Why website accessibility is now a serious issue for brands

By Vickram Agarwal, Partner & Managing Director, Black Rock Marketing Group

Accessibility has become, rightly, a major concern for businesses. Most would like to think that they are on top of making their products, services and information available to all, no matter the customer’s background or ability.

But one issue may have slipped the notice of some – the rising importance of website accessibility. It’s a subject that has been in the spotlight over the last year, thanks to legislative changes due to come into effect in Ontario.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) dictates that, by January 1, 2021, all public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012, must meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This applies to all private or non-profit organizations with 50-plus employees. The move raises the potential for both brand and technical issues with websites, which must meet guidelines to ensure accessibility for those who experience permanent, temporary or situational impairments.

Accessibility upgrades to a website will positively affect those who experience a variety of issues including blindness, mild to moderate visual impairment, deafness, speech issues, physical or mobility impairment and those who experience learning or mental health challenges.

The beauty of the way the guidelines have been built is that they account for varying abilities and disabilities on a spectrum. They factor for the more serious permanent disabilities as mentioned earlier, but also aim to increase convenience for circumstantial situations like a parent holding their toddler in one arm, using their free hand to try and navigate the web.

Issues could range from brand colours not being compliant and videos missing subtitles to more technical and structural issues with the backend that make it hard for accessibility tools to interact with the website. 

There’s a clear legal conversation to have here in terms of helping companies reach compliance, but this discussion should also be brand-focused due to the potential to improve productivity and results. That’s because 22% of Canadians identify as disabled, making approximately 6.2 million people (not counting those who might experience temporary disabilities) with buying power that are potentially excluded by non-compliant websites. 

The solution needn’t be complex. At Black Rock Marketing Group, we’ve evolved an approach that starts with a complete website audit to identify any AODA compliance issues, followed by the presentation of detailed audit results with recommended changes categorized as High Priority, Medium Priority and Low Priority. Changes can then be executed either by the agency or a client-assigned digital team, with a follow-up audit to confirm AODA compliance.

It is important to remember that the guidelines aim to increase user convenience, but it is easy to tip the scale the other way and make a site over-accessible. Empathy to the user experience is necessary to ensure that adding too many features to make something convenient can also make it inconvenient. The Black Rock team does exactly that, we balance the need to follow legislation with using the guidelines to build positive digital experiences for our clients’ customers.  While there is slow growing awareness of the impending legal changes, now is a good time for Canadian companies, of all shapes and sizes, to act. The parameters of the legislation are likely to shift relatively quickly – in January 2021 the laws might apply only to companies and non-profits of over 50 people in Ontario, but this could change to include smaller organizations and other provinces might follow suit quicker than we realize.

Black Rock Marketing Group is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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