Best Practices FEATURE

Building Accessible Digital Services

The Accessible Canada Act

On June 21, 2019, Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, received Royal Assent and subsequently came into force on July 11, 2019.

As the Canadian Government explains:

"Accessibility in Canada is about creating communities, workplaces and services that enable everyone to participate fully in society without barriers."

Federally regulated entities are required to:

  • Create accessibility plans: Federal employers must create accessibility plans in consultation with persons with disabilities, which describe the entity’s strategy to improve accessibility and meet their legal duties.  
  • Develop feedback tools: Federally regulated entities will need to set up a mechanism to receive and address feedback from its employees and consumers, which can include complaints about barriers encountered. 
  • Publish progress reports: In consultation with persons with disabilities, these reports will detail how the organization fulfills its accessibility plan and outlines its consultations. 

Examples of published plans include Public Service and Procurement, Nova Scotia and British Columbia.


Principles for Digital Access

In May 2019 the Canadian chapter of the Internet society held their second Digital Access Day.

There are over a billion people in the world with some form of disability, and as these develop with age factors like Canada’s increasing elderly population make this an increasingly mainstream requirement.

Canada is responding to the requirement through Bill C-81 and appointing a first Deputy Minister for Accessible Workplace.

Users are very open to sharing their experiences of user friendliness, so don’t hesitate to engage their inputs.

Ensure that service design research begins at the earliest stage and continues throughout, by co-creating with users with disabilities identifies that the right problem is being solved. Government has a history of "bolting on" accessibility testing at the end of projects.

Only 30-50% of online services can be tested with automated tools. Manual usability testing should still be conducted with users, their needs vary considerably and each individuals requirements should be catered for.

Vendors like Microsoft are embedding accessibility features in the core of their products. By subscribing to their Cloud services these new features are made readily available. Services like Skype now have subtitles.

A combination of smart phones and beacon technologies enables the blind to independently navigate government facilities. Microsoft has invented an app, ‘Seeing AI‘, which narrates pictures taken of the surrounding world.

Accessibility challenges are a component part of general digital adoption challenges. The large cities are well catered for but more remote areas face basic issues such as connectivity and devices. Initiatives to address this include $10 Internet.

Microsoft is pioneering ‘Airband‘ technologies to address the rural digital divide.

Only 28% of those with sight loss have a full time job and half of them earn less than $20k per annum. Affordability is therefore a key success factor, smart phones and Internet services can be prohibitively expensive. Initiatives to help include the CNIB’s ‘Phone It Forward‘.

A universal requirement is improving digital literacy. This includes those creating content as well as those consuming it. For example municipalities publishing public notices as a screen shot of a document not the text itself, meaning it is inaccessible.

Therefore digital service design needs to ensure government is aware of and able to create information in accessible formats.

On a broader basis the emergence and proliferation of fake news presents an accessibility challenge from a perspective of authentic engagement. How can users identify and assure they are dealing with trusted sources of official information.

The panel explores how the trust in the traditional media might be leveraged to authenticate the integrity of online media.


Making the Web Accessible

The World Wide Web Consortium have a substantial standards initiative underway to improve the accessibility of the web.

Key standards include the WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Version 2.2 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible.

Following these guidelines will make content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including accommodations for blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these, and some accommodation for learning disabilities and cognitive limitations; but will not address every user need for people with these disabilities. 

Typically standards are implemented via some form of Web CMS – Content Management System. A popular choice for government web sites is the open source platform Drupal. 

On this page they discuss the general accessibility capabilities of the system, the latest accessibility features in release 8 and how to do an accessibility review. The AgileDrop discusses the top ten accessibility plugin modules.

Digital Accessibility Strategy

We can work with your organization to audit your current accessibility position and define a roadmap to compliance.

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