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What is Essential When it Relates to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)?

By Geof Collis
June 29, 2012

After reading a Press Release and reviewing another website of an organization in the Province of Ontario making claims of accessibility after adding Essential Accessibility to their site, I felt compelled to write this article, especially in light of the response from a letter I wrote to Minister Milloy (see below).

I sent a letter to Minister Milloy after reading the Ontario Medical Association’s Press Release that stated:

“As physicians, we see many people each day who have various levels of physical dexterity and English literacy. Our partnership with eSSENTIAL Accessibility will help the OMA to meet the needs of Ontarians with disabilities, and will help us improve our own ability to communicate. We hope that other organisations will join in making the internet an easier place to navigate for all Ontarians.”
Dr. Stewart Kennedy, President, Ontario Medical Association.

http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/670592

The most recent Release was from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO):

“As a retailer, it’s important to ensure all our customers have full access to our products and services,” says LCBO President & CEO Bob Peter. “Being part of this initiative allows us to better engage with physically-challenged customers and enhance their shopping experience.”

http://www.mediacastermagazine.com/press-releases/story.aspx?id=1001470756

What do these 2 organizations have in common other than being well known in Ontario? Both of their websites do not meet the AODA Integrated Accessibility Regulation and both have the aforementioned product on their sites making claims of Accessibility.

Both Press Releases state:

ESSENTIAL Accessibility helps Ontario organizations meet standards in customer service, employment and communication as mandated by the Communication Supports directive of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), 2005. eSSENTIAL Accessibility does not ensure conformance with World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Regarding Essential Accessibility, noted Accessibility expert Dr. Jim Thatcher (
http://www.jimthatcher.com/)
who helped in the development of one of the first screen readers for DOS in 1984-85, called IBM Screen Reader. (Such access systems are now known as “screen readers went as far as to state in a public forum that Essential Accessibility is a Scam, I encourage you to join the LinkedIn group and read the thread.

In this thread many other noted Accessibility Experts around the Globe are concerned about the effect products like this will have on all of the real accessibility work that has gone into developing World Wide Standards and point out some of the controversial issues surrounding this product such as:

  • It is Windows base only, Mac users have to download and install a program that makes it Windows compatible
  • It does not work on Tablets or smart phones
  • You need to be able to use a mouse to access the product
  • It is more often than not located at the very bottom of any given page, what are the chances of finding it if you have a Disability they are catering to

The one I was most interested in and posed to the Minister was the following:

“One of the major concerns is that many Companies and Organizations such as the OMA websites are not accessible according to WCAG 2.0 and by extension the AODA Integrated Accessibility Regulation yet the article  claims that Essential Accessibility is helping to meet this Standard. How is that possible?”

Even the Press Releases state that the product does not ensure compliance to WCAG, the foundation of the AODA Integrated Accessibility Regulation.

The AODA Alliance was copied on the letter to the Minister and had this to say:

“The AODA Alliance, as a volunteer advocacy  community coalition, is not in a position to and is not equipped to comment on the quality of accessibility
services by any particular consultant, company or provider. As such, we do not make any comments about that.

We do repeatedly emphasize that organizations in Ontario must not only meet the website requirements of the AODA’s Integrated Accessibility Regulation, but also those of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and in the case of public sector organizations, the Charter of Rights as well.

We believe the time lines in the IAR for website accessibility are in a number of cases too long, and fall well short of the requirements of the Ontario
Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights. The Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that the Federal Government must make its websites promptly accessible to persons with disabilities in order to comply with the Charter of Rights, in the case of Donna Jodhan v. Government of Canada.

In his letter to you, Minister Milloy stated: “At this time only the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly must meet web accessibility requirements as part of the IASR.  Organizations will need to meet web accessibility  requirements for new websites beginning January 1, 2014.

We adopted this phased-in approach in order to  give organizations the time they need to build  accessibility into their regular business processes.”

That of course does not excuse an organization from its obligations to more quickly remove and prevent barriers against persons with disabilities under
the Human Rights Code and, in the case of public sector organizations,  the Charter of Rights, except where to do so would cause that organization undue hardship.”

Exactly! These companies are avoiding real accessibility issues by slapping on a quick fix that I have yet to find any data that it works as stated or if it is even being used by anyone.

With todays technologies a product like this is becoming obsolete, for example:

Windows 8 has many of the same features as Essential Windows 8 adds Help for Visually Impaired, Physically Challenged.

Why then are Organizations like the LCBO spending untold amounts of money on a product like this that no one has been able to explain to me how it addresses the AODA.

I gave the Managing Director of the product in the LinkedIn thread the opportunity to answer this question, no response. I asked the Minister and no real answer other than his people are reviewing it.

