When creating a physical storefront for your company or business, you must ensure you can welcome as many potential clients and customers as possible. But did you know that accessibility goes beyond a physical store location?
An accessible business must also include a website where those with disabilities can use your site properly. Want to know more about ensuring your website is accessible to everyone and how you can comply with Canada’s Accessibility Act standards? This article explores everything you need to know about website ACA compliance in Canada.
The ACA: Canada’s ADA Equivalent
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, which prohibits the discrimination of disabled persons in the United States under five distinct titles:
- Employment (Title I)
- Public Services (Title II)
- Public Accommodations (Title III)
- Telecommunications (Title IV)
- Miscellaneous (Title V)
Canada’s equivalent, the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) or Bill C-81, was officially passed on July 11, 2019. The ACA is designed to ensure a barrier-free Canada, which includes anything that those with a disability cannot take an equal and full part in due to such – this includes physical, architectural, technological, attitudinal, and more.
While the ACA was not passed until 2019, equal web accessibility goes back to the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977. Although the Canadian Human Rights Act did not specifically lay out regulations on website accessibility due to its inexistence at the time, it has now been interpreted to include organizations providing accessible digital content to those with disabilities. The Standard on Web Accessibility, created in 2011, does directly address Canadian web accessibility standards.
While the best way to ensure your website follows accessibility requirements is by following the ACA and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, knowing exactly how to follow these requirements can be difficult. While the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) offers both ADA Approved and ADA Accepted classifications, the Accessible Canada Act requires certain Canadian websites to instead be ACA compliant.
Who Does Web Accessibility Benefit?
Did you know that 22% of the population, or more than 6 million Canadians 15 years of age or older, identify as disabled? In Canada, a disability may classify as physical or mental impairment and include the following conditions:
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Bi-Polar Disorder
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Crohn’s Disease
- Walking Difficulties
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Learning Disabilities
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Any condition listed above that impacts one’s quality of life may fall under those who can benefit from Canada’s web accessibility standard.
Why Does an Accessible Website Matter?
The goal and purpose of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) is to make Canada entirely barrier-free by January 1, 2040, which includes equal access to technology. One of the goals of the ACA is to ensure that all individuals can interact with businesses and services easily and without accessibility barriers. Customers should never be turned away on account of their disability.
This matters to businesses and their websites because having inaccessible websites can be compared to refusing service. To prevent this as much as possible, the ACA has its advice and also supports the Canadian Standard of Web Accessibility. These guidelines allow the ACA to gauge how compliant a website or business is with its online accessibility.
Who Is Required to Follow Canadian Web Accessibility Laws?
While ideally, any business with a website would follow Canadian web accessibility laws, only certain agencies, businesses, and organizations are required to do so. Companies that are legally required to comply with Canadian Web Accessibility Laws include the following:
- Government entities
- State-owned companies that operate as private businesses
- Any business classified as being in the private sector (Transport, banking, telecommunications, etc.).
The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, established by the ACA, developed the web accessibility standards that government businesses must follow. In addition, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is considered the general standard for web content accessibility guidelines and has been accepted worldwide to comply with accessibility standards and requirements. Canada’s Standard of Web Accessibility states explicitly that government websites are required to comply with WCAG requirements.
How Can I Ensure My Website is ACA Compliant?
While it may seem like a complicated process to ensure your website is ACA-compliant, several tools are readily available, including an automated accessibility system. Several highly recommended tools are available, including UserWay and accessiBe, which both ensure WCAG compliance.
A web accessibility solution will scan your website and give you a detailed report of accessibility issues that need to be addressed. Plus, many of these accessibility issues can be automatically fixed with these programs, making ACA compliance much easier than you may have ever expected.
And while the majority of these accessibility tools will be marketed as meeting ADA compliance and the WCAG, both the ADA and the ACA follow the WCAG. Therefore, you can be confident that you’re meeting the regulations of the Accessible Canada Act.
What Happens if I Don’t Comply with the ACA?
If you are considered one of the organizations listed above that is legally required to comply with the ACA, you may be fined up to $250,000 per infraction if you choose not to comply with web accessibility law. The amount of the fine will depend on the seriousness of your violation.
Having said this, the exact procedure for investigating and charging violations of the ACA has yet to be established.
The Importance of Digital Accessibility in 2023
Making your website supportive of ACA guidelines and the WCAG is still extremely important to your site, regardless of if you are legally required to make it so. Ensuring your website is safe and welcoming for users with any sort of disability will help your business attract more clients that would otherwise have challenges accessing your service.
Do you have more questions about the ACA or need to speak with an SEO expert? Contact us today to book a free SEO audit!