Imagine you show up at a concert for your favourite artist and the sound system is not working. Or you attend an art exhibit at your local gallery and none of the lights are turned on.That’s what the browsing experience is like for individuals trying to navigate the web with a common disability.
According to the provincial Ministry of Community and Social Services, one in seven individuals in Ontario have some sort of disability and this number is expected to increase dramatically as the population begins to age.
The goal of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is to try and remove barriers for these individuals, including many of the common issues they encounter online. In fact, AODA policies require that businesses in Ontario abide by a number of standards. Non-compliance can result in fines of up to $50,000 per day for Directors and Officers and fines of up to $100,000 per day for the corporation.
Although the AODA standards cover a wide range of accessibility issues, we are focused on web accessibility features only. The Integrated Accessibility Standards (IAS) deals with employment, transportation and communication compliance for public or private sector organizations with 50 or more employees. The IAS ensures that any new website design and content conforms to the second level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by January 1, 2021). Although WCAG 2.0 is the current standard that is required, you may choose to go beyond and focus on WCAG 2.1 standards.
At this time, anything posted on your website prior to 2012 is not required to meet these guidelines nor is an internal website. However, it is a good idea to make any changes to all content, to be consistent and in case you are required to change it in the future.
Fortunately, website design techniques and technologies are flexible enough to incorporate most of these changes with minimal frustration. We are including a high-level overview of the various Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that your company website must have in order to meet AODA website compliance.
Your website should include text alternatives for non-text elements such as images and videos. Text alternatives make it possible for information to be easily processed in a variety of ways. For example, someone who cannot see an image can experience it through alternative text read aloud through synthesized speech. Or a person that cannot hear can read the captioning of a video or audio file to understand what the message is. These text descriptions can also help people understand the meaning of an information chart, animation, etc. and why you’ve included it on the page.
Having text alternatives for non-text elements also allows for search capabilities for these components.
If your site has video content without audio, an audio file that describes the video can be included. This will allow those with visual impairments the ability to understand what is being conveyed. (Please note, if an audio file is provided as an alternative, it is not necessary to provide a text equivalent). Similarly, an audio only clip such as audio from a press conference or a speech should include a transcript to allow people to read the content. These alternatives are a great way to ensure that anyone can access the information on your site in a manner that suits their level of accessibility.
The design of your website should be adaptable for all assistive technologies. It is important that formatting is not embedded in a way that cannot be accessed by these aids. When looking at the layout of a website, there are certain elements that give you cues to the function of the element. For example, headers that use the same colour and font show you the various sections.
This information needs to be set up in a way that can be determined by software and presented in various formats. For example, an auditory cue like a chime or different voice could indicate a new section.
When deciding on the aesthetics of your website design, it’s important that you pay attention to how elements like font types, colour, and text sizes impact your content. Is the font easy to read and understand? Is the text in an image large enough to distinguish? If you have a background image, is there enough contrast between it and the foreground to allow the user to easily understand the message you are trying to convey? Likewise, if you have an audio file, is the background sound overpowering the main content?
You also need to take special note of elements like link controls. You will want to make sure these are highly visible so that they naturally stand out from static text.
Often, people that have fine motor skills issues will find it difficult to maneuver a mouse and execute precise point and click actions. In addition, most assistive technology can create simulated keystrokes as their output, making keyboard functionality a relatively universal way of navigating your site. Fortunately, most browsers already have keystroke capability built-in, making it a fairly simple process to include into your web design.
For those that have a disability, it is likely they will need more time to respond than most visitors. That might mean taking longer to respond and click on a button, requiring more time to read text, slower to locate an area of the website or the assistive technology requires processing time. For example, rotating content (like a feature slider) can be problematic as it may change before the user has a chance to read/understand the content. As such, it’s important that you give users the ability to control these features so that they are capable of interacting with this content at their own pace.
Readable content refers not just to the aesthetics of the content and how it’s portrayed on the page, but also how understandable it is. Readable content ensures that anyone who visits your website can easily understand your product, service, and message. Use clear, simple language and remember to format your text in a way that’s easy to distinguish.
Don’t be tempted to make your website too innovative. You want to make sure that the pages on your website operate in relatively predictable ways. If things are too complex, users may struggle to navigate your site’s contents.
Make sure you don’t have too many links on one page as this makes navigation tricky. Something as simple as including a title for the page ensures the user understands the content without having to read the text. Headings and labels that describe the content also work well for assisting people in finding the information they seek in an effective way.
Make sure that your navigation stays in a consistent location and notifies users when content will open in a new window.
It’s easy enough to make a mistake, but often people with a disability have a more difficult time recognizing their error. Helpful prompts will make a user’s browsing experience more enjoyable and accessible on your website. If you have a fillable form, be sure it clearly indicates mandatory fields and appropriate error notices if it is not correct. You may also include an acceptable format example, for instance a 2 letter abbreviation for province or phone number that includes dashes.
If your website deals with legal, financial or data submissions, there should be a clear indicator that allows the user to confirm they have checked the information, it is correct and the action is irreversible.
Assistive technologies have come a long way over the years and continue to evolve. From screen readers and magnifiers to refreshable Braille displays, users have access to a great variety of tools that are designed to improve their online experience. When designing your website, it’s important to take these tools into consideration and ensure your website is compatible with them.
If you have been given the job of confirming that your organization is AODA compliant and you’re not familiar with web design, it’s important that you consult with someone who is. Ensuring these guidelines are met is a complicated process and could have huge consequences if not completed properly.
The London, Ontario website design and development team at ZOO Media Group has the experience and expertise required to guarantee your current website is IAS compliant. Contact us today or call us at 519.474.9774 for more details.