While we wait for them to comply with the Law this Company is making money on the backs of the Disable by Organizations that are looking for a quick fix when they should be spending it on REAL Accessibility for the majority who need it, not a select Disability, which seems like a form of discrimination in itself.

The President of the OMA states “all Ontarians” and the LCBO states “all our customers ” yet this product only serves a certain segment of the Disabled whereas the AODA/WCAG is designed to serve ALL Ontarians.

I believe that it is Essential that all Ontarians with Disabilities deserve websites that are Accessible, not AccessaBull!

Letter to Minister Milloy

Dear Minister Milloy,

I would like to bring to your attention something that has many in the Accessibility and Disability Community in Ontario and beyond concerned and frustrated.
It is a Company, Essential Accessibility (
http://www.essentialaccessibility.com/).

In  a recent Press Release (http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/670592)
from the Ontario Medical Association (OMA)  it is stated:

eSSENTIAL Accessibility helps Ontario organizations meet standards in customer service, employment and communication as mandated by the Communication Supports directive of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), 2005. eSSENTIAL Accessibility does not ensure conformance with World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Regarding Essential Accessibility, noted Accessibility expert Dr. Jim Thatcher (
http://www.jimthatcher.com/)
who helped in the development of one of the first screen readers for DOS in 1984-85, called IBM Screen Reader. (Such access systems are now known as “screen readers went as far as to state in a public forum that Essential Accessibility is a Scam, I encourage you to join the LinkedIn group and read the thread
“Essential Accessibility is a Scam” at http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&srchtype=discussedNews&gid=1796098&item=83364189&type=member&trk=eml-anet_dig-b_pd-ttl-cn&ut=2KWH5KguCatRc1.

One of the major concerns is that many Companies and Organizations such as the OMA websites are not accessible according to WCAG 2.0 and by extension the
AODA Integrated Accessibility Regulation yet the article  claims that Essential Accessibility is helping to meet this Standard. How is that possible?

Bruce Bailey, Accessibility IT Specialist  of U.S. Access Board  writes regarding Essential Accessibility at
http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-gl/2011AprJun/0132.html:

“I am confident that we can all agree that this sort of approach is not necessary for WCAG 2.0 conformance. I am personally skeptical that this approach is sufficient for conformance, so I am glad you raise the issue for discussion!”

What we are finding is that Essential Accessibility is being used as a quick fix for accessibility while real accessibility is put on the back burner until Guidelines dictate they have to comply.

The Accessibility Community has been unable to find any documentation that this product has any benefit, on the contrary, if you were to read the thread on LinkdeIn you will find many examples of why it doesn’t provide much benefits, from many leading Accessibility Experts around the World.

I have to ask Mr. Milloy if this is the kind of Accessibility that the AODA wants to promote and perhaps endorse by remaining silent without investigation and education to the public if there is little to no benefit as experts agree.

While this ‘quick fix’ arguably benefits some, an inaccessible website that is not WCAG or AODA compliant benefits no one, most of the products can be found on any home PC.

Should Companies like this be able to make money  off the AODA without some sort of Governing mechanism?

Companies like this make money while those who need ‘Real Accessibility’ have to wait.

I thank you for any time you can devote to this issue and look forward to your response.

regards

Geof Collis

Advocate and Editor Accessibility News

Response from Minister

Ministry of Community                        Ministère des Services

and Social Services                              sociaux et communautaires 

Minister’s Office                                     Bureau du Ministre               

Hepburn Block                                       Édifice Hepburn

Queen’s Park                                         Queen’s Park

Toronto ON  M7A 1E9                           Toronto (Ontario)  M7A 1E9

Tel.:  (416) 325-5225                              Tél.:  (416) 325-5225     

Mr. Geof Collis

[gcollis@nexicom.net]  

Dear Mr. Collis: 

Thank you for your e-mail regarding web content accessibility.  First, let me offer my appreciation for your ongoing advocacy for accessibility for people with disabilities.  Our province is a better place because of it. 

I understand your concerns that some organizations’ websites may not meet the requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Regulation (IASR) or international guidelines, such as WCAG Level 2.0. 

Our government chose to take a phased-in approach to the accessibility standards and, as a result, at this time only the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly must meet web accessibility requirements as part of the IASR.  Organizations will need to meet web accessibility requirements for new websites beginning January 1, 2014.  

We adopted this phased-in approach in order to give organizations the time they need to build accessibility into their regular business processes. 

You also raised questions about statements made in relation to services provided by eSSENTIAL Accessibility.  I have shared your observations and analysis with ministry staff for their review.  If you have concerns about the OMA’s endorsement of eSSENTIAL Accessibility, you may wish to direct those concern to the OMA. 

Once again, thank you for writing. 

Sincerely, 

Original Signed by  

John Milloy

Minister