Disclaimer: This booklet is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, technical, business or other advice and should not be relied on as such. Please consult a lawyer or other professional advisor if you have any questions related to the topics discussed in the booklet. The Ontario Government does not endorse any commercial product, process or service referenced in this booklet, or its producer or provider. The Ontario Government also does not make any express or implied warranties, or assumes any legal liability for the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or usefulness of any information contained in this booklet, including web-links to other servers. All URLs mentioned in this document will link to an external website. If there is any conflict between this booklet and the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA), the regulation and the AODA are the final authorities.

Benefiting from accessible e-business practices

Making your website and other e-business tools accessible to people with disabilities and the aging population provides the potential to increase your customer base. This booklet provides compelling business reasons for reaching these under-served and growing market segments. It focuses on why e-business and accessibility complement each other and how you can begin to integrate accessibility into online activities.

What is accessibility all about?

One in seven people in Ontario has a disability and that number continues to grow as our population ages. Despite assistive technologies to help them, people with disabilities, including vision and hearing impairment, cognitive and learning limitations or physical disabilities often face many obstacles, including accessing information. There are ways to make websites and other forms of e-business more accessible to them. This does not have to cost much more and the benefits far outweigh the investment.

Regulatory context

Ontario has a goal to be an accessible province by 2025 and passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005 to set out a roadmap. It is a broad initiative to make Ontario accessible to people with disabilities in key areas of daily living by 2025. All public, private and not-for-profit employers have to meet requirements under the AODA—including meeting Ontario’s accessibility standard for customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation and design of public spaces.

In terms of information and communications, the goal is to have websites and communication vehicles with content that is accessible to all users, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities and their technological requirements.

Requirements for website accessibility already exist for companies with over 50 employees. Gradual implementation will extend obligations to these larger firms and eventually to small employers through to 2021.To find out timelines and what you need to do, visit Ontario.ca/AccessON.

The business case

Beyond complying with the law, there are very real benefits from investing in accessible e-business practices. Among these are:

  • Access to a wider pool of customers with significant purchasing power;
  • Better placement in search engine results;
  • Ease of converting your site to mobile devices, such as smartphones; and
  • Improved customer service for everyone.

Of course, improving accessibility is the right thing to do in terms of social business ethics. Moreover, there’s no question that better serving persons with disabilities and a large aging demographic with spending power—think about the retiring baby boomer generation—can also increase your sales and boost your bottom line. It simply makes good business sense. Getting in on the ground floor…starting now and doing it well… can give you a competitive advantage.

Key concepts

Web accessibility benefits people with and without disabilities, such as those with diminished abilities and those using mobile devices.

Challenges for customers and prospects with disabilities

The advent of the web has enabled more people with disabilities to lead independent lives, but the way a website is designed will determine how accessible it is to them. Despite assistive technologies to help them, those with a disability—including vision and hearing impairment or other limitations—as well as those such as the elderly who may suffer loss of vision, hearing and dexterity often face many obstacles in accessing online information.

Insight into the challenges that such customers and prospects with disabilities face is illuminating in understanding how your website and other communication platforms may actually be a barrier, driving away sales in the process. Consider these scenarios to give you an idea of how users with a disability interact with websites:

  • Jesse is a visually impaired employee who, among his duties, is charged with ordering concert and sporting event tickets for his company’s hospitality initiatives. Ticketing sites typically require him to enter a password that appears as funny text (called a CAPTCHA), which is impossible to decipher with the speech software that the visually impaired use. Consequently, Jesse is unable to order tickets online. His frustration is enhanced if a weak, difficult-to-hear audio version of the password is provided or if the only option is to phone in his order, only to be subjected to long waits.
  • The use of multimedia on a site can be very problematic for the visually impaired. As Mary says, "When I visit a website that starts with music, it is next to impossible to navigate because I can’t hear what my speech software is saying and therefore can’t access any information behind the music. This happens more often than you would think. I just exit a site like that and don’t use it at all."
  • As a sales assistant, Joanne is responsible for researching new products and services that her company’s sales team may require. Because she has epilepsy, she immediately disqualifies surfing any sites that contain Flash since flashing or blinking content can cause her to have a seizure.

Here are some additional challenges encountered by persons with disabilities who use the Internet:

  • Blind people use browsers with speech or Braille output, which are text-based systems. Your site should therefore be navigable independent of its graphics content. Those with low vision need the ability to vary the text size on their browser. Many websites use graphics that are not meaningful when accessed by a text-based browser—in other words, images are not labelled with text alternatives (ALT Tags).
  • People with hearing impairments need visual representation of any auditory information on websites, such as podcasts and videos. They often rely on captions, audio-text descriptions or transcripts to interpret audio content.
  • Holding and using a mouse can be a problem for those with a physical disability. They tend to struggle with standard computer equipment and find it easier to use assistive technology, such as a specialized mouse, keyboard, or pointing devices, speech recognition software or an eye-gaze system. Websites should allow keyboard navigation and skipping.
  • Complex page layouts, tables or navigation structures can confuse people with cognitive or learning impairments. Moving and blinking text can be challenging and impede understanding. Complex, distracting, or poorly organized sites are typically avoided by those with developmental and learning disabilities.
  • Even though they might not consider themselves to have disabilities, elderly and other people can experience difficulties in accessing online information due to changes in vision, hearing, dexterity, and memory. Yet the provisions that make web pages accessible also benefit older people with diminishing abilities. For example, many people with age-related visual impairments may benefit from being able to alter text size.

