The web made information available to everyone. In theory, at least. For millions of people with disabilities around the world, web site content remains inaccessible. The Canadian province of Ontario, through the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), has legislated that the web sites of most private and public sector organizations must be accessible to those with sight, hearing, mobility and other issues that might impede access to information via web sites. The act, which came into effect on January 1, 2014, demands compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a shared international standard for accessible web design.
In Ontario, private and non-profit organizations with more than 50 employees, as well as all public sector organization, have had to comply with the first phase of the standards, requiring all web content posted after January 1, 2012, to meet the WCAG standards. By January 1, 2021, all content must meet the second phase of guideline implementation.
Web Designer Sandy Feldman has become a specialist in accessible web design and seeks to raise awareness of the need for compliance – and fairness – in access to information, products and service. B2BNN spoke to Feldman about what B2B enterprises need to know both about compliance and accessible web design issues.
From nerdy fun to technical challenge
B2BNN: How did you get involved in accessible web design and when?
Sandy Feldman: I started designing and coding accessibly in 2006. An old friend, Alan Cantor, asked if I would help on a site for the Trailblazers Tandem Cycling Club. Trailblazers is a club for blind or low vision cyclists and sighted volunteers.
At first working on the site was just nerdy fun. I worked with a committee of blind and low vision club members, and the site didn’t launch until everyone could use every page.
Writing accessible code started as a technical challenge. It became a way that I could help people I knew and liked do what they wanted to do.
B2BNN: How would you describe the AODA Guidelines? Why is compliance necessary for businesses that operate web sites in Ontario or for Ontarians?
Sandy Feldman: The AODA is not a guideline but legislation. Compliance is the law. The AODA uses the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as its base. These guidelines recommend that all websites be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Websites need to show up, work, make sense,
and not fall apart. It’s hard to imagine a business expecting less from their website.
B2BNN: How do these guidelines in Ontario compare to how accessibility issues are being addressed or discussed in the rest of the world?
Sandy Feldman: WCAG is an international standard set by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Legislation based on this standard is in place in many countries
Focus and first steps
B2BNN: It’s easy to understand how companies that deal directly with consumers would need to address accessibility on their web sites. Is the argument as strong for the business to business sector? B2B enterprises can be very niche-oriented. The number of customers, or even potential customers, for some B2B companies is very small and their business communities are very close knit and relationships are carefully managed by individuals. Are accessibility guidelines important for these niche
companies without a huge reach?
Sandy Feldman: B2B websites need to be accessible. Every single one of us has a chance, bordering on likelihood, of becoming disabled. We don’t want to lock out our colleagues, our suppliers, or our customers. If none of these people have a disability now, just wait.
In 2012 Statistics Canada reported almost 14% of the Canadian population has a disability. That’s 3.8 million people. Sooner or later one of them likely to be either you or someone you work with.
B2BNN: In your experience, is legislation necessary to make businesses address accessibility issues?
Sandy Feldman: Legislation helps focus businesses attention on what needs doing. Some businesses and institutions are aiming for legal compliance. Others aim at doing a good job.
B2BNN: Some companies might be unaware that their sites are not accessible to everyone. What are the first steps a company should take to test whether or not their web sites are accessible?
Sandy Feldman: A good first step is to use an automated accessibility checker like
http://wave.webaim.org/ or https://validator.w3.org/ to see what kinds of errors turn up. These utilities are like a spell checker. They catch the most obvious errors.