Web accessibility a pressing issue in Ontario

For most people accessibility brings to mind images of convenient parking spaces, ramp entrances and elevators.

Awareness about the disabled and their ability or inability to access buildings has grown considerably over the past couple of decades and this is directly reflected in architectural design.

But there’s still something most people don’t think about — online accessibility.

A lot material on the Web can’t be consumed by those with visual or auditory impairments. Whether blind, unable to see text that is too small, or left guessing at what dialogue might be heard in a video without subtitles — the Internet isn’t typically a friendly place for the disabled.

David MacDonald, vice-president of E-Ramp, wants to change that.

“Web site accessibility is here and it’s something you have to pay attention to now,” he says. “Just as if you have a restaurant, you want to have a ramp on your curb to help people in wheelchairs to get into your building.”

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act came into force in 2005. Now the legislation is starting to be enforced across different public and private sectors. So MacDonald isn’t speaking in the abstract.

“Anything that has communications with the public will be affected,” he says.

Since the beginning of 2010, the law has been enforceable for Ontario’s public sector Web sites. The private sector still has a couple of years before it affects them. But the time to act is now.

Businesses must approach accessibility on the Web the same way they approach security, says Mark James, business development manager with Adobe Systems Inc. Treat it as an integrated and necessary component.

“Organizations must start planning now to meet these requirements,” he says. “The cost of transforming data is significantly higher than planning up front.”

About one in 10 people have some sort of disability. Making the world more accessible for them is an issue that’s come to the fore after years of public education efforts.

But the sad truth is accessibility initiatives often don’t come into force until legislation requires that they do, MacDonald says. Here are some resources for businesses that want to treat this issue differently:

Web accessibility resources

Web Content Accessibility Guidelineswww.w3.org

These are technology agnostic guidelines that Web developers worldwide can follow to meet accessibility standards. Canada and the Ontario government have used these guidelines when defining their own compliance codes, and companies that follow them will be in compliance.

Web masters should become familiar with the guide now to make their lives easier, says MacDonald. Once the law comes into effect for the private sector, complaints could be lodged against those who don’t meet the standards.

Companies who are showing every intention to implement the standards will likely receive the benefit of the doubt, he adds.

“Until you say no, we’re not going to do this,” MacDonald cautions. “That’s when complaints start coming and not only can you lose your customers with disabilities, but it’s bad press too.”

Adobe Accessibility Resource Centerwww.adobe.com/accessibility/

Loaded with examples, Flash presentations, tutorials, white papers and more, this is a one-stop shop for Adobe software users to learn the ins and outs of accessibility.

Adobe has embraced the concept of an accessible Web for a decade now, James says. It has worked with the federal and provincial governments to adhere to the correct guidelines and ensure its tools will work within the standards.

“Adobe has worked extremely hard over the last 10 years to get up to speed and help create a level playing field for people with disabilities,” MacDonald says. For example, “creating an accessible PDF is just as easy as creating a non-accessible PDF.”

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