How to make communication formats accessible

Making your e-business practices barrier-free is not as complicated or onerous as it might seem at first sight. Creating online communication that is accessible to all users, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, their technological requirements or their cultural background, education and experience involves four basic principles:

  1. Perceivable: Make it easy to see and hear content.
    • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
    • Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
    • Select a strong contrast so the background and text are distinct.
    • Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
  2. Operable: Help users navigate and find content.
    • Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
    • Give users enough time to read and use content.
    • Provide ability for users to select font size.
    • Do not use features that may cause seizures (e.g. flashing multimedia).
  3. Understandable: Help users understand where they are on the site, what they can do there and what comes next.
    • Make text easy to read and understand.
    • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
    • Help users avoid and correct mistakes by spelling out requirements ahead of time and providing clear error messages.
  4. Robust: Maximize compatibility with current (including outmoded platforms which many users may still rely on) and future user tools.
    • Website content should be accessible through all browsers, and with all tools that users may be using (assistive technology, mobile, tablets, etc.).

For more specific techniques and tips on how to integrate these principles in order to achieve e-business accessibility, see the chart on Integrating Accessibility into E-Business.

Benefits of investing in accessible business practices

Why is improving accessibility to your website and other e-business communications good for business? Consider these benefits:

  • Expanded customer base. With almost two million individuals in Ontario and four million in Canada having a disability, providing accessible information and communications, particularly an accessible website, opens the door to a much wider market. While accessibility focuses on people with disabilities, it also benefits older users with diminishing abilities and mobile device users because following accessible practices tends to make websites clear, concise, easy to navigate and easy to see. As the population ages, the number of people who have a disability or require specialized access in some aspect of their lives will increase. Based on the current rate of growth, it is estimated that the number of seniors aged 65 and over will double by 2036. (Source: AccessAbility: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design, The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD Ontario), 2010)
  • Increased potential for online sales. Based on these statistics, why wouldn’t you want to tap into the potential of wider sales with this growing customer base? As consumers and shoppers, people with disabilities and the elderly have spending power…and this can only escalate as the percentage of older users and those with a disability increases significantly. It is estimated that by 2031 the income controlled by people with disabilities and those at risk of disability (above the age of 55) will reach a staggering $536 billion. (Source: Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario, Martin Prosperity Institute, 2010)
  • Better placement in search engine results. Accessible websites may have a distinct advantage in terms of being more clearly identifiable by search engines like Google. An accessibly marked up website exposes information such as titles, headings, alternate text descriptions of images, transcripts of audio content and descriptions of video content. This exposure of more relevant content to search engines can all else being equal improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—that is, increase the possibility of higher rankings for your site in customer searches.
  • Excellent customer service. Accessible websites are easier for everyone to use. The easier people find the experience of visiting a website, the more likely they are to become both customers and repeat visitors. Since providing an accessible website not only improves access for people with disabilities but also for aging people with diminishing abilities, those with a temporary injury, or in a noisy environment, it enhances the visitor experience for everyone and helps increase customer loyalty.
  • Greater compatibility with other devices. Accessible websites built with responsive design automatically resize to adapt to whatever device they are viewed on, including tablets and smart phones as well as telephone or voice-based systems.
  • Demonstrated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Improving accessibility for people with disabilities to make their lives easier is the right thing to do in terms of showing a commitment to social business ethics. Moreover, as consumers increasingly turn to social media to comment on companies and organizations that don’t meet their needs, providing accessible communications can not only ward off bad publicity but will encourage referral business from a market segment that wants to support companies with good practices.
  • Meeting legal requirements. Complying with the new law and ensuring that your website meets the Ontario standards for accessibility will ensure that you avoid penalties.

In summary, understanding the requirements of online accessibility and integrating accessibility techniques into your e-business practices can give you a jump start over your competitors as you will meet the needs of a growing and previously underserved part of the market.

Check out this link for more informationon how an accessible website can directly benefit your organization.

Top 3 web accessibility myths

Myth 1: People with disabilities don’t use the web

Reality: There is a large population of people with disabilities who rely on the Internet and the level playing field it can offer. For example, people who cannot see or travel easily have the option to shop online.

