Digital Accessibility | Legislation | Alison
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Digital Accessibility Legislation

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Knowing the lengths your company recently went to ensure physical accessibility at the storefront locations, you are eager to gain an understanding about how accessibility legislation may extend into the digital realm. The added risk of potential legal action and reference to a human rights violation in the complaint has drawn concern from the company’s leadership. They have asked you to investigate further into what legislation might already exist with reference to digital accessibility. You discover that, in fact, there is legislation in place in Ontario as part of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), specifically Section 12 and Section 14 that speak to digital accessibility, which cover accessible formats and web content, respectively. You see that, indeed, accessible websites are addressed in Section 14(4). While you are reading about the AODA Information and Communications Standard, you remember the discussion at the last manager’s meeting, about the plan coming together that will see several new stores open over the next year, located in the United States, the European Union, and Australia. It occurs to you that these countries may have their own digital accessibility standards, and that you should look into those while learning about the local accessibility requirements. The W3CWeb Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) has become broadly accepted as the definitive source for web accessibility rules around the world, with many jurisdictions adopting it verbatim, or with minor adjustments, as the basis for accessibility laws that remove discrimination against people with disabilities on the web. While you do not need to read the whole WCAG 2.0 document, it is good to have a basic understanding of what it covers. WCAG 2.0 can be dry, and time consuming to read through and understand. We have created 10 Key Guidelines, available in the Course Resources, that summarizes and helps familiarize you with the more common web accessibility issues. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), does not have any specific technical requirements upon which it requires websites to be accessible, however, there have been a number of cases where organizations that are considered to be “places of public accommodation” have been sued due to the inaccessibility of their websites (e.g., Southwest Airlines and AOL), where the defendant organization was required to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA guidelines. There is a proposed revision to Title III of the ADA (Federal Register Volume 75, Issue 142, July 26, 2010) that would, if passed, require WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA conformance to make Web content accessible under ADA. Section 508 is part of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act and its purpose is to eliminate barriers in information technology, applying to all Federal Agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Any company that sells to the U.S. Government must also provide products and services that comply with the eleven accessibility guidelines Section 508 describes in Section 1194.22 of the Act. These guidelines were originally based on a subset of the WCAG 1.0 guidelines, and were recently updated to include WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA guidelines as new requirements for those obligated through Section 508. Those affected by the regulation were required to comply with the updated regulation by January 18, 2018. The Equality Act in the United Kingdom does not specifically address how web accessibility should be implemented, but in Section 29(1), require that those who sell or provide services to the public must not discriminate against any person requiring the service. Effectively, preventing a person with a disability from accessing a service on the web constitutes discrimination. Sections 20 and 29(7) of the Act make it an ongoing duty of service providers to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate people with disabilities. To this end, the British Standards Institution (BSI) provides a code of practice (BS 8878) on web accessibility, based on WCAG 1.0.Throughout Europe, a number of countries have their own accessibility laws, each based on WCAG 2.0. In 2010, the European Union itself introduced web accessibility guidelines based on WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements. The EU Parliament passed a law in 2014 that requires all public sector websites, and private sector websites that provide key public services, to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements, with new content conforming within one year, existing content conforming within three years, and multimedia content conforming within five years. This does not mean, however, that all companies in countries in the EU must conform. Though not specifically referencing the web, section 24 of the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 in Australia, makes it unlawful for a person who provides goods, facilities, or services to discriminate on the grounds of disability. This law was tested in 2000, when a blind man successfully sued the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) when its website prevented him from purchasing event tickets. The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) shortly after released the World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes. These were last updated in 2014, and, while they do not have direct legal force, they do provide web accessibility guidance for Australians on how to avoid discriminatory practices when developing web content, based on WCAG 2.0.

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