The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) was enacted in 2019 to ensure a barrier-free Canada by 2040. The law defines a barrier as anything that hinders “full and equal participation in society” for people with disabilities, and includes accessibility requirements not only for physical spaces, but also for digital experiences.
If the ACA applies to your organization, deadlines for compliance are quickly approaching.
In this post, we’ll provide a brief outline of what the Accessible Canada Act specifies, along with details on the types of organizations that are required to be ACA compliant and specific deadlines. We’ll also cover why compliance matters, and how to go about making sure your organization meets the ACA’s requirements for digital content.
What are the key elements of the Accessible Canada Act?
The Accessible Canada Act applies to federally regulated employers. As background, it:
- Was enacted to remove barriers to full and equal participation in society for anyone with a disability
- Enforces accessibility in the digital world as well as the physical world
- Carries financial penalties of up to CAD$250,000 for a single violation
As part of compliance, the ACA requires that organizations prepare, publish, and regularly update accessibility plans—always in consultation with people with disabilities—to remove and prevent barriers in their policies, programs, practices, and services. Organizations must also create a way to collect feedback about their plans and provide alternate formats for those who request it. These plans must be updated and published every three years.
The ACA is focused on a number of key areas in which federal services are provided, including employment, public buildings and spaces, transportation, and information and communication technologies (ICT). ICT includes digital content and the technology used to interact with digital content. And as federal organizations seek efficiency gains through the adoption of digital services, the ICT aspect of the ACA is becoming increasingly important.
What are the deadlines for compliance?
Three different compliance deadlines are rapidly approaching:
- June 1, 2023: Organizations that had 100 or more employees in 2021
- June 1, 2024: Organizations that had between 10 and 99 employees in 2021. The same deadline also applies to organizations that were established during 2022 or became federally regulated during 2022
- June 1, 2025: All other federally regulated organizations with at least 10 employees
Why is it important to comply with the Accessible Canada Act?
First and foremost, compliance is never a matter of choice. The Accessible Canada Act is enforced through a system of financial penalties, from as much as CAD$75,000 for a minor violation (such as failing to publish an accessibility plan) to CAD$250,000 for a more serious violation. Failure to comply will also reflect poorly on any organization, suggesting to the public that the organization does not value and treat all people equally.
Financial and reputational risks aside, accessibility is good for everyone. In the case of digital accessibility, websites and apps that conform to accessibility standards are easier for all users to navigate and help ensure that vital information reaches the entire population.
How can you comply with the Accessible Canada Act’s digital accessibility requirements?
When it comes to ACA compliance for digital information, to identify, remove, and plan to prevent barriers, the first step is to understand established standards for accessibility, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)—the global standard for web accessibility.
WCAG is organized around the four P.O.U.R. principles, which state that digital content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users. The four principles break down further into dozens of testable success criteria, each one accompanied by guidance on how to achieve it.
Each WCAG success criterion has three different pass marks: A, AA, and AAA. A implies a base level of accessibility, while AAA represents the peak of what can be achieved with current technology. Most organizations test their web content for conformance to the current WCAG “AA” level. It’s important to note that while WCAG is specific to HTML content, its general principles can be applied to any digital experience.
Next, run a structured discovery exercise to identify the digital experiences that are in use by your organization, and then begin to test them for accessibility. Free automated testing tools are available to check baseline conformance to WCAG standards. But it’s important to remember that many issues cannot be diagnosed by technology alone. Expert advice is crucial to ensure you’re fully meeting the WCAG requirements.
Based on your findings, the next step is to plan and implement remediation as part of an ongoing compliance program. As you build that compliance capability, it’s a best practice to seek guidance from a third-party digital accessibility expert. Moreover, remaining in compliance as technologies, content, and legislation change is a long-term challenge that will require a high level of digital accessibility expertise. Maintaining these non-core skills internally is typically unsustainable, so most organizations adopt a hybrid approach combining internal capabilities with external expertise.
And remember, the Accessible Canada Act requires organizations prepare and publish an accessibility plan showing how they identify, remove, and prevent barriers, and update that plan every three years. Additional reporting requirements include:
- Consult people with disabilities while preparing and updating plans
- Provide an alternative format of the plan for those who request it
- Create a way to collect feedback about the plan or barriers people may face
- Describe on your website how you receive feedback
Let Level Access help with ACA compliance
Level Access has in-depth experience helping organizations meet the digital accessibility requirements of the ACA, including preparing accessibility plans and progress reports to demonstrate compliance. Our solution offers full-featured software, backed by expert consultancy. For more information about how Level Access can help you understand and respond to the demands of the Accessible Canada Act, or other global requirements, contact us today.
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