Myth 2: Accessible websites look unattractive and boring

Reality: Accessibility places few restrictions on site design. In fact, since accessible sites make full use of structural HTML elements, a designer has a bigger pool of options for attractive styling. Ensuring accessibility is not about providing text only web pages. The use of labelled images and good contrasting colours actually improve accessibility for a great many users.

Myth 3: Creating an accessible website is expensive

Reality: Building accessibility into the design and build of a new or revamped site often adds only a small margin to the overall cost. Ultimately, the investment pays for itself in terms of tapping into the profitability of a broader customer reach, an improved visitor experience and reduced maintenance costs once the site is up and running.

Getting started

Where should you incorporate accessibility practices?

While this booklet and the guidelines focus on public websites, you should consider accessibility in all your e-business activities. Your blogs should use the same techniques that are used for your website, and if you launch a mobile site, produce an app and make digital documents public—all of these should be accessible too.

Assessing your existing web content

When revamping a website, you may be surprised to find that it is more accessible to people with disabilities than you realized. Before embarking on any build, take the time to evaluate your existing website.

There are three types of assessment you should do: automatic(using online evaluation tools), manual (a person reviews the site to identify issues that an automatic assessment cannot), and user testing(use assistive technology to discover any barriers that you might not see). See Test, Test, Test for details on assessment.

Keep in mind that the best time to make a website accessible is during the build. Like baking a cookie, it’s better to bake chocolate chips into a cookie than add them afterwards.

Richard Gauder
CMS Web Solutions Inc.

Should you do it in-house or outsource?

Although it takes little programming knowledge to develop a simple website, building sites that feature the newest technologies and advanced capabilities requires expert knowledge. Developing sites that meet the AODA’s website accessibility standards also requires specific expertise. A good place to start in deciding if you should outsource is by running your website through a system like ACheckeror WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. If it comes back with many things you don’t know how to fix in-house, you should consider talking to an expert.

Bear in mind that many web developers are still in the learning stage of how to make sites accessible. See below for some guidelines on how to choose a developer with the right expertise.

Implementing accessibility in e-business: nuts & bolts

If you are considering embarking on the journey of building a new website, significantly refreshing your existing one, or want to learn a bit more about the specifics of how to reap the benefits inherent in making it accessible, then this section is for you. While by no means comprehensive, this section will help guide you through what meeting the accessible website requirements of the Communications and Information Standards in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) will entail, and how to get there.

The website standards are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. WCAG 2.0 is an internationally accepted standard for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG 2.0 sets out guidelines for organizations to follow to make their websites more accessible for people with disabilities. Think about WCAG the way you think about International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards in other areas of your business (WCAG 2.0 is, in fact, approved as an ISO standard). You know you will be getting a website built to a certain standard when it complies with WCAG 2.0.

Go to this website to review the complete set of WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

How to select a web developer with accessibility expertise

While you may want to build or revamp your website and other e-business communications in-house, most firms choose to outsource to companies that have expertise in the area. The path is not complex, but there are many elements to achieving accessibility that many designers may not yet know. Further, web developers who claim this expertise may not always have it; identifying a suitable developer for an accessible website project requires careful research and screening.

Here are some strategies that can help secure a web developer with expertise in accessible websites and web content.

Questions to ask a potential developer

  • Have you built accessible websites? Can you provide links or references for these sites?
  • Can you create responsive web sites?
  • Are you familiar with WCAG 2.0, Level A and AA? Have you built sites to this standard?
  • Have you developed/refreshed an accessible website (WCAG 2.0, Level A or higher)?
  • Do you code manually or do you use a content management system — if so, does the program support accessibility?
  • Do you develop in-house or do you outsource?
  • How do you test the website for accessibility? Do you use automated and manual assessments and assistive technology?

Red flags

  • If a developer says he/she builds accessible websites because they work in browsers, or if he/she assumes you are asking for a mobile site, the developer is likely not competent in accessible design.
  • If a developer claims to have examples of websites built to standards, but doesn’t mention those standards as being WCAG, he/she may not understand accessible design.
  • A good developer who knows how to build an accessible website will be highly knowledgeable about WCAG. If a developer does not know what WCAG is, then accessible website skills are lacking.
  • If a developer’s own website is not accessible, then it is clearly not an area of expertise or interest.

Check references

Satisfied customers are a powerful way for you to assess your potential developer. Here are some questions you could consider asking a reference:

  • Did the developer understand your company’s accessibility requirements?
  • Did they clearly communicate what they needed from you to complete the assignment?
  • Did the developer stick to a reasonable schedule, and was the project delivered on time?
  • Was the project completed on budget?
  • Are you aware of clients with disabilities using your website?
  • If yes, has feedback from those clients with disabilities been positive?
  • Did issues arise following the launch of the website that should have been caught previously?

How to assess sample web sites

Checking whether or not the sites a potential developer has built adhere to standards can be done in virtually the same way you can assess your own existing website. Here are three methods:

  • Use On-line testing tools such as AChecker or WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool.
  • Identify clients with disabilities and ask them to use the sites.
  • Hire an accessibility expert to review the sites.

