18 FEB 2010 2
The AODA or Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a law in Ontario governing how businesses and government offices are required to ensure that their operations do not exclude or cause difficulty for Ontarians who are disabled. Currently, this only extends to business operations in the real world, and not to virtual places of business like the Internet.
Now, as a regular business this is not something you'll have to worry about for quite a few years, but those managing a government office or location will be required to have accessible websites in just a few short years. This can be an issue in that case, especially if you're in the process of (or will shortly be in the process of) building a new website. Typically you would hope to get more than a few years of millage out of a website... so what can be done to protect your investment in a site now?
First off, it is important to note that the AODA information and communications standard (which will govern website and other communications requirements) has not been finalized yet, but we can be reasonably confident that the standard for websites is going to be WCAG 2.0 Level A compliance. It's logical to assume that when the standard is finalized, existing websites will not have to be brought up to speed immediately or if they are there will be government funding to help organizations achieve this goal. However, it's probably not a good idea to count on that being the case, because it's still uncertain until the standard is formalized.
Making your website accessible does add legwork to the project, but most of the legwork should be done by the web provider you've selected and not your organization, and there is certainly value to ensuring your website is accessible to a wider audience. There are two main points you'll want to ensure for accessibility when developing your new website:
1. Ensure your web provider is building a site that will be at least WCAG 2.0 compliant.
If you don't already have a good working relationship with your selected provider, ensure that they are contractually obligated to provide WCAG 2.0 compliance or greater. Knowing the Web Design industry, I am positive that there will be web providers out there that will try to capitalize on the new focus on accessibility and promise their customers they are delivering accessible websites, but won't actually go through the process of ensuring accessibility, banking on the fact that by the time the standard comes into law, the website will be done and they will be long gone.
2. Ensure that you are trained on creating WCAG 2.0 compliant content.
Very few sites sold today don't have a content management system (or CMS for short). If you're unfamiliar, a CMS essentially lets you edit and add content to your website without technical knowledge or ability. Since you will be adding and editing content to your website after it launches, it is extremely important that the CMS your provider is supplying actually supports the creation of accessible content, but also that the training supplied by your provider goes beyond just using the CMS to edit your website, and includes training of your staff on the steps and processes you will need to go through internally when adding or editing content to ensure that your website remains accessible.
I hope you found this brief overview of the AODA and how it will apply to your websites in the future helpful; in the next article we'll be talking about the requirements a website must meet to be WCAG compliant.