ACA Compliance for Websites: The Definitive Guide (2023)
According to Statistics Canada, well over 6 million Canadians are living with some form of disability. This means a large percentage of citizens are facing barriers in their daily lives, both physically and online.
The Canadian government continues to take steps to create a more inclusive society for all, which is where ACA or, the Accessible Canada Act, comes in.
In this guide, you will cover:
Canadian accessibility standards for business and website owners
This first chapter will cover some history of the Accessible Canada Act to give you a better idea of its purpose and role in daily life in Canada.
The Purpose of ACA Canada
The Canadian Human Rights Act was developed in 1977 to prohibit discrimination of any form, including discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or disability. The act contains some general guidelines that help protect Canadian citizens in day-to-day life.
It was only in 2018 that the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough, proposed the Accessible Canada Act Bill C-81. This bill was part of a mandate by Justin Trudeau to ensure more inclusion of Canadians living with disabilities in both physical and online environments.
Put together by the World Wide Web Consortium, WCAG is a detailed document that includes a series of guidelines that website owners need to follow to comply with the Accessible Canada Act regulations as well as AODA.
Keep in mind that WCAG guidelines only apply to information, communication, and technology compliance requirements.
WCAG is based on four key principles. It states that a website needs to be:
Perceivable. Information and website components must be easy to comprehend.
Operable. A website should be operable using various assistive technologies.
Understandable. A site’s content should be predictable and easy to understand.
Robust. A website should be accessible from a variety of devices and browsers.
WCAG 2.1 is the latest version of these guidelines and is what website owners should refer to during the web accessibility process.
Now that you know which accessibility standards apply to you, let’s move on to the specific guidelines outlined in ACA.
ACA Canada Guidelines
This chapter is one of the most important as we outline exactly who needs to legally comply with ACA and the basic guidelines that businesses and employers need to follow. Get ready to take some notes.
Who Has to Comply with the ACA?
ACA compliance applies to three main groups:
1. Government entities, including the Government of Canada and Parliament.
2. State-owned companies that operate as private businesses.
3. The private sector, including transport, banking, and telecommunications.
If your business or website falls into one of these categories, ACA compliance is a legal requirement for you.
The Accessible Canada Act Regulations
The main goal of ACA is to remove barriers for people living with disabilities.
For a business or website owner to prove that they are compliant with ACA guidelines, they need to regularly submit reports on the following:
Accessibility Strategy. This document should outline the steps an organization is taking to comply with the Accessible Canada Act regulations, including creating an accessible website. It’s a legal requirement to publicly publish this strategy and to update it every 3 years.
Accessibility Progress Reports. These reports outline the implementation of an accessibility strategy. These reports should also be publicly available to both the government as well as website visitors.
ACA Guidelines for Employers
Employment and Social Development Canada has outlined how employers should go about creating an accessibility plan for their organizations.
Employers also need to show the steps they are taking to comply with ACA regulations to create a more inclusive society and workplace.
This plan needs to be in clear and simple language, ensuring anyone can understand it.
How customers, employees, and members of the public can contact the organization.
The steps that were taken to consult with disabled individuals during the creation of the accessibility plan.
The programs and policies that have been put in place to remove barriers and prevent new barriers in the workplace.
Short and long-term accessibility goals.
A description of how accessibility fits in with the culture of the organization.
An outline of the organization’s approach to accessibility training, if relevant.
Locations of accessible features in the workplace.
A list of resources related to accessibility in the workplace that employees and the general public can access.
How to Make Your Website ACA Compliant
Making sure that your website is accessible is one of the most important steps in the ACA-compliance process.
Fortunately, it’s a lot simpler than you might think.
The first step is to audit your website to determine what accessibility issues are present. While it is possible to manually audit your site, this approach is both costly and time-consuming.
To speed up the process and ensure you don’t miss out on any important factors, it’s best to use an automated accessibility solution.
Solutions such as accessiBe, and UserWay come highly recommended. After scanning your website, these tools will provide you with a detailed report that outlines the accessibility issues you need to address.
As an added bonus, tools such as accessiBe will automatically fix most accessibility issues for you, while also monitoring your site on an ongoing basis.
Today’s leading accessibility tools are developed in accordance with the WCAG, which ensures you’re meeting the Accessible Canada Act regulations.
Accessible Canada Act Regulations & Principles
In this final chapter, we look at the consequences of non-compliance and how ACA is enforced in Canada.
Definitions of ACA
There are two main definitions outlined in the Accessible Canada Act:
“means anything—including anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice—that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation.”
“means any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment—or a functional limitation—whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.”
Everyone must have the same opportunity to create the life they’ve hoped for
Everyone must have the opportunity to participate fully and equally in society
Everyone must have equal options and have the ability to make their own decisions
Any laws, policies, programs, services, and structures must take potential barriers and discrimination into account
Disabled citizens must be involved in the development of laws, policies, programs, and services
Accessibility standards and regulations must be developed with the goal of achieving the highest level of accessibility
What Happens If You Don’t Comply with ACA?
ACA is enforced by the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO), which is made up of a board of directors, many of whom have disabilities.
The office of the Accessibility Commissioner is the leading institution of ACA and is responsible for receiving violation accusations, auditing companies, investigating groups for compliance, serving notices of violations, and collecting penalties for non-compliance.
Business and website owners who fail to comply with ACA regulations could face fines of up to $250,000 for each violation. The total fine depends on the severity of each violation.
ACA Enforcement and Compliance
An ACA-related lawsuit can be damaging to your brand and your business.
And while no official processes have been finalized for investigating and charging ACA violations, lawsuits are still on the rise in Canada.
What’s more, there’s a growing number of regulators and compliant bodies, which means greater awareness of ACA regulations among Canadian citizens and law firms.
Individuals who feel that any organization has failed to comply with ACA can submit a complaint directly to the Accessibility Commissioner.
Businesses are then approached directly by the Accessibility Commissioner regarding the violation.
Complying with the Accessible Canada Act is no longer negotiable for businesses and website owners, not unless you are willing to face hefty fines and lasting damage to your brand.
What’s more, complying with ACA means that you are doing your part to create a more accessible Canada for all. From the workspace you create for your employees to the experience you provide to customers on your website, accessibility should be an integral part of everyone’s lives.
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