What you need to provide a web developer

The most knowledgeable and conscientious of web developers cannot create the optimal e-business solution for you in a vacuum. After all, it’s not just about making your website accessible, it’s about reaping the benefits of having a robust website to promote your business and sell your products and services. Building or revamping your site is a collaborative effort. Here is what a developer will need from you:

  • A clear understanding of your organization and how it conducts business, including the key products and/or services that you provide
  • A clear description of the purpose of your website (including whether you want to integrate with social media)
  • A clear profile of your clients and prospects, and how they access your products and/or services
  • Valuable website content written in plain language, that is easy for your customers to understand
  • A logical organizational structure for the information (A good web developer will be able to help you construct a site map that is consistent and meaningful and includes headings and numbering systems that are both accessible and make it easy for all your customers to find the information that they need.)
  • Photos, either stock or custom
  • Alternate text descriptions for all diagrams and images

If outsourcing to a web developer, you may want a maintenance contract that includes testing and repairing accessibility roadblocks going forward to ensure your website remains accessible.

E-business accessibility practices

The following table is not intended to be a comprehensive list of accessibility practices to integrate into your online and e-business activities. It simply highlights examples of areas to be aware of and provides some guidance on what to do and where to find resources with more details.

Accessibility Need/BarrierTechniqueExampleTip(s)Who Benefits
Clear and understandable contentAvoid chunks of italicized text, similarly-coloured background and text, and write in plain and simple language.http://www.xinyiglass.ca/
Provide alternate simple version of complex text.People with visual disabilities, cognitive disabilities and those with learning disabilities. ESL learners (e.g. newcomers).
Assistive technology needs to make sense of site content
  1. Provide meaningful text alternatives (ALT-tags) for images or online display ads.
  2. Choose link text so that it clearly explains the purpose of the link.
  1. Image/picture of butterfly: Don’t write: "image" or "DSC1234.jpg", write: "Butterfly".
  2. "Click here" holds no meaning. Instead: "click here for product details," or just "product details".
If image is too difficult to explain in words, consider presenting information in different way (e.g. link to a page with a full description).People with visual disabilities who use screen reader software.
Background and text on site need to be distinctChoose colours that provide good contrast between text and background.
Don’t use colour to convey meaning (e.g. "Locations open on Saturdays are in red text).
Regardless of colour, use enough contrast so background and text are distinct, and there should be other means of conveying information besides colour.To check site for colour reliance, change the browser’s colour settings so it displays black and white only, and ensure that the same information from the Webpage is viewable as it is in colour.People with colour vision deficiency (CVD) – i.e. colour blindness.
Web users need to keep track of where they are within a siteMaintain consistent page design: Keep a standard header and footer that includes navigation information to decrease confusion from page to page.
  1. Provide page titles on each unique page that indicate the page’s content.
    Not: "PAGE TITLE"
    Better: "Rates & Reservations"
    Better yet: "ABC Hotel, Sudbury, ONT – Rates & Reservations"
  2. Make headings relevant and provided in logical order so screen reader users are able to jump from heading to heading.
When designing, consider best practices (e.g. logo in top left corner, navigation across the top or left).People with visual disabilities who use screen reader software and those with cognitive or learning disabilities.
Access to formsProvide form input assistance. Include: clear instructions at top of the form; text labels; required fields; dropdown selection lists with manual "Go" buttons; a logical tab order between different parts of the form.A site that requests users to fill out a form and then rejects it without providing any explanation is a very frustrating experience. If a form was rejected because the user did not fill out a mandatory field, provide a notice that an error was identified and explain to the user how to correct this error.Make sure all fields have a corresponding label so that screen reader users know what content is being requested.
Don’t use colour alone to prompt a response – e.g. don’t ask survey respondents to 'fill in fields marked in red'. This is impossible for someone who doesn’t see colour or uses a device that only displays black and white.
People with visual disabilities who use screen reader software and those with cognitive or learning disabilities.
Purchasing products/services onlineAvoid CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) for verification purposes in online ordering.CAPTCHAs typically require users to type letters or digits from a distorted image to ensure they are human (and not spam). For individuals with vision loss, the test could be impossible.Ask a simple question instead like whether fire is hot or cold or provide an audio option. If providing an audio option, ensure it is clearly recorded.People with visual disabilities who use screen reader software and those with cognitive or learning disabilities.
Access to charts/tablesGive data tables row and column headings where necessary that are not only visually different from the data cells, but coded so that screen readers will be able to identify them.See price chartsAvoid using tables for site layout—use them only for presenting data.
Simplify your data tables as much as possible. Consider presenting the information in a different format if possible.
Individuals using screen readers.
Access digital documents (website and email attachments, source documents) with assistive technologyProvide users with accessible documents.PDFs and Microsoft Office documents can be created in accessible formats, just like your website.Use Adobe Acrobat’s built-in accessibility check to help find accessibility errors in PDF documents.Individuals using screen readers.
Assistive technology that uses keyboard navigationAllow keyboard navigation and skipping.Allow users who are familiar with menus and other navigational elements to skip content, including links, to quickly move through site.Avoid specifying tabbing order. Instead, make sure your page uses proper structure e.g. headings, lists, etc.
Test your site by using your TAB key on the keyboard to navigate your site without using a mouse.
Individuals who use assistive technologies and/or have fine motor, vision, or cognitive disabilities.
Access to audio and videoCaption audio and video so assistive technology (e.g. screen readers that will read captions aloud) and those with hearing impairments can read the description.Provide transcripts for podcasts, videos, and any other multimedia formats.If audio and video are produced in-house, use a service to caption the audio and provide timing durations in a compatible file (i.e., xml), then use this file to embed the captions.Individuals with no or limited vision, no or limited hearing, and cognitive or neurological limitations.
Access audio, video, motion and timing elements at a preferred paceProgram such items to allow users to control – i.e. pause, stop or hide – moving information.Program multimedia items and background content with on-demand options so that a user can control variants of sounds, visuals, and time limits.Use a mouse and keyboard to test each control element.Individuals with dyslexia or other reading or cognitive disabilities. ESL learners (e.g. newcomers)

