If you’re a business in Ontario, Canada with 50 or more employees, you must make your website WCAG 2.0 AA compliant by January 1, 2021.
It’s the law.
Which law? The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
But what does that even mean?
- What is WCAG?
- How do you know if your website isn’t already WCAG compliant?
- And why should you care about any of this, other than endeavouring to be a good law-abiding corporate citizen?
In this post, we’ll break down the answers to those questions in terms that are easy to follow and understand.
Because truth be told, this stuff is a bit techie, even for the most experienced web developers.
So, what is WCAG?
Usually pronounced “Wuhcag”, or depending on your accent, you might say “Wihcag”, WCAG is an ISO International Standard that stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
It’s basically a long list of standards that tells web developers how to make websites that people with different disabilities can actually use.
WCAG standards were written specifically to address the needs of people with disabilities, but a positive side effect is that website accessibility improves the browsing experience for everyone.
Think of automatic door openers, curb cuts (read the interesting history about them here), and ramps… all made for people with disabilities, but of benefit to everyone.
The most current standard is WCAG 2.1.
When the AODA came into effect, WCAG 2.1 hadn’t been published yet. That’s why the AODA refers to WCAG 2.0.
This will likely be updated in the future though, so it makes sense to go ahead and aim for WCAG 2.1 compliance.
And finally there are 3 levels of WCAG.
- A – basic bare-bones accessibility.
- AA – the benchmark standard for accessibility.
- AAA – accessibility on steroids.
So, the level you need to achieve to be AODA-compliant is WCAG 2.0 (well, really 2.1) AA.
Who created WCAG?
WCAG was created by W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).
W3C was founded by the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, and it’s responsible for creating web standards in general.
Within W3C, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) has the job of developing and maintaining WCAG.
The AG WG currently consists of almost 150 experts from around the world, many of whom have disabilities themselves.
Feel free to check out who currently make up the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group.
You’ll see why WCAG is the benchmark for accessibility and incorporated into laws like the AODA in Canada and others around the world.
Let’s put it this way. WCAG wasn’t developed by amateurs.
How do you know if your website is WCAG-compliant?
When you built your website, did you discuss accessibility with your web developer or designer?
Was accessibility a requirement when choosing who to build AND maintain your website?
Have you ever conducted any type of accessibility testing on your website?
If you answered “No” to any of the questions above, it’s safe to say:
Your website is not accessible, and it’s not WCAG-compliant.
To put this in perspective for you, 98% of websites are not WCAG-compliant.
In 2019 and 2020, WebAim.org confirmed this in their annual tests performed on the top 1 million websites.
But WebAim’s testing tool can only pick up 20 – 30% of accessibility issues, so the truth about the state of website accessibility is definitely far bleaker.
So if you didn’t build your website with accessibility in mind, it’s not accessible.
Furthermore, if you haven’t been maintaining your website with accessibility in mind, it’s not accessible.
And that means it’s not WCAG-compliant, and it’s not AODA-compliant either.
But why should you care about WCAG-compliance (other than the obvious reasons)?
Well first let’s talk about the obvious reason.
In this context, the obvious reason why it matters is that it’s the law in Ontario.
If you’re reading this far, your company likely fits into the bucket of companies that must comply with AODA website compliance. That means you have 50 or more employees.
That also means that every 3 years you have to file a compliance report confirming your business is in compliance.
If you don’t submit the report, you could be audited.
And if you do submit the report, you could still be audited.
So the safest thing to do is to make sure you comply.
Let’s be real.
It’s really not worth it to go down this road.
But why else should you care?
Here’s the most important reason:
People with disabilities deserve equal access like everyone else.
When you make your website accessible, it allows people with disabilities to take advantage of information, opportunities, and experiences that make their lives better.
It allows them to be independent.
To feel a powerful sense of self-worth.
To thrive and realize their full potential within communities that do not put limits on what they can accomplish or on the contributions they can make to advancing their communities.
This affects people who:
- are blind or have low vision,
- are Deaf or hard of hearing,
- have dexterity or mobility impairments, and
- have cognitive challenges like dyslexia and autism.
And it even affects those who are simply growing old and naturally experiencing the nuisances of aging bodies.
While many people are born with disabilities, there are millions who either gradually develop or suddenly attain a disability from an accident, an infection, a disease, or a whole host of other reasons.
The truth is, sooner or later, disability affects us all.
But the silver lining is that technology can provide the ability to empower and overcome for people with disabilities.
In the accessibility world, I have met people who, in spite of their disabilities, have been able to accomplish far more than most of us dare dream of accomplishing.
They are an inspiration.
Accessible technology makes it possible for them to be an inspiration.
Case in point:
So if you’re a business owner in Ontario, don’t look at the AODA law as a nuisance.
Don’t look at WCAG-compliance as another inconvenient hassle or expense.
Instead, embrace accessibility.
And be proud to be a part of the first province in Canada that’s committed to making its communities fully accessible by 2025.
In every aspect of life: at school, at work, in public spaces and online.