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The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act and WCAG: An Overview

Aug 8, 2022

The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act became law in April 2017 with the passage of Bill 59. Officially titled “An Act Respecting Accessibility in Nova Scotia,” the legislation is one of several major accessibility directives specific to Canadian provinces. 

While the Act immediately establishes responsibilities for organizations in the public sector, its ultimate goal is to achieve “an accessible Nova Scotia by 2030,” and compliance requirements will roll out gradually over the next decade. Here’s what web developers need to know about this important non-discrimination law. 

A Closer Look at the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act

Nova Scotia is the third province to pass a major accessibility law, following the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005 and the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) in 2013. 

Bill 59 establishes a multi-year, multi-phase plan that will facilitate feedback from Nova Scotians with disabilities, and the standards of the Act may change substantially over time. 

“We are proud to have worked with people with disabilities and business to take this historic step toward an accessible Nova Scotia,” Justice Minister Diana Whalen said in 2017. “This act commits us to a timeline to make the province an accessible place to live, work, learn and play.”

Bill 59 establishes an Accessibility Advisory Board, which is responsible for creating standards in six areas: 

  • Goods and services
  • Information and communication
  • Public transportation and transportation infrastructure
  • Employment
  • Education
  • The built environment (including rights-of-way, buildings, and outdoor public spaces)

The legislation will impact digital accessibility in Canada in several important ways. First, the act has strong enforcement mechanisms. Severe violations may incur fines of up to $250,000 (CAD). Unlike the federal Accessible Canada Act, the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act could establish requirements for the private sector. While large fines are unlikely except in extreme circumstances, the potential financial implications of non-compliance may be a powerful incentive for businesses.

Secondly — and most importantly for web developers — the Advisory Board has indicated that compliance requirements for websites will be based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international consensus standards for digital accessibility.

Related: Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?

Will the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act apply to websites?

Bill 59 contains language that implies the importance of digital accessibility. Specifically, the mandate to create standards for accessible “information and communication" will likely mean some requirements for general web accessibility. 

However, the Accessibility Advisory Board will be ultimately responsible for any standards implemented throughout the province. The Advisory Board includes members with disabilities, along with business leaders and other key stakeholders. As such, any digital accessibility standards are likely to be reasonably attainable.

Nova Scotia may look to other provinces for guidance when tackling its digital accessibility goals. For example, Ontario’s accessibility law requires all organizations — including those in the private sector — to meet the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. The AODA also requires compliance for online content dating back to 2012, not just newly produced content.

Related: AODA Compliance Report and Accessibility Plans

WCAG provides the best path to accessibility compliance

While the impact of the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act is still unknown, the importance of digital accessibility is well established. About one in five Canadians aged 15 years and older have one or more disabilities, and in recent years, accessibility advocates have pushed for legislation to guarantee access to online spaces. 

WCAG is often used as a framework for non-discrimination laws for a simple reason: The standards are clear, comprehensive, and easy to follow. By developing clear requirements based on four principles (perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness), WCAG has gained a reputation as the best objective resource for digital accessibility. 

Following the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1) can demonstrate compliance with many major accessibility laws, including the AODA and international laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Perhaps more importantly, WCAG conformance opens up the enormous benefits of accessibility: a larger audience, improved brand sentiment, and a better overall experience for all internet users. 

Learn more about WCAG’s digital accessibility standards by downloading our Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility. To see how your website compares to WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards, get started with a free automated accessibility analysis

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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