What is your organization’s process for ensuring its website is accessible? Since the early days of the internet, most leaders have responded by just placing this responsibility on their web developers. But with the passage of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), the government has indicated that meeting the needs of people with disabilities requires a larger effort, and new regulations mandating compliance are likely on the horizon. Will your organization be ready?

Keep reading to learn what’s included in the ACA and the steps you can take to ensure your site meets Canadian standards for accessibility.

Accessible Canada Act (ACA): A Brief Explanation

The Canadian government created an initiative somewhat modeled on the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) to remove the barriers in society faced by people with disabilities, including their ability to access information online. From 2016 to 2017, it asked citizens to help identify what those barriers are and what they believed needed to be done to solve them. The resulting legislation is the Accessible Canada Act (ACA).

The ACA went into effect in 2019 and is primarily enforced by an Accessibility Commissioner who reports to a Minister of Accessibility. However, additional responsibilities are being placed on the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission as well as the Canadian Transportation Agency.

It is important to note the ACA only applies to organizations that fall under federal authority. They are generally categorized in the following ways: (1) All government agencies and departments, including Crown corporations and parliamentary entities. (2) Parts of the private sector that is regulated by the government, specifically banks, the federal transportation network, and the broadcasting and telecommunications industry.

What Exactly Does “Accessible” Mean?

It’s best to think of the ACA as a work in progress. It created a mandate to achieve a “barrier-free” Canada by January 1, 2040, but the details of how that will be accomplished have not yet been developed. To get there, the act established the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO). The majority of its board members are required to be people with disabilities, and they have been tasked with identifying and recommending voluntary standards for organizations to follow. It is expected that many of these standards will eventually become regulations, which can carry a penalty of up to $250,000 per violation.

How to be ACA Compliant (as it stands now)

Just because the details of the ACA are still being developed doesn’t mean covered organizations get a free pass to ignore it. There are 3 requirements organizations are currently expected to meet:

(1) Publish and update an accessibility plan every 3 years with input from people with disabilities.

(2) Provide a way to collect feedback for website accessibility issues.

(3) Publish progress reports on how accessibility initiatives are being implemented and how feedback has influenced decisions.

Organizations are currently free to develop their plans without much federal oversight. Due to this ambiguity, it’s best to start by reviewing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to get an overview of common accessibility issues before designing a plan.

How to Quickly Evaluate Your Site For Accessibility

As mentioned above, it’s possible to manually check the code on your website by following the items listed in the WCAG. But depending on the number of pages included in a site, an automated solution like this free accessibility scanning tool from UserWay is a better strategy.

UserWay’s distributed scanning and monitoring infrastructure can perform 30,000 scans on a site with 15,000 pages (covering both mobile and desktop resolutions) in under an hour. The first results of large scans are returned in just a few minutes.

A Simple Accessibility Solution

Organizations that fall under ACA regulations will have no choice but to stay current on accessibility issues going forward, and the process to keep large sites compliant will continue to become more complex as new standards are created.

That means a small team of web developers will most likely not be enough to handle this growing responsibility, especially since the financial penalties within the ACA can be so high.

This is one area where AI technology can serve as a “magic bullet.” Instead of requiring countless man-hours to remain ACA compliant, organizations can offload most of this responsibility to reliable, automated solutions.

For example, the UserWay Accessibility Widget can be installed on any website with just one line of code, and it immediately makes the content meet WCAG standards.

The included AI interprets images to create captions, adds accessible labels to input fields and forms, and deciphers all the links, headings, landmarks, and their structures, to make navigation accessible and meet the underlying WCAG guidelines.

The widget also includes an overlay that provides options such as text and contrast adjustments, a font for dyslexics, a screen-reader, and much more.

Visit UserWay.org to learn more about the widget and other tools that can help your organization meet ACA requirements. No matter what the code on your website looks like, UserWay can get it compliant and help you demonstrate your commitment to making the web more inclusive for everyone.