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Website Design Blog

March 27, 2018
AODA Compliant Websites... It is The Right Thing to Do

Blind grandmother with granddaughter at computerOntario is leading the way by mandating that public-facing websites for Ontario businesses and organizations of certain sizes must comply with the AODA (Acessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act). Essentially, the government is insisting that new websites be built in such a way that visitors with visual impairments can access  all information on the site.

Who else is fully on board with this mandate?  Google is. Google has emphasized that content should be created first and foremost for the benefit of the site visitor and not for the alterior motive of boosting one's search engine ranking. Google is strongly in favour of making content available to everyone without exception.

I recently spoke with a friend whose father, a senior, has been blind since birth yet spends hours surfing the web doing research, online shopping, banking and getting the latest news. Curiously I asked, how does he do that? She replied that her dad actually becomes elated when he comes across a new site that has been "conditioned" for the visually impaired.  So much so that he immediately sends the website link to others in his group so that they can also share in the experience and put the site on their list as one they would like to do business with.

She said, on entering the website, her father will use the tab key to go from link to link. His special screen-reader software will sound the name of each link when tabbed over. When he hears a link he's interested in, like "Contact Us", he will hit the enter key which takes him to that page and the process then repeats.

She went on to explain that navigation bars with drop down menus often don't open when tabbed over which restricts his screen-reader from accessing all of those sub pages. On an "accessible" website, drop down menus will automatically open when tabbed over allowing the user to traverse through all of the sub-links giving full access to all the website's pages.

This process can be very tedious if short cuts are not provided.  For example, on linking to the "Contact Us" page, her father would have to tab through all of the top navigation links again to get to the "meat" of the page - the actual contact information. A "Skip to main content" link positioned at the top of the page will remedy this problem by allowing him to quickly jump to the information he needs.

Yes, this is all extra work for developers but the sheer joy and feeling of inclusion it brings to someone who is blind or visually impaired is so worth the effort - as does Google.  Website accessibility affects search engine optimization (SEO). Google ranks websites that utilize accessibility techniques better in their organic search results.

Here’s a quick summary of features and techniques needed for AODA compliance. For more info, see tthe Government of Ontario’s "How to Make Websites Accessible".

  • Website functions must work using a keyboard (i.e. menus must be fully traversable using the tab key)
  • Link text should be self-explanatory
  • Images must have text alternatives describing what the image depicts
  • Colours, like coloured text for example, cannot be used to convey information such as negative values in a bank statement
  • Videos or audio files require a stop or volume control
  • Text can be resized (enlarged)
  • If there is a short time limit for certain functions, individuals can control or extend the time limit
  • There is nothing on the website that flashes rapidly.

As the populous baby-boomer generation ages, the visually impaired will become a larger portion of consumers on the internet. This is why building accessible (AODA compliant) websites shouldn't be thought of as something the government is making us do... it’s simply the right and the smart thing to do.