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August 4, 2011 / Steve Hennigs

Web Accessibility, How Does it Affect You?


It is my personal opinion that all web sites should be as accessible as possible. By adhering to basic guidelines an organization can ensure that people are not being excluded from benefiting from the information posted on their respective web sites.

In looking at the accessibility reports generated by Siteimprove Quality Assurance for hundreds of web sites over the years (mostly in the US and Canada) I continue to be shocked at how many web sites fail even the most basic of accessibility guidelines. I have begun to wonder firstly if there simply is not enough awareness on what is required and secondly what is simply best practice. I am writing this post to provide some clarification on the former.

United States

“In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d) as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105 – 220), August 7, 1998 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. ”

This is a direct excerpt taken from Section508.gov and outlines who is legally obligated to having accessible websites in the United States. If you work on a website (intranet, other technology, etc) for a federal agency it must be accessible. You can find the requirements for Web-based intranet and internet information and applications by visiting the Section 508 website.

There were some signs (most notably this Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) that the United States Department of Justice was going to create legislation making it required for all public facing websites to comply with the WCAG 2.0 standards set forth by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative but that has recently been delayed for at least a couple of years. This article covers that recent development nicely.

So for a quick recap; in the United States if you are a federal agency your website must be accessible according to law, all other websites are not required to be accessible.

Canada

At this point Canada is a bit similar to the United States. The Common Look and Feel Standards 2.0 require all Canadian Federal internet web sites comply with Priority 1 and Priority 2 checkpoints of the WCAG 1.0 standards set forth by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. Should the Common Look and Feel Standards be updated in the future it would stand to reason that compliance with WCAG 2.0 would be required.

While these are the standards for federal websites in Canada, the province of Ontario has their own legislation. All hospitals, schools, municipalities and other public sector organizations had until January 1, 2010 to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005. If you fall into that group and are not compliant, you have some work to do.

Businesses and non-profits are not off the hook in Ontario either. Legislation being called AccessON will be enforced beginning January 1, 2012.

Quickly recapping Canada; Federal websites must comply with priorities 1 and 2 of WCAG 1.0. In the province of Ontario all hospitals, schools municipalities and other public sector organizations must be accessible and in 2012 all public facing web sites must be accessible.

Europe and others

Rather than make this post much more lengthy than necessary I was able to find a great resource that lists most countries’ policies on web accessibility. You can find it on the W3C’s Policies Relating to Web Accessibility.

Interesting Post

There is a bit of a debate that accessibility and SEO are one in the same. While they are similar, they are not the same. Here is a great post on that very topic, Web Accessibility is not SEO.

It is my hope that this has been informative but I certainly welcome comments, corrections and additions. This is a topic that will only grow in interest over the years so the more people we can make aware of it now, the better the web will be.

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4 Comments

  1. Tom Lawreszuk / Aug 4 2011 5:41 PM

    Great article. I agree accessibility should be one of the top priorities when developing a website, especially these days with a wide variety of devices.

    • Steve Hennigs / Aug 5 2011 8:21 AM

      Thanks Tom. When you are developing a site what tools do you use to assist you in making that site compliant?

  2. marthaegalindo / Aug 5 2011 11:29 AM

    Thank you! Great info. Must be shared!

    • Steve Hennigs / Aug 9 2011 1:46 PM

      Thanks Martha, just doing my part!

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