The number of Ontarians living with a disability is climbing – with an average of one in four people facing accessibility challenges every day. Providing an accessible built environment is key to reaching our shared goal in providing all individuals with the opportunity to participate actively and fully – without barriers. Often when we think about providing an accessible environment, we do envision the physically built environment – for example, curb cuts in sidewalks to facilitate ease of movement for wheelchairs, walkers, and other assistive devices. In addition to accessing physical spaces, we also need to provide barrier free access to virtual spaces. Digital – or web accessibility is critical to ensure we all have access to the same online information, support and services that are available to all. Increasing recognition of the value and importance of accessibility has led to the development of various laws, guidelines, standards, and recommendations. Let’s look into these a bit further.
Ontario has adopted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005(also known as the AODA) that requires organizations to use accessible practices to better meet the needs of people with disabilities. The purpose of the AODA is to develop and implement accessibility standards for use in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to make services, programs, spaces, and employment accessible to all Ontarians.
Although there are currently no AODA standards specific to the education sector, two committees were established to draft accessibility standards with this focus. The Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee has been specifically tasked with developing recommended guidelines for the university and college communities. Their final recommendations are due to be implemented by January 1, 2025, and address barriers such as attitudes, behaviors, instruction, as well as social, physical and financial barriers.
For now, we’ll turn to the AODA’s information and communication standards, which has a requirement that organizations make their websites and online materials accessible. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, often referred to as WCAG, are international guidelines created with the aim of providing common web accessibility standards worldwide. These guidelines apply to all web content, whatever the sector. To ensure that an appropriate level of web accessibility has been achieved, the AODA requires all organizations to comply with and respect the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA.
What is meant by “web content”?
In the context of this module, web content refers to all content found online, including information (such as text, photos, and sound), as well as the code that defines the structure.
At the time of developing this module, the most recent version of WCAG is version 2.1, while version 2.2 is scheduled for Fall 2023. We encourage you to keep on top of the updated requirements and legislation when it comes to web accessibility. The “Useful Resources” section at the end of this module points to some of the organizations and groups we recommend tapping into.
Assess your basic understanding of the AODA by completing this H5P activity.