The Accessibility Canada Act (ACA) is a landmark non-discrimination law that applies to most organizations in Canada that fall under federal jurisdiction. The ACA officially began on July 11, 2019, and the act is part of a larger program that intends to remove barriers that affect Canadians with disabilities by 2040.
For decades, disability-rights activists have pushed the federal government to enact stronger non-discrimination laws. About 6 million Canadians aged 15 and over live with disabilities, and the ACA is intended to remove the various barriers that affect those citizens. That could mean more opportunities for these citizens — and more equitable access to important government services.
While the ACA only applies at the federal level, it has major implications for digital accessibility. Below, we’ll discuss some of those implications and provide a path for ensuring ACA compliance when developing digital content.
What organizations must comply with the Accessibility Canada Act?
While the ACA is a federal act, it does not apply to the governments of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, or Yukon. In other territories and provinces, the ACA’s requirements apply directly to three types of entities:
- Federal government departments and agencies
- Crown corporations (privately managed, state-owned enterprises)
- Federally regulated sectors, which include telecommunications, banking, railways, radio and television broadcasters, and postal services, among others
Most private organizations are not required to follow the requirements of the ACA, but other federal and provincial laws (such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Accessibility for Manitobans Act) have a wider scope.
Web Accessibility and the ACA
The ACA doesn’t directly mandate web accessibility. Instead, it assigns this duty to the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO), which may develop — and revise — standards for preventing accessibility barriers. CASDO creates standards in partnership with the disabilities community to ensure that each standard is both reasonably attainable and practically useful.
The ACA also creates several new positions in government, including the Accessibility Commissioner, who is responsible for investigating complaints (including digital accessibility barriers on government websites). The Commissioner may assess fines and other penalties for non-compliance.
ACA Compliance and WCAG
Currently, the ACA doesn’t specify strict technical standards for websites or mobile apps. However, there’s an international framework for digital accessibility published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and using those standards can help Canadian organizations prepare for ACA compliance.
Under the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), websites are considered reasonably accessible if they conform with all Level AA success criteria. At this time, WCAG conformance isn’t an official requirement under the ACA — but given that most digital accessibility laws use WCAG as a framework, Canada’s federal requirements are widely expected to use the same basis.
WCAG Level AA conformance can also demonstrate compliance under provincial digital accessibility acts including Ontario’s landmark law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which applies to private businesses in addition to government organizations.
Creating a Strategy for ACA Compliance
To form a strategy for ACA compliance — and enjoy the other benefits of an accessible approach — keep these tips in mind:
- Review the latest version of WCAG. Currently, that’s WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release later this year.
- Start working as early as possible. Ignoring users with disabilities builds your accessibility debt, increasing the cost and difficulty of remediation.
- Test your website for major barriers. Automated tests like the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free website analysis can be useful for identifying poor color contrast, missing image alternative text, and other common accessibility issues.
- Remember that some WCAG criteria require human judgment. In addition to automated testing, it’s a good idea to schedule a full audit involving experienced testers with disabilities.
- Publish an accessibility statement. An accessibility statement tells your audience about your conformance goals, solicits feedback, and shows your commitment to an accessible approach.
Finally, make sure your organization understands the goals of digital accessibility. Developing accessible content requires careful consideration of your audience, and if your team is committed to the process, you’ll deliver a better experience for all users — not just those with disabilities.
An accessibility partner can help you find remediation solutions and develop a plan for long-term compliance. For more guidance, reach out to us to speak with a subject matter expert (SME) or learn more about WCAG by downloading our Definitive Website Accessibility Checklist.