July 18, 2013 Ken Nakata
Wow, a lot has happened in Web accessibility in Canada.
First, at the Federal level, this year marks a major landmark for government Web accessibility. By way of background, Canada has been tinkering with Web accessibility for about as long as its southern neighbor and approved the original Common Look and Feel (CLF) 1.0 standards in 2000. A few years later, CLF 1.0 was replaced by CLF 2.0, which reflected lessons learned from implementing CLF 1.0. Unlike the United States, however, Canada has tracked very closely to WCAG; CLF 1.0 mirrored much of WCAG 1.0 and, after the W3C released WCAG 2.0 in 2008, Canada replaced CLF entirely with the Standard on Web Accessibility, which syncs to WCAG 2.0.
Understanding guidance and requirements issued by the Canadian government around the new Web accessibility standards can be confusing. First, not all Canadian government entities need to follow the new standards—they only apply to the government agencies identified in Schedules I-III of the Financial Administration Act. Second, not all Web pages have to be made accessible and not all at the same time. Until now, only the most important Web pages needed to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA, but on August 1, 2013 ALL remaining Web pages must be accessible. Further information about Canada’s complicated implementation of Web accessibility can be found at http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/ws-nw/index-eng.asp.
Nevertheless, the vague standards didn’t prevent a lawsuit against the Province of Ottawa. In 2010, a Canadian judge ordered Ottawa to ensure that its websites were accessible within 15 months after a blind individual was unable to complete an online application and asserted that this inaccessibility violated her constitutional rights. Perhaps Canada’s failure to adequately implement CLF 2.0 at the time of the lawsuit explains the highly detailed (but complicated) implementation plan for the Standard on Web Accessibility.
At the provincial level, Ontario has been an early leader in accessibility. More recently, Ontario amended its Ontarians with Disabilities Act by enacting the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_05a11_e.htm. Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Service issued regulations on implementing AODA with Ontario Regulation 191/11 http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/source/regs/english/2011/elaws_src_regs_r11191_e.htm (for a more accessible version see www.aoda.ca). But if the Federal standards and implementation seems complicated, Ontario’s standards are immensely complicated and cover topics as diverse as Web accessibility, employment, and transportation. At the highest order of abstraction, the AODA regulations for Web content applies to Ontario government agencies and large private sector companies with the latter needing to conform to WCAG 2.0 AA by 2014 (new content) and 2021 (other content). Despite these complications, the AODA wildfire isn’t likely to end with Ontario. In fact, Manitoba is also contemplating similar legislation that would mirror the AODA http://www.gov.mb.ca/dio/discussionpaper/discussion_paper.html.
Table of AODA Deadlines
1. For the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly, January 1, 2012.
2. For large designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2013.
3. For small designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2014.
4. For large organizations, January 1, 2014.
5. For small organizations, January 1, 2015.
The bottom line is that based on the global accessibility trends, all Canadian organizations should look to get ahead of the legislation by making sites compliant with WCAG 2 AA from now on.