Digital Accessibility Standards

January 1, 2025. This is the target date for all businesses in Ontario to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), in order to make Ontario fully accessible to everyone in society. It may seem like a long way away but we’ve come more than half way from the date the act was established in 2005. The act outlines laws for accessibility standards related to goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodation, and buildings. Accessibility is a hot topic and this act serves as an important guideline to remove all barriers that restrict a person with a disability from participating fully in society, thereby providing equal access for all. If you own a business in Ontario (even if that business is strictly online) this act applies to you. This article’s focus is on accessibility on the web, as well as the PDF standard that supports accessibility.

Accessible Design Standards

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” – Tim Burners Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web

The AODA standards outline requirements for accessible information and communications that include website, textbooks, and business information. This includes the requirement for businesses to make their web content accessible according to W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and you can find more information here: http://bit.ly/1kESEZG. Examples of web accessibility include alternative text for images, a website that doesn’t rely on the use of a mouse and can be navigated via keyboard or assistive technology alone, as well as transcripts for all video and audio recordings.

The video training service, Lynda.com, is not only an excellent resource for web accessibility training videos, but it also serves as an example of an expertly designed accessible website. They have a free training course all about accessible website creation and the most eye-opening video in this series is called “Experiencing a website via a screen reader” (http://bit.ly/1JUdIYT). This video makes it very clear that inaccessible websites make it nearly impossible for screen readers to make sense of the content and the information being read by the screen reader can sound like gibberish (ex: “Tell us what's good and what's not. Get the latest news. Link heat wave link the temperatures. Link NAV gets nine months in violin case. Link lack of brains hinders research.”) Check out Lynda.com’s free Web Accessibility Principles video series here: http://bit.ly/1NSGv6U.

PDF/UA

The PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) standard is the international standard for accessible PDF technology, which ensures that individuals with assistive technology (i.e. screen readers, screen magnifiers, and joysticks) can participate fully with the PDF document. It is not a separate file format (it’s still a PDF), but a way of ensuring that PDF files are barrier-free. Some of the requirements include security settings within the PDF that must allow assistive technology to be able to access the content, PDFs must be tagged in a logical order, meaningful graphics within the PDF must include alternative text descriptions, and problematic content is not allowed to be in the PDF (i.e. poor colour contrast and inaccessible JavaScript). Adobe sums up the reason for developing this standard in one sentence: “PDF/UA makes certain the PDF format isn’t the source of accessibility problems”.

The PDF/UA standards are highly technical in nature and are designed for software programmers who are creating and validating PDFs, as well as suppliers of assistive technologies. However, it’s important to know that there is an accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro XI that tests against the PDF/UA criteria, however it is not yet able to test for full compliance to the standard. For PDF/UA in a Nutshell, please follow this very useful link: http://bit.ly/1LPAhBF.

It’s clear that this article just skims the surface of digital accessibly; never mind understanding all of the components necessary to make a business compliant with all AODA standards. Therefore, the final resource I will leave you with is called the “Accessibility Compliance Wizard” which is a free online questionnaire that helps you discover what your business has to do to comply with AODA: http://bit.ly/1lnTtMQ

There is a lot to learn about making your business accessible in compliance with AODA. For more information please visit www.ontario.ca/accessON or call the AODA Contact Centre (ServiceOntario): 1-866-515-2025.

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Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.