Ramp up your Website Accessibility


Mortar and glue, bells and whistles: everything’s ready to launch on your new company website. Or is it?

Did you know that, as of January 2012, all new Ontario websites must adhere to specific standards of accessibility? The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), passed in 2005, obliges all organizations—from provincial government to small businesses—to provide an inclusive online experience for web surfers with disabilities.

Even if your website’s already up and running, the AODA requires all websites—new and old—to comply with the standards of inclusion by January 2016. Why not get started early?

It makes good business sense. According to 2010 Statistics Canada study, 2.6 million Canadians live with a disability. Those numbers surge higher every year as the baby-boom generation ages. That means your website may be turning away one in seven customers.

To ensure your website welcomes all comers, follow these tips.

  1. Make your images speak
    People with visual impairment surf the web using screen-readers. This software converts web text to audio content—or even Braille. But image-heavy sites may exclude these users. Under the new AODA standards, all non-decorative images—including logos, buttons and products—must be labelled with alternate text that can be picked up by screen-readers.
  2. Caption, caption, caption
    Audio/video content is a great crowd-pleaser, but can everyone partake? The AODA stresses that alternatives must exist for audio- or video-only format. All pre-recorded media must be captioned. Find captions unsightly? A simple line of code hides them from all but screen-readers.
  3. Directions, please
    The AODA mandates a labelled, navigable sitemap and clear alternate sequencing. This gives people with visual impairment the option to bypass large blocks of repetitive text, rather than slogging through your menu, mandate and terms on every page they visit.
  4. Avoid invisible ink
    The AODA forbids the use of colour as the sole means of conveying information. That’s because people who are colour-blind as well as a large percentage of senior citizens struggle with colour contrast. Dark blue buttons with light blue text may be snazzy at age 20, but invisible at age 65. The simple fix? Augment your attractive colour-coding by bolding, italicizing or bulleting your hyperlinks and buttons.
  5. Safety first
    Web designs that flash or blink represent a health risk to epileptics. The new AODA regulations aim to make web-browsing seizure-free by prohibiting webpages that “flash more than three times in any one-second period, or any flash is below the general flash and red flash thresholds.” Though a strobe-light theme may sound trendy, take a safety-first approach.
  6. Put it on my tab
    Not all web-surfers possess the fine-motor control to use a mouse with precision. Many rely solely on the keyboard, tabbing through the web. The AODA is cracking down on “keyboard traps” that strand users mid-page.
    Ever tried to use a video slider or volume control with keyboard only? What happens if the site doesn’t support a keyboard cursor? Make your website keyboard-friendly.
  7. An accessible goal
    Making your site accessible is a simple and inexpensive proposition. Caption your images and audio/video content. Find out whether your sitemap is navigable. Tab through your product list. In short, test out your site from the point of view of your clients.

Remember—while sites that go live before January can legally avoid compliance until 2016, accessibility is the mark of a caring, community-minded organization that’s open for business. Why wait?

The diverse experience Sue Sutcliffe has gained as one of Canada’s digital marketing pioneers, will help your business or brand dominate the digital.
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