Web Accessibility Laws in Canada are Changing. Are you Prepared?

ACA: Bill C-81

I attended a webinar hosted by OPIN and SiteImprove that discussed basic accessibility in Canda and new laws coming into effect. In June of this year, the Accessible Canada Act: Bill C-81 was passed, and through attendance of this webinar, I hoped to find what exactly this meant for our neighbors on the web. Thank you to Jennifer and Rune for the introduction to these changes. After the webinar, I did a bit more research and through those combined efforts, this is what I think you need to know. 

“An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada”

To start, the goal of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA): Bill C-81, is to ensure full and equal participation of everyone, especially those with disabilities, in society. In order for that to be possible, this set of regulations has been implemented to give everyone an equal opportunity in Canada. This is a historic milestone, for it is the first time in Canada’s history that there is legislation federally to regulate accessibility. 

Bill C-81 was written with the intent to provide a barrier-free Canada in areas under federal jurisdiction on or before January 1, 2040. I know that seems very far into the future, but this gives us time to understand and adapt with a deadline in place. This does not mean you definitely have until January 1, 2040, though, this is just a long-term guiding point to determine the success or failure of the Bill. Between now and then you are still at risk for penalty if you aren’t compliant, you can still be audited, and you must comply to the terms outlined in the bill if brought to the attention of those responsible for upholding these standards.

Goals of ACA

There are five main goals defined in this bill. As outlined from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, they are:

  • improving recruitment, retention and promotion of persons with disabilities,
  • enhancing the accessibility of the built environment,
  • making communications technology usable by all,
  • equipping public servants to design and deliver accessible programs and services, and
  • building public service that is confidently accessible.

To summarize, not only is this focusing on broad digital accessibility, but developing and adjusting for inclusive environments in all areas of human interaction.

Who does it affect?

ACA: Bill C-81 affects the following Canadian entities:

  • Federal government
  • Transportation
  • Broadcasting & Telecommunication
  • Banking & Finance
  • Crown Corporations
  • Military
  • Police

How is it to be enforced?

One of the great things about this Act is that it comes with guidelines for enforcement and putting a structure in place to do it. So what does that look like?

Members will form a Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization or CASDO. It will be led by a board of directors to be comprised of a majority of persons with disabilities to develop standards in collaboration with the disability community. What a win! 

Within the CASDO there will be a Chief Accessibility Officer, or CAO, and an Accessibility Commissioner. The CAO will communicate with the Minister of Accessibility and monitor accessibility issues as they emerge, while the Accessibility Commissioner will be in charge of the enforcement of accessibility compliance.

If you aren't sure about how scared you should be if you think this is something you can just wait to resolve, I've got a scary number for you. The Accessibility Commissioner can fine organizations up to 250,000 Canadian dollars per violation. I'm not entirely aware of what dictates the decision-making behind this, but it's certainly something I wouldn't want to risk facing.

Within the CASDO there is also a Standards Organization that will help guide the accessibility rules and regulations. One thing to note is the Standards Organization must make available to the public every accessibility standard that it recommends to the Minister, so we are all on the same page and are not taken by surprise for any “new” regulations.

Time to React

What happens after you’ve been flagged for having an inaccessible website? The Act states that if you are not found to be compliant, you have one year to establish a fix and prove your remediation efforts. This sounds like a lot of time, but when it comes to the complexities of web environments, this is not always the case.

Special notes for Ontarians

Remember that this act does not alleviate you from any specifications made in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The AODA outlines specific regulations for web content, and how to provide an accessible web experience to all visitors.

Dates to Remember

New public websites and significantly refreshed websites were required to be compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level A by January 1, 2014. Hopefully, we’ve all made this commitment and have websites that meet this requirement. 

However, we have another deadline fast approaching. By January 1, 2021 the same websites need to update again to be compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

Canada's National AccessAbility Week

Celebrating Accessibility

Aside from AODA, Bill C-81 also notes that throughout Canada, in each year, the week starting on the last Sunday in May is to be known as National AccessAbility Week. Upcoming dates for the newly appointed AccessAbility week are outlined below. Let’s all mark our calendars now!

  • May 31 to July 6, 2020 - Theme Announced - Because We Can!
  • May 30 to July 5, 2021
  • May 29 to July 4, 2022
  • May 28 to July 3, 2023
  • May 26 to July 1, 2024
  • May 25 to May 31, 2025

If you have any questions or would like to continue the discussion of web accessibility and bringing your organization up to standard, feel free to contact us!