Accessibility is About Community, Not Disability

Historically, society has mainly considered accessibility in terms of physical spaces. Perhaps a flight of stairs meant someone in a wheelchair couldn’t get inside your store or place of worship. Millions of dollars have been invested in retrofitting older buildings so they could be accessible to people with mobility challenges.

group of people in a huddle

We’ve also tended to think of accessibility as being related to disability. Here in Ontario, our Provincial Government passed The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, (AODA) 14 years ago to “break down barriers for people with a disability”.  This is a 20-year plan to make Ontario services accessible to everyone.

Most provinces and many US states already have or are working on, similar accessibility legislation. British Columbia has Accessibility 2024, with the goal of “making B.C. the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024”.

Those of us who work in digital communications tend to think of accessibility in terms of a set of internet recommendations called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This is a set of guidelines that ensures online content is accessible to all users. The first WCAG was written way back in 1995, so this isn’t something that’s just come up recently.

One in seven people over the age of 15 have some kind of disability
— StatsCan

So accessibility isn’t just related to physical space, the internet, or even limited to people who have a disability. After all, one in seven people over the age of 15 have some kind of disability (StatsCan)—a disability is something that can be difficult to define or even see. I like the WCAG wording which simply recommends that when thinking about accessibility, we “consider that many users may be operating in contexts very different from your own.”

That context could be a visible disability. But the context could be that your volunteers who live in remote areas don’t have reliable, lightning-fast internet service. Are these people going to be included in your communications or will they be left out because of their context?

Accessibility is really about groups and communities. It’s about deciding who we are going to allow into our community. In many ways, accessibility is as much about inclusion and diversity as anything else. Accessibility is about breaking down barriers so that everyone can be included in our groups, our communities and our communications!

So you may be asking, “What has this got to do with me? I’m not doing anything to prevent people from coming into our business. Everyone is welcome here!”

At rtraction, we solve communication problems. We see these accessibility issues every day, not just on the internet but in all kinds of communications.

We frequently do AODA audits on websites. This is a service we perform to audit existing websites to make sure they comply with the WCAG Level AA recommendations. If that jargon sounds foreign to you, we need to talk!

Beginning January 2021 the Government of Ontario has mandated through AODA that all new and significantly refreshed public websites must be accessible. There’s still a lot of confusion among people about what this actually means for an organization.

This law applies if you are a private or non-profit organization with 50+ employees or a public sector organization.

Some businesses and non-profits are also required to submit an AODA compliance report every 3 years, with the next one being due by the end of 2020.

Even if the law doesn’t apply to your organization, why do you need a law to do the right thing? Make sure you’re inviting everyone into your community!

Check back next week as we dive a bit deeper into making your communications accessible for your community on the internet. If you can’t wait that long, get in touch with us today!