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A Guide To International Web Accessibility Laws And Policies

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Founder and CEO of Equally AI, a world-class, secured, convenient, and modern web accessibility experience for beneficiaries and businesses.

Digital-first is the defining ethos of our post-lockdown lives. With people relying on the internet for everything from remote work to social engagement, web accessibility has never been more critical. 

To support this priority, the World Wide Web Consortium issued Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), comprehensive standards for web content developers and others who require web accessibility standards. The WCAG also informs policymakers, managers and researchers as they strive to create standards and regulations to make internet access more equal for everyone.

The WCAG breaks down web accessibility into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Each principle is divided into multiple testable success criteria, which has allowed countries worldwide to enact laws and regulatory standards in response.

Without a universal web accessibility standard, digital platforms can struggle to account for differing compliance standards and penalty schemes, putting them at risk of litigation while eroding the user experience. 

How To Comply With Regional Regulations

Regulations on web accessibility vary throughout the world. These regulations do not always clearly specify guidelines for websites to follow to be deemed accessible. For instance, in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that all electronic information must be accessible to people with disabilities. This raises the question: How can I make my website accessible? 

It’s a daunting task to ensure that your website is accessible to individuals with disabilities if you do not have valid reference material. This is one reason there have been many high-profile lawsuits in the United States regarding discrimination against people with disabilities.

No one wants to receive a demand letter after investing time and effort into website accessibility. Thankfully, the W3C’s WCAG standards have been referenced several times in web accessibility settlement cases as acceptable standards for web accessibility for businesses. This means if you’re able to get your website to conform with WCAG version 2.0 level AA, you can rest easy.

Web Accessibility Standards In The U.S. And Canada

In the U.S., there are two main laws governing the accessibility of websites: the ADA and Section 508. While Section 508 refers mainly to government agencies, the ADA covers the following sectors:

• State and local government agencies

• Private employers with 15 or more employees

• Businesses that operate for the benefit of the public

That’s nearly every business with a website. Furthermore, websites have increasingly been defined as places of public accommodation by courts. The onus is on you, the business owner, to ensure that your website is accessible. 

If your business is based in Canada, then you should know about the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). 

While the ACA only addresses federal agencies, the AODA (as well as other provincial laws) requires websites, mobile applications and digital content from private businesses to be accessible. It references the WCAG 2.0 Level AA (excluding criteria 1.2.4 and 1.2.5) as a technical guideline for ensuring web accessibility. Additionally, it mandates private or non-profit organizations with more than 50 employees and all public sector organizations to render their digital content accessible to people with disabilities.

Web Accessibility Standards In Europe

According to the EU Web Accessibility Directive, there are specific standards for making websites and apps accessible, namely the WCAG. Adapting WCAG 2.1, the EU Web Accessibility Directive now requires that public sector organizations across the EU take steps to ensure their websites, mobile applications and devices are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

To comply with the law, the directive references EN 301 549, which, in turn, references WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards as a set of functional accessibility requirements for information and communications technology (ICT) products and services. 

Find Out Your Regional Web Accessibility Regulations

Your region may have its own regulations and guidelines regarding web accessibility. It’s your duty to find out what those regulations are and how you can comply with them.

Some countries have state or provincial regulations in addition to federal laws, like the U.S. and Canada. You can learn all about international web accessibility laws here.

Educate Your Team On Web Accessibility Best Practices

When in doubt, trust WCAG. Though there aren’t specific laws in certain regions, courts have repeatedly referenced WCAG standards as acceptable throughout the world. Organize webinars and workshops to educate your staff on web accessibility best practices. Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. 

Incorporate your accessibility goals into other policies and procedures. Thus, responsibility for accessibility will become a daily part of your business life. 

Use Automated Accessibility Solutions

Depending on the size of your team, it might be cumbersome to keep track of your web accessibility compliance status. This is when automated web accessibility solutions come in handy. As you scale and make changes to your website, such solutions can dynamically keep you compliant and accessible.

You can focus on growing your business as the automated web accessibility solution ensures you comply with WCAG standards.

Conclusion 

The internet is central to our daily lives, and equal access to this resource is both a moral imperative and a regulatory expectation. Globally, governments are recognizing the positive impact of accessibility guidelines, understanding that they need equality in all spaces, including digital platforms. Companies and digital platforms can differentiate themselves by striving for more than compliance. Exceed expectations by creating a compelling online experience that allows everyone to participate equally in the digital age. 


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