international legislation is based on WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1 was introduced in June 2018. This focus here is on WCAG 2.1, which includes all WCAG 2.0 guidelines and success criteria. In time, it is expected WCAG 2.1 will replace WCAG 2.0 as the basis for international IT accessibility laws.


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Again, the reading and activities here been created 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 involves educating businesses in Ontario. Any businesses with 50 or more employees are obligated by the Act to make their websites accessible by the following timeline: (a) Level A compliant, between 2012 and 2014, and (b) Level AA compliant, between 2016 and 2021.

Key Point: AODA adopts WCAG 2.0 for its web accessibility requirements, with the exception of two success criteria:

  1. Ontario businesses and organizations are not required to provide captioning for live, web-based broadcasts (WCAG 2.0, Success Criterion 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, Success Criterion 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).

Standard on Web Accessibility, Government of Canada

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 Success Criterion 1.4.5 Images of Text (Level AA), which applies 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: For full details of Government of Canada accessibility requirements read the Standard on Web Accessibility.

Accessibility 2024, British Columbia

In 2014, the British Columbia government released Accessibility 2024, a ten-year action plan designed around 12 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.

Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA)

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) became law in 2013. Like the AODA, the AMA will be made up of several standards, one of which is the Accessible Information and Communications Standard, which will govern accessibility requirements for web content. This legislation is still a work in progress.

Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA)

Currently a work in progress, the Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA) 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 website on the consultation process.

United States

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA does not have any specific technical requirements requiring websites to be accessible. However, there are 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.

Suggested Reading: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations

Section 508 (Rehabilitation Act, U.S.)

The purpose of Section 508, which is part of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, is to eliminate barriers in information technology. This applies 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 in Section 508, as described in Section 1194.22 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Originally, these guidelines were based on a subset of the WCAG 1.0 Guidelines. Recently, the guidelines were updated to include WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA requirements for those obligated through Section 508. While Section 508 has been in effect since March 20, 2017, those affected by the regulation are required to comply with the updated regulation by January 18, 2018.

Suggested Reading:


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Introduction to Web Accessibility Copyright © 2019 by The Chang School, Toronto Metropolitan University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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