Imagine Googling a recipe, but not being able to make sense of the instructions listed on the website. Imagine trying to buy something online, but not being able to easily pay for your items. Imagine trying to read an article on your phone, but it’s not compatible for mobile devices so words are cut off. These are all examples of digital barriers we face every day.
Thankfully the world is becoming more accessible. In the physical world, we’ve seen more consideration and accommodations for people living with disabilities—everything from wheelchair ramps to sensor-friendly grocery shopping hours with dimmed lights and minimal noise.
But accessibility must also extend to our digital world. In this ultimate guide to web accessibility, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of accessible websites while learning best practices to make your site more user-friendly for everyone who visits it.
Everyone should be given equal opportunities to access information, make purchases, and request services online. That is what’s meant by the term “web accessibility.” Websites that are accessible work well for all people—regardless of visual, auditory, mobility/dexterity, intellectual, or sensory disabilities.
of the world's population lives with a disability
of people would spend more on accessible websites
of websites are
One common misconception about web accessibility is that it’s done only to accommodate those with disabilities. But this is not the case. Consider the examples at the start of this article; all these scenarios would negatively affect people without disabilities, too. Broaden your thinking to reframe web accessibility as creating universal, user-friendly web experiences for everyone.
“When speaking of disabilities, the blind and their needs are most often used as an example. It is deceivingly simplistic since accessibility is something most of the population can benefit from.”
– Marcus Österberg, Web Developer and Author
The concept of digital inclusion is new to many people or, regrettably, an afterthought. But consider the massive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts being made by businesses and organizations worldwide. Supporting website accessibility is a natural extension of that mission to create equal opportunities for all.
Collectively, we are spending a tremendous amount of time online. This necessitates the need to make websites accessible on whatever electronic device or assistive technology being used to access the site.
spent online on average each day
of that time is spent on mobile devices
There are countless benefits to prioritizing web accessibility, including improved public brand perception, mitigated legal risks, and even increased sales. We’ll discuss these in more detail later, but for now, we invite you to understand this important principle: working to make your website accessible is more than just the “right thing to do.” It goes beyond morality to include proven advantages that can give you a competitive edge.
“The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?”
– Steve Krug, Usability/UX Consultant and Author
When websites are not mindfully built and maintained to accommodate many different types of people and ever-changing technology, they risk violating basic human rights. And that’s why parts of the globe—including Canada—have introduced regulations and guidelines to deliver better web experiences.
Canada is leading by example to promote digital inclusion. Federal and provincial legislation is sweeping the nation with several provinces adopting mandated web accessibility.
On a national equality level, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a core part of our country’s constitution. The Canadian Human Rights Act further protects our rights and freedoms, prohibiting discrimination against Canadians, including those with physical or mental disabilities.
Since many people use computers and the internet to do their jobs, The Employment Equity Act is in place to minimize barriers to those with disabilities within the workplace. This is another very important consideration for web accessibility: a negative online experience can literally impact people’s livelihood!
Canada introduced its Standard on Web Accessibility in 2011. It mandates that Government of Canada websites and web applications to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA criteria. But there are many more websites online than those under government control. The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) became law in 2019 to ensure greater inclusion of Canadians with disabilities.
Ontario was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to enact legislation beyond federal or global web accessibility compliance. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a natural progression of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Public and private businesses with more than 50 employees and all non-profit public sector organizations must achieve web compliance under this act. The Act aims to create a barrier-free Ontario by 2025, and we’re well on our way!
Curious if your website is AODA Compliant?
It’s not surprising that other provinces within Canada quickly saw the many benefits of AODA and advocated for accessible websites themselves.
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) was passed in 2013, which focused on Information and Communications accessibility on websites.
On the east coast of Canada, Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act was the third province to enact accessibility legislation. Newfoundland and Labrador also is poised to pass legislation in the form of Bill 38 to address accessibility and inclusion.
Quebec’s Act to Secure Handicapped Persons in the Exercise of their Rights with a View to Achieving Social, School and Workplace Integration mandated that ministries and government agencies adhere to WCAG 2.0. Unlike other provinces, Quebec’s law only applies to the public sector and lacks clear timelines, goals, or penalties for non-compliance. We expect the Act to encompass non-governmental sites in the future.
British Columbia proposed the Accessible British Columbia Act (Bill 6), helping people with disabilities fully participate in their communities.
More and more provinces and territories are proposing similar acts to improve web accessibility over time. Oh, thank you, Canada!
Check your website accessibility for free.
We’ve talked a lot about the value of accessibility as it relates to Canadians. But what about the risks of inaction? When your website is not accessible, you introduce needless risks to your business or organization.
Just some of the dangers of inaccessible websites include:
fine for failure to comply with accessibility standards
website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal courts
in lost revenue potential for online retailers
in disposable income controlled by the disability market
It makes perfect sense to want to comply with accessibility laws, but that’s easier said than done. The reason why so many sites are non-compliant is not for lack of trying, but because of how easy it is to make web accessibility mistakes.
Here are some of the most common accessibility barriers on the web today:
When thinking about web accessibility, one of the most helpful and intuitive ways to solve problems is to put yourself in the shoes of someone with a disability. We’ve all experienced the frustration of filling out a form online only for it to not go through. The error on the form is often indicated in red text, but what if you were blind to that colour? How can we take this common human experience and translate it into something more accessible?
“An accessible digital world is ultimately about our collective ability for empathy. That’s where true and transformational accessibility and inclusion comes from. It’s a transformation that supports everyone’s abilities and desires to be contributing members of our digital world.”
– Andre LeFort, VP Technology, tbk & AODA Online
Building a fully accessible and optimized user experience for all site visitors is complex. It’s important to take proactive, careful measures to craft a positive user experience—and that often involves dedicated web accessibility experts.
Your website must be coded for accessibility. But it’s not enough to “set it and forget it.”
Once your website is built, it should be monitored and tested regularly to identify and fix accessibility issues. Conforming with WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria is the ultimate goal, but in simpler language, here are some tips to make your website accessible:
Many people—even senior marketing managers—are not aware that their website needs to be accessible. While we’re making progress on that front, those who do know still often underestimate the time and expertise it takes to find and fix compliance issues.
With the number of people living with disabilities expected to grow, it’s more important than even to introduce proactive measures for web accessibility within your business. If you’re concerned about how to navigate this, please don’t hesitate to reach out for expert advice.
Worried your website isn’t accessible?
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