Tip: If you are creating an audio or video file, plan accessibility into it right from the start.

Best practices

Here are some practices to consider that will help you reap the most from your efforts today and into the future.

Plan from the start.Accessibility is best achieved when integrated from beginning as part of the development process, not as a separate segregated function.
Assess your current site.Your current website may be more accessible than you realize. Assess it using an online testing tool such as AChecker or WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. Testing tools are helpful throughout the build process. Involving people with disabilities to test the website is perhaps one of the best ways to ensure your website is accessible.
Ensure accessibility going forward.Train staff who have web access on accessibility techniques you have adopted. If using a Content Management System (CMS), select one that outputs correctly structured and valid HTML pages. Also ensure the CMS interface itself is accessible to content authors with disabilities. Software is available that constantly monitors websites for accessibility (e.g. HiSoftware Compliance Sheriff) or adds speech and reading support tools to online content to extend the reach of websites (e.g. BrowseAloud).
Shift old and obsolete web pages into an archive.Removing old material will reduce the number of pages to be fixed later on.
Focus on most important and frequently visited pages first.The home page should be welcoming to all visitors. And the pages directly linked to the home page should be accessible as these second level pages are often as far as visitors go to find the service or information they need.
Meet upcoming accessibility requirements.Make your web content accessible at Level AA now. This will reduce the number of changes you’ll have to make to your website down the road. It may also reduce the number of requests you receive for accessible formats or communications supports.
Create a responsive web site.A responsive website helps people using older browsers and new technologies such as mobile devices and different platforms. Following accessibility guidelines will allow sites to remain readable as accessible technology changes, and will increase compatibility across different browsers, platforms and devices, e.g. mobile, tablets, and phablets (a class of mobile device that combines the functions of a smartphone and tablet).
Incorporate accessibility in all your online activities.Everything you produce—e-mail marketing, blogs, electronic documents—can be created in accessible formats. Creating with accessibility in mind will allow you to repurpose content, saving time and money when you want to post to your website. If writing an app, do so with accessibility in mind too. If you develop your code without considering assistive technology, then your app will be inaccessible.

Bad practices to avoid

  • Blinking and flashing content (like FLASH on website or in display ads) that could trigger seizures in some users
  • Chunks of italicized text and similarly-coloured background and text
  • CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) on your e-commerce site
  • Complex navigation structures in menus
  • Links that take you to another site without warning
  • Long blocks of content without heading divisions
  • Images that present important data, e.g. charts and diagrams, without an equivalent text description

Test, test, test

Review and test your website for accessibility using an automatic evaluator, manual assessment and assistive technology at the start and end of the project, and at milestone points during the process. And note that, if in doubt, you can test an individual element at any time.

All three methods should be utilized. Here’s why:

Automatic assessments

Online evaluation tools, some of which are free of charge, scan websites and their content and produce a documented report on accessibility issues for you to address. While such tools do a reasonable job of evaluating those aspects of accessible design that can be verified by software, there are limitations to this automated process.

  • Evaluating a large site with many of the free tools may prove tedious because they limit the number of pages that can be checked at one time.
  • The results of automated evaluations need to be expertly interpreted in order to implement the necessary changes.
  • An automated process is not subjective. Humans are. Real-world testing is needed to determine if a website is actually accessible and usable in practice.

Manual assessments

This is necessary to identify issues that an automatic assessment cannot—for example, only a human can determine whether the alternate text provided for images is meaningful. A good practice is to use assistive technology, such as a screen reader, to better understand and find accessibility barriers.

