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Web Accessibility Legislation

In Canada & The United States

Web Accessibility - The Numbers

According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, over 6 million Canadians identify as having a disability. This is nearly a quarter of the population, and these numbers are considered to be a low estimate.

In the United States, the percentage is nearly the same (26% for the States, 22% in Canada, or, 1 in 4 people vs 1 in 5 people); put another way, an estimated 61 million adults are currently living with a disability in the USA.

Keep in mind as well, web accessibility benefits not only those who identify as living with a disability permanently, but also people who are temporarily disabled (for example, have broken their arm), or who would otherwise benefit from a more easily usable site (for example, as the computer-using population ages, there are increasing numbers of people requiring reading glasses in order to perceive content). An accessible site is also a benefit to SEO.

Web Accessibility In Canada

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act all indirectly address website accessibility, but do not provide any concrete standards.

They prohibit discrimination based on mental or physical disabilities, but for the most part were passed prior to web accessibility becoming a concern - for example, the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed in 1977, long before the internet was a common part of most Canadian's lives.

However, this does not mean that they do not apply to web accessibility, as was proven in 2010 in the landmark Jodhan v Canada case. Ms Jodhan successfully challenged the Canadian government after she was unable to apply for jobs on the Federal government's website without the assistance of a sighted person; after the ruling the government had fifteen months to make its websites accessible to users with visual impairments.

The Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) came into force on July 19, 2019. The purpose of the ACA is to make Canada barrier-free by Jan 1, 2040, with a focus largely on removing or preventing barriers within federal jurisdiction. It also established Accessibility Standards Canada to develop and revise accessibility standards, among other things. Standards are voluntary, and not a mandatory legal requirement at this time.

Provincial Legislation

Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA), Ontario

AODA is by far the most robust provincial regulation for accessibility in Canada. Established in 2005, AODA mandates that "all Private or non-profit organizations with more than 50 employees and all public sector organizations must make their website and web content compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA by January 1, 2021." AODA is enforced through fines of up to $100 000 per day. All elements on relevant sites must meet WCAG standards, including content from third party services.

Accessibility For Manitobans Act (AMA), Manitoba

AMA became law in 2013, and is committed to achieving "significant progress" by 2023. It is currently under development, and the current recommendation for websites is for obligated organizations to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards. Interestingly, although the AODA in Ontario exempts companies with less than 50 employees from some of its standards, the current recommendations are for all elements of AMA to apply to organizations of all sizes in Manitoba.

Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act was passed in 2017 and aims to make Nova Scotia barrier-free by 2030. They have created a framework called Access by Design 2030 that outlines their ongoing strategies. The Nova Scotian government intends to lead by example; the standards will first apply to them before being applied to public and then private sector bodies. The Government of Nova Scotia Accessibility Plan includes a commitment to adhere to WCAG 2.0 AA web standards, and it is expected that these standards will be included in public and private sector legislation as well.

Quebec Act To Secure Handicapped Persons In The Exercise Of Their Rights With A View To Achieving Social, School And Workplace Integration, Quebec

The Quebec Act to Secure Handicapped Persons in the Exercise of their Rights with a View to Achieving Social, School and Workplace Integration originally became law in 1978 and was amended in 2004. Unlike the other acts, Quebec's act only applies to the public sector. It does not currently have any clear goals or ways of ensuring compliance.

Accessible British Columbia Act, British Columbia

The Accessible British Columbia Act was passed in June, 2021. Initially, it will apply to government bodies only, before being expanded to include other organizations. The law does not currently include deadlines or specific standards, but it is likely that the standards will also follow WCAG compliance.

Web Accessibility In The United States

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), United States

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 and as such does not directly address concerns around internet accessibility. Although there are no actual laws in the US regulating standards for websites, there have been a number of rulings in recent years obligating companies to achieve WCAG 2.1 AA standards or face heavy fines. The ADA is a strict liability law, so if a company is found to be in violation of the Act, there is no valid defense.

Currently in the States there is a strong pattern of cases being won by the complainant, with fines ranging from $3000-$25 000+ depending on the size of the organization. Although most of these lawsuits are put forward by people attempting to use these websites, a number of cases have also been put forward in a more methodical fashion - for example, beginning in 2018, more than 75 art galleries in New York were systematically sued for failing to make their websites accessible to visually impaired people. Most lawsuits result in requiring the defendant to achieve WCAG 2.1 AA compliance standards.

Conclusion

In conclusion, legislation in Canada and the United States is strongly trending towards mandatory WCAG 2.1 AA compliance. Although there are only few places where WCAG standards are directly written in to law, there are many instances of laws with future intended web compliance, and lawsuits requiring individual companies to abide by WCAG standards.

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