AODA and WCAG Accessibility Compliance
Introduction to web users with disabilities
There are millions of web users that include people with disabilities, special needs, and impairments. Disability is as diverse as the web users responding to their respective internet ecosystems. People with disabilities, like everyone else, need access to mainstream services like the internet.
According to a World Health Organization report, over a billion people live with some diverse forms of disability, corresponding to 15% of the global population.
Here are some commonly observed categories of people with disabilities and impairments that affect their use of websites.
- Visual Disability: Total or partial inability to perceive or see colors.
- Auditory Disability: Reduced or total inability to hear.
- Motor/Physical Disabilities: Difficulty in moving parts of the body and making precise movements like using a mouse or a keyboard.
- Cognitive Disabilities: Users living with conditions like dyslexia and dementia affect the cognitive ability, subsequently affecting their web usage.
What are Accessibility Standards for web applications?
Providing accessibility democratizes the use of mainstream services like the internet. Although accessibility is always framed concerning people with disabilities, this practice enables sites to be more user-friendly, abled, or otherwise. This is why Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) exist.
WCAG covers a broad spectrum of recommendations to make web content accessible. These guidelines make content accessible to everyone. These guidelines are meant for web content and are used authoring tools, developers, and Accessibility Testing Toolkits.
Here’s an overview of the accessibility standards implemented under WCAG:
- The content needs to be perceivable.
- The content needs to be operable.
- The content must be understandable
- The content needs to be compatible.
WCAG has a rating system under its guidelines. There are three levels which are A, AA, and AAA.
- Level A asks for the most basic accessibility features.
- Level AA deals with the most common barriers disabled users face.
- Level AAA asks for the highest level of web accessibility.
Importance of being compliant with Accessibility Guidelines
WCAG is a series of web accessibility recommendations published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) – the international standards organization that regulates accessibility of the internet.
Here’s why these guidelines are essential.
- An accessible web enables people with disabilities to be actively involved in using the web content for gaining access to areas like education, employment, healthcare, online purchasing, media, etc.
- It’s easier to access communication and information for people who can’t physically always go out.
- Reaching out to a potential demographic and improving the overall user experience.
- For businesses, they can enhance their brand presence and reduce any legal risks,
- These guidelines will enable best practices in mobile web design, usability, and Search Engine Optimization.
“AODA Regulations in Ontario” and WCAG standards
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was introduced on June 13, 2005, to identify and address barriers that might prevent people with disabilities get access to the identifiable sectors in Ontario.
The act applies to all governmental, private, and nonprofit organizations in Ontario with one or more employees, full-time or otherwise.
Five standards constitute the AODA:
- 1) Customer Service Standard
- 2) Information and Communication Standard
- 3) Employment Standard
- 4) Transportation Standard
- 5) Design of Public Spaces Standard
One important area that comes under AODA is website compliance since these standards are applied to digital accessibility and web content (Part 2: Information and Communication Standard).
Websites and web applications mandates to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA criteria
Under the AODA requirements, websites must comply with WCAG 2.0, which is an international standard set to make sure that websites are fully accessible.
There are different levels to WCAG 2.0 compliance, depending on a website’s accessibility level – A, AA, AAA. Currently, the websites and web applications must comply with level A, subsequently meeting most of the level AA criteria.
In Canada, over $50 billion in buying power is represented by people with disabilities. In Ontario alone, there are 2.6 billion people with disabilities, which is 24% of its population. So, this compliance makes it advantageous for businesses to make more accessible products.
How to become compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level AA?
Here’s a quick checklist to know if a website is meeting the AODA compliance requirements.
- Alternative texts to non-text elements on a website.
- Understanding that content comprehension is not wholly dependent on its perceivable color, sound, size, etc.
- Audio elements need to have volume controls and allow users to stop or pause any audio that is three seconds or more.
- Links and web pages must have self-explanatory titles or texts.
- Resizable texts.
- The website must also function without a keyboard.
- Content on the website must not have elements that flash rapidly.
- Elements with a short time for their functionality must have an option to extend that limit.
To ensure that websites comply with AODA or WCAG 2.0, online test kits can be used. AODA Compliance Wizard, for instance, is a native tool that gives organizations an exhaustive list of requirements based on their type and workforce.
Website Mandates to be compliant with Accessibility Standards
Here are some of the standards that websites need to comply with.
- Text: Texts need to be large enough to be readable.
- Links: Link texts must be descriptive for better comprehension. For example, ‘download this file’ instead of ‘click.’
- Color Contrast: Texts need to have enough contrast against the color of their background. Color blindness testing needs to be done before choosing the proper color contrast.
- Images: The use of alternative tags or alt-tag HTML attribute enables people with a visual disability to stay informed about pictures in the web content, which can be read via screen readers like JAWS.
- Audio and Video: Subtitles or closed captions are popularly used in audio and video content for people with hearing impairments to read and understand the content they are accessing.
- Forms: Online forms can be made accessible by making them mobile-friendly, enabling keyboard-friendly switching between tabs, visible focused elements, and labeling all fields.
What is Accessibility Testing?
Accessibility testing helps assess whether a website or its application is usable and accessible to people with disabilities.
These toolkits work with assistive technologies like screen readers, screen magnifiers, and speech recognition software, addressing any functions that can potentially hinder the accessibility of a website.
Following are the elements that ATs evaluate:
- Text Contrast
- Font Size
- User interaction hotspots
There are several accessibility testing tools available. Google’s Lighthouse is one ATs that is easy to use and free-to-use.
Introduction to Lighthouse Tool
Lighthouse is an automated, open-source, Chrome built-in AT tool that is a part of the Chrome Developer Tools suite. The app will run a series of audits against web pages, generating reports on how well the page performs, accessibility, SEO, and progressive web apps.
To get started with Lighthouse, Google Chrome needs to be installed. Then visit the URL that requires auditing, followed by the Audits tab and selecting Perform an audit which will take about 30 to 60 seconds for the application to generate a report of that page.
Using WAVE to audit websites (wave.webaim.org)
Using W3C Validator
W3C offers Markup Validator, which is a free service used for checking the validity of web documents. Validating web documents is an unmissable step in creating cohesive and more accessible web pages.
Web documents are typically written in a markup language like HTML defined by specifications like machine-readable grammar and vocabulary. W3C validators check documents and see if they meet the technical requirements or recommendations by the W3C.
Introduction to JAWS Screen Reading
According to WHO’s estimation, a report reads that 285 million people are visually impaired globally. So, that’s a sizable number of people, as big as the American population, which can’t be ignored.
Visual impairment includes blindness, color blindness, and low-level vision. Most of them use screen magnifiers, screen readers, or software zoom magnifiers.
JAWS or Job Access With Speech uses Braille and speech output for popular PC software applications. It can be used for writing documents, reading emails, creating presentations, or navigating the internet, irrespective of usage location.
Tools like JAWS are known as assistive technologies or ATs.
Dolphin Screen Reader similarly is an AT, a robust and customizable screen reading software to help users with visual impairments access modern software via human-sounding speech and Braille output.
Introduction to VoiceOver tool
Democratizing access is fundamental to using the internet. International bodies like WCAG and W3C are responsibly ensuring that these accessibility standards are met for people with disabilities using their respective interweb ecosystem.