User testing

The best way to ensure your website is accessible is to ask an expert to test it. And naturally, the true accessibility experts are people with disabilities. Consider convening a focus group of customers with disabilities or reaching out to local organizations that represent persons with disabilities.

Accessibility evaluation tools

  • WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool – A free service to evaluate the accessibility of web pages.
  • WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool Firefox Plugin – Provides a menu and options that allow you to reveal the underlying accessibility information.
  • Firefox Accessibility Extension – Supports web developers in testing their web resources for functional accessibility features based on best practices.
  • Colour Contrast Checker – Developed and made available as a free community service by WebAIM, allows you to check if selected RGB colours are accessible and to modify if necessary.
  • AChecker – A free tool to check single HTML pages for conformance with accessibility standards to ensure the content can be accessed by everyone.

Keep the momentum going

Once you’ve created a robust, responsive website—one that improves your SEO, will expand your customer base, and can be viewed across any device (smart phones, tablets, etc.)—you don’t want to lose the advantages you’ve gained. For this reason, it’s important to ensure your website remains accessible.

Any staff with access to the site will need to know what is necessary to create and publish accessible web content. While it may be the responsibility of a lone in-house webmaster to ensure accessibility, in all likelihood, others in your company will need to provide content to that webmaster that meets the standards (e.g. alt text for images, audio and video scripts). In addition, many companies use a content management system for their websites which allow non-technical people to populate a site.

Here are some suggestions to keep your site accessible:

  • If you currently have procedures in place for general web publishing, add a requirement for accessibility checking to the process. Give an employee with knowledge in the area the final say before any content is published.
  • Always put accessibility considerations front and centre at the start of any new project. If you are creating video or audio files, for example, add accessibility to the planning stage.
  • Provide guidance on accessibility standards to employees who have access to your website. This guidance need not be exhaustive. A basic level of awareness will help them create accessible content, or know when to get assistance if necessary. In addition, if you are interested in providing staff with hands-on training, it is recommended that you select a firm that can provide references. Such firms can be found through an Internet search.
  • Schedule periodic testing of your site to find and fix any issues. Consider using software that automatically and continuously checks your site for accessibility.

Cost considerations

Here are ways to keep costs of implementing accessibility manageable:

  • Incorporate accessibility from the beginning of a website launch or revamp. The planning stage is the time to start so that you avoid costs of making improvements later on.
  • Use authoring tools that support accessibility. Selecting a content management system that supports accessibility, for instance, can decrease the time and effort needed at both the time of the build and later on.
  • Use multimedia content sparingly. Remember, the cost to create multimedia content is high, and it can be an impediment to people with disabilities.

Do-it-yourself solution

Depending on the complexity of your website, the most cost-effective means of meeting the standards might be to consider learning how to do it in-house. Such knowledge will also help you ensure that your website remains accessible. There are numerous resources and training on web accessibility available. If interested in hands-on training, it is recommended that you select a firm that can provide references from its other clients. Such firms can be found through an Internet search.

Cost advantages

There are cost advantages to having an accessible website:

  • An accessible website can reduce requests for information from people with disabilities that may be time-consuming.
  • Accessibility helps take advantage of advanced web technologies, reducing the need for future technology upgrades.
  • Clear and simple text, a cornerstone of an accessible website, costs less to translate into another language.

Further considerations

Mobile seems to be the wave of the future, but since the technology options that your customers use are changing and evolving at the speed of light, you might get left behind if you don’t build a responsive site that will adapt to the next greatest device.

Consider the changes to smartphone technology that have taken place over the past couple of years. While the introduction of tablets took the world by storm, phablet (a phone/tablet hybrid) sales are now predicted to overtake tablet sales.

Site designers who understand the overlap between mobile site users and users with disabilities can design for both together by creating a responsive site that provides an optimal viewing experience across all devices. This is more expensive upfront but will likely save you money in the long run.

As technology becomes more and more sophisticated and new products are introduced to the market at a rapid pace, and as your competitors look to every means possible to increase their customer base, it makes good business sense to represent your company with an accessible, responsive website, one that resizes to adapt to whatever device is being used.

Success story

Firm designs with accessibility at forefront

Company: Dolphin Digital Technologies
Location: Kitchener, ON
Web: www.dolphin.ca

For Dolphin Digital Technologies, accessibility is built into the fabric of the business—from employing people with disabilities through to providing an accessible website. It’s a core value of this award-winning virtual IT firm specializing in computer network consulting. "I think we have to consciously change how we think and operate as business leaders and innovators at all levels," says Jamie Burton, VP, Corporate Development, who co-founded Dolphin with her husband in 2006. "We require a culture shift away from the focus of disability, challenge and difference, and a move towards focus on ability and potential of all, for the greater equation of improving all of our social and economic factors."

