From local and sector-specific initiatives to countrywide legislation, people have begun to realize that web accessibility will have a crucial impact on nearly every industry. This is the first post in a country-specific series focusing on web accessibility initiatives around the world. The goal is to inform—as well as hopefully inspire—the general public, and to help make web accessibility more of a priority moving forward.
Web Accessibility Initiatives in Canada:
Canada has long been on the forefront of fostering an inclusive society for all its citizens, including the disabled. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 set the stage for anti-discriminatory standards throughout the country. The Act states:
All individuals should have an equal opportunity with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on…disability…
But as the digital era began in earnest, the Canadian government quickly realized that more emphasis had to be placed on digital standards to prevent discrimination on the web.
As it stands today, many believe that we are currently living in the “Golden Age of the Internet.” What does this mean? Internet access is widely available and used across most of the world, with little regulation/limitations. Many are content with the current Internet accessibility situation. But the current lack of structure and standards hinders many individuals, especially the disabled. For example: a lack of interoperability with assistive technologies, such as screen readers for the blind, means that a large segment of the population cannot communicate, interact, or participate on the Internet. As a solution to this dilemma, the Canadian government adopted the “Common Look and Feel Standard” in 2001, which requires all government department websites to be accessible by visually impaired users.
Until 2011, this Standard followed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0. However, in 2010, Donna Jodhan, an accessibility consultant and one of the first blind people to earn an MBA in Canada, successfully sued the Canadian federal government in a case known as Jodhan v. Attorney General of Canada.
In the suit, Jodhan argued that the standards implemented by the federal government denied her equal access to government information and services after the Treasury Board conducted an audit and found that none of the federal departments complied with the Standard, thereby violating her rights as a Canadian citizen.
On November 29, 2010, the Federal Court of Canada sided with Jodhan, ruling that Canada’s federal government must make its websites accessible to blind and partially-sighted Canadians. The results of this court cases also inspired what became known as the “Standard on Web Accessibility,” which was uniformly applied across Government of Canada websites and web applications and followed updated WCAG 2.0 standards. It went into effect on August 1, 2011.
Since then, the Canadian government has taken proactive measures to ensure compliance with web accessibility initiatives, issuing additional standards, such as the Standard on Web Interoperability, Standard on Optimizing Websites and Applications for Mobile Devices, and the Standard on Web Usability.
Province-Specific and Legislation in Progress
Numerous provinces have initiated their own web accessibility initiatives, including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The purpose of this Act is to benefit all Ontarians by developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards for businesses, non-profits, municipalities, and educational institutions.
British Columbia and Nova Scotia are proactively working to increase web accessibility for individuals with disabilities through the development of accessibility legislation.
The World Wide Web is in a period of significant transformation. Long gone are the days when everyone could look out for only themselves. Standards and regulations are spreading throughout the globe, shifting the rules of the Internet we know today.