It’s probably not news to you that Nova Scotia has set the ambitious goal to be fully accessible by 2030 under the Accessibility Act. Your organization has most likely already considered how to make your space navigable for several different forms of mobility. But did you know your web presence will also be under scrutiny for accessibility?
Nova Scotia: Home to the Highest Rate of Persons Living With Disabilities in Canada
The passage of the Accessibility Act in April 2017 made Nova Scotia the third Canadian province to pass accessibility legislation. This is not surprising, considering Nova Scotia is home to the highest rate of people living with a disability in Canada: 30.4% of Nova Scotians self-reported living with a disability in the 2017 census, compared to the national average of 22.3% Canadians.
It can be tempting to point the finger at our ageing population for skewing the numbers. However, the most recent statistics do not support that assumption, as Nova Scotians aged 18 to 44 years reported experiencing disabilities at rates as much as eight percentage points higher than the national average.
With such a high percentage of Nova Scotians living with disabilities, it is important to consider all forms of accessibility in how we conduct our business to ensure we can serve and communicate effectively with all of our stakeholders to the best of our ability.
Building a Nova Scotia that is Accessible to All – IRL and Online
The Accessibility Act sets standards to overcome accessibility barriers in six different areas: goods and services, information and communication, public transportation and transportation infrastructure, employment, education, and the built environment.
While the majority of these areas deal with the physical environment, “information and communication” includes digital content and the technologies used to access it – something every organization that has a website, social media profiles, or apps must take into consideration.
Access by Design 2030: Achieving an Accessible Nova Scotia provides the overall framework for enacting the Accessibility Act, and the first phase is guided by the Government of Nova Scotia Accessibility Plan 2018-2021. In the 2018-2021 plan, it’s asserted that “[a]s an employer, and as Nova Scotia’s largest program and service provider, it is important for government to lead by example.”
In order to lead by example, the Accessibility Plan 2018-2021 sets the goal to create a more “user-centric” government website, which will be accessible according to the internationally-recognized standards laid out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA).
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) & Accessibility
The World Wide Consortium (W3C) was founded in 1994 by web creator Tim Berners-Lee, to set various standards around the structure and architecture of the part of the internet known as the world wide web. The consortium’s goal is to elevate the web to the highest potential it can reach. To help achieve this goal, the W3C began the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in 1997.
After consulting with key stakeholders, including disability organizations, accessibility research organizations, industry, and government, the WAI developed the first set of usability standards, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, in 1999.
Those standards were replaced when the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 was released in 2008, which fundamentally changed the standards in two keys ways: they were generically written and could be applied to any programming language, and were no longer instructive in nature. The WAI issued an update to the standards in 2018, which merely added provisions to the 2.0 guidelines regarding mobile devices and low vision users.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 are organized around 4 fundamental principles: that use of websites and their content must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
This section of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 outlines several alternative ways to present your content, such as using alt text and closed captioning. so that it can be accessible to as many people as possible regardless of how they are accessing the content.
“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
The principle of operability encompasses everything concerning how your website operates and how a user interacts with it. This includes keyboard use, providing enough time to consume content, avoiding design that can cause seizures, and navigation capability.
“Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
Information meets the standard for understandability when it is presented in clear language that’s also readable by AT (assistive technologies). The interface is understandable when it’s intuitive to use and helps users avoid mistakes when inputting information.
“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
The final section of the WCAG 2.0 sets standards for how your website operates on the backend. This includes having complete and properly labelled code, as well as interface components, such as forms and links, that can be used by AT (assistive technologies).
Next Steps for Your Organization
While you are not required to meet any particular standards now, the Nova Scotian government is bringing their own websites up to WCAG 2.0 standards – and they intend to lead by example. So now is the time to start thinking about accessibility standards and planning accordingly so that your website, social media, and apps will all conform to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. You can avoid a potential $250,000 fine for non-compliance, as well as make your brand and organizational message accessible to a wider audience of people – definitely a win-win-win.
Further Reading & Sources for this blog entry:
The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act and related documents:
- The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act: https://nslegislature.ca/sites/default/files/legc/PDFs/annual%20statutes/2017%20Spring/c002.pdf
- The Accessibility Directorate’s plan Access by Design 2030: Achieving an Accessible Nova Scotia: https://novascotia.ca/accessibility/access-by-design/
- The Government of Nova Scotia Accessibility Plan 2018-2021: https://novascotia.ca/accessibility/plan/government-accessibility-plan.pdf
- The Nova Scotia Accessibility Directorate: https://novascotia.ca/accessibility/
The Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada and related documents:
- The Accessible Canada Act: https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-81/royal-assent
- Infographics about the Accessible Canada Act: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/accessible-people-disabilities/act-infographic.html#section1
Information about the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and WCAG 2.0 standards:
- About W3C: https://www.w3.org/Consortium/
- Complete WCAG 2.0 Guidelines: https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/
- About the Web Accessibility Initiative: https://www.w3.org/WAI/