Burton believes that great business results from everyone achieving their full potential, whether they are clients, consumers or employees. This philosophy led to the creation of an accessible website two years ago. "We could not function as an inclusive employer, create a barrier-free employment strategy, and not be able to treat potential clients with the same respect and consideration," she explains. "We also knew that we wanted to be an example for other businesses."

And there is an even stronger business case from her perspective. As Dolphin grows and develops a full range of technology solutions, it can no longer rely on attracting clients solely by word of mouth and is stepping up its marketing. "By creating a fully accessible website, we start with 100% potential of market share," Burton emphasizes. "Obviously, there are many factors surrounding how someone visits a website, but it is imperative that if someone does land on our site, they don’t leave because they can’t access the information."

The company has also incorporated accessibility into its other e-business activities, such as customer service. It provides a remote technical support service that is compatible with adaptive software like screen readers, and all its technical support staff are people with disabilities. In 2011, Dolphin clinched a Canadian innovator of the year award in recognition of this service.

According to Burton, there is a whole global market to tap into, with the market size of individuals with disabilities around the world approaching the market size of China. "Only 6% of businesses in North America have strategic product placement or business acumen speaking to this market space," she says. "Opportunity abounds when you can be first out the gate."

Top 3 barrier-free design tips

Dan Lajoie, Web Developer for Dolphin, shares these insights for creating an accessible website:

  1. Start fresh. It is typically preferable to design sites using barrier-free principles from the ground up because adding accessibility to an existing site can be just as much work and more cumbersome.
  2. Accessibility doesn’t mean vanilla. It’s not about boring black text on a white background or vice versa. Although complex navigation should be avoided, a site can look really sharp and still be completely accessible by keyboards and screen readers.
  3. Audit your site. Even an accessible designer can overlook things. There are free auditing tools available, but Lajoie says they often just skim the surface. In addition to a manual audit to check for elements like the use of plain language and coherent page layout, he uses a full site auditing tool called Accessibility Management Platform to ensure comprehensive accessibility. He cautions that the results from such tools need to be interpreted and remediated by a web development professional.

There are many benefits to having an accessible site, notes Lajoie. "Dolphin understands that building an inclusive website opens up its products and services to a significant and growing market share, provides an unencumbered site experience to all visitors, and enhances its search engine optimization."

Accessibility makes sense for e-based business

Company: HR Downloads Inc. (HRdownloads)
Location: London, ON
Web: www.hrdownloads.com

"Our business is almost entirely e-based via our website, so obviously we want to ensure our services are fully accessible to all of our members," says Anthony Boyle, President and CEO of HRdownloads, a provider of HR solutions to companies across Canada. The company also provides advisory guidance and support on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)legislation, "so when you are advising clients on compliance matters and why it’s important outside of the legislation, you have to lead the way—not just say it, but mean it."

Walking the talk has been good for HRdownloads. The London-based company has grown from five employees stationed in Boyle’s basement when it opened its doors in 2005 to 81 employees today. Its extraordinary rate of growth has averaged 66% each year, and it boasts a current client membership of 7,000 businesses. Depending on the membership level selected, services include unlimited access to thousands of HR documents, monthly webinars, compliance management solutions, news and legislative updates, one-on-one telephone access with veteran HR professionals, online surveys, and tailored unlimited online training.

"Our online training videos all contain full audio recordings, include notes, and can be continuously played without requiring the user to self-navigate," explains HR Manager Sharon Bunce. "All documents are downloadable into Word, Excel or PDF, and when I go onsite to deliver training, I always bring presenter notes. Some of our members have told us about barriers they face or that they use screen reader software, and how excited they are when they use our website and don’t experience those barriers. That’s a great thing to hear from our perspective."

The company conducts client satisfaction surveys on a regular basis, which includes whether or not HRdownloads’ information is accessible. "Our business is driven by client requests so we are constantly growing and adding new services," Boyle emphasizes. "We just launched our newest website early in February and wanted to ensure it would be compliant with the upcoming AODA standards. The fact that we continue to grow year over year tells me that having information fully accessible helps expand our business."

Five tips on accessibility integration

Boyle and Bunce share these tips, based on HRdownloads’ experience:

  • Examine where you are today and where you need to go. Look at what is on your website for clients, how they use it, and how it impacts your business. This process will help you focus on the next steps to take.
  • Try not to get overwhelmed by the volume of possible alterations that will make your content accessible. Focus instead on the important, manageable pieces of your website that you need to address first. "If your clients and prospects are downloading brochures, make those accessible first if you can’t do the whole site all at once," Bunce recommends.
  • Be flexible. Focus on the most important elements first, but be adaptable and flexible in order to address situations as they arise. "You may not be able to make changes today, but have a plan for reducing or eliminating those barriers," advises Boyle.
  • Remember that a "disability" does not fall into a single category. Some disabilities may not be obvious from your perspective. Raised awareness of barriers faced will help you figure out how to augment the products or services that you provide and make your website more accessible.
  • Ask individuals with disabilities to review your site. "You will get unbiased feedback and discover issues you may not have been aware of before," says Boyle.


If you need more information, there is a lot available on the subject. Be sure to check out these websites.

  • A Guide to the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation – Policy Guidelines: A guide explaining the formal meaning of the regulation with some examples to help describe its interpretation.
  • AccessON: Information about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act plus free tools, templates and guides like an Information and Communications Standard guide on making your website more accessible.
  • Web Accessibility Initiative: Part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WAI is devoted to promoting accessibility on the web, and offers a wealth of information, guidance, advice, tools and resources on how to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  • Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES): The leading international organization dedicated to the promotion of making both built and virtual environments accessible provides resources and guides, including a web developer’s guide and a guide for hiring contractors to develop accessible websites.
  • Accessible Digital Office Documents Project: How to’s for creating accessible digital documents in numerous applications (Microsoft, OpenOffice, iWork, Corel, GoogleDocs, etc.).
  • Microsoft Accessibility: Microsoft accessibility centre and resources.
  • IBM Accessibility Centre: Contains information on how to make websites accessible as well as how to build accessible software.
  • AccessAbility: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design: Published by The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD Ontario), this guide includes information on print, web and environmental accessible design.
  • How people with disabilities use the web: A WCAG introduction to how people with disabilities, including people with age-related impairments, use the web.

Glossary of terms

Shortened form of a word, phrase, or name where the abbreviation has not become part of the language.
Accessible formats
Formats that are an alternative to standard print and are accessible to people with disabilities. Accessible formats may include large print, Braille, recorded audio and electronic formats such as DVDs, CD and screen readers.
Accessible website
A website that enables equal access to online content and services for all people, including those with visual, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairment.
Alternative for time-based media
A document that includes correctly sequenced text descriptions of time-based visual and auditory information and provides a means for achieving the outcomes of any time-based interaction.
Alternative text/alt text/ALT-tags
Text that is programmatically associated with non-text content (e.g. images).
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.
Assistive technology
Hardware and/or software that provides functionality to meet the requirements of users with disabilities. Examples: screen magnifiers, screen readers, text-to-speech software, speech recognition software, alternative keyboards, and alternative pointing devices.
Blocks of text
More than one sentence of text.
A tactile writing system that uses arrangements of raised dots to represent letters and numerals.
Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart, which is used on e-commerce sites to verify the user is human and not spam.
Simultaneous transcripts of audio information.
Content Management System (CMS)
A web application designed to make it easy for non-technical users to add, to edit and to manage website content.
Digital document
Information recorded in a manner that requires a computer or other electronic device to display, interpret and process it.
Eye-Gaze System
Designed for users with mobility impairments, an assistive technology interface where eye gaze is the control method.
An authoring software used to create animation programs with full-screen navigation interfaces, graphic illustrations, and simple interactivity.
HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
The authoring language used to build web pages.
Keyboard interface
Interface used by software to obtain keystroke input (example: a touchscreen PDA).
Large print document
A document that is formatted with text that is larger than what is typically used.
Non-text content
Any content that is not a sequence of characters that can be programmatically determined or where the sequence is not expressing something in human language.
Page title
The descriptive text that appears in the browser’s title bar. The web page title defaults as the name when creating a bookmark.
PDF (Portable Document File)
A file format that is highly portable across computer platforms.
A class of mobile device that combines a smartphone and tablet (a phone/ tablet hybrid).
Plain language
Language that is simple, clear, direct and only uses as many words as necessary. It avoids complicated sentence structures and inflated words and allows the reader to easily understand and focus on the message.
Responsive web site
One that resizes to adapt to whatever device is being used.
Screen reader
A software application that attempts to interpret what is being displayed on-screen and translate it to a medium such as speech, Braille or sound icons that are more accessible to the user.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
The methods used to attempt to boost the ranking or frequency of a website in results returned by a search engine, in an effort to maximize user traffic to the site.
Sign language
A language used primarily by persons who are deaf that utilizes hand positions, gestures, facial expressions and body movements.
The act of choosing particular website content with assistive technology while "skipping" content not of interest to the user.
The way the parts of a web page are organized in relation to each other; and the way a collection of web pages is organized.
A print or electronic record of all words spoken during an event (e.g. a meeting, a conference session, a seminar, etc.). Transcripts can be done live or transcribed later from a recording of the event.
Video description
The description of key visual elements in a scene for people who are blind or have low vision.
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
An initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium to promote the accessibility of the Web for persons with disabilities.
Web content
Information provided on a website including, but not limited to, text, documents, videos, audio files, records, and archived materials.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)
The second version of the WAI’s accessibility initiatives.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
An international consortium focused on ensuring the long-term growth of the web. This committee develops standards and core principles to promote compatibility.

This publication is part of an e-Business Toolkit which includes a series of booklets on advanced e-business topics and an introductory handbook How You Can Profit from E-Business. The entire Toolkit is available at ontario.ca/ebusiness.