Accessibility WCAG / AODA Presentation Follow Up

By Crispin Bailey, July 25, 2013

Every year hundreds of Drupal enthusiasts from the greater Toronto and surrounding region flock to DrupalCampToronto to learn new tricks, share best-practices, ask questions, and talk about all things Drupal.

This year's event, DrupalCampToronto13, was held on the weekend of July 13-14, and hosted nearly 20 sessions in addition to Birds of a Feather (informal ad-hoc sessions), and a great party on Saturday night.

For companies like Therefore, a Gold sponsor at this year's event, DrupalCamp is a great opportunity to share knowledge and give back to the community. In that spirit, I was honoured to present a well-attended session on the topic of Accessibility and Inclusive Design to the attendees of DrupalCampToronto'13. The session was aimed at beginners but covered information that was appropriate for all levels, and judging by the questions that came up after the presentation it was clear that the topic was of great interest to many in the audience.

See the slides from this presentation on Slideshare or download the presentation PDF.

At a high level, the session sought to answer the following questions: what is Accessibility and Inclusive Design and why should I care? How much is it going to cost? Where do I start? What about Drupal? And where can I get more info?

The first thing we looked at was a general overview of Accessibility and how that differs from Inclusive Design. When most people think of accessibility, the first thing that comes to mind are disabilities. This is where inclusive design differs, because it seeks to cover the greater variety of human capabilities. For example, you wouldn't consider a pregnant woman disabled, though she may have a hard time accessing some services or performing certain activities. In a similar way, when we are designing websites and software to meet accessibility guidelines, we are also improving the experience for many people who don't necessarily fall under the "disabled" category. And that's not all. We are also improving the machine-readability of the content, and that's good for SEO.

Looking at a few statistics on disability rates for Canada, according to a 2006 census 4.4 million people, or nearly 15% of all Canadians, reported some kind of disability. Important to note is that with age that rate goes up - to over 56% for Canadians over 75 years of age.

There is a tremendous opportunity for companies who embrace accessibility. Several case studies on the W3C-WAI website illustrate how adoption of accessibility best-practices converts into revenue growth and better brand perception. For example, a UN Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities reported that 75% of companies of the FTSE100 Index on the London Stock Exchange do not meet basic levels of accessibility on their websites, and are missing out on over $147 million in revenue. That's a lot of money being left on the table by not being accessible!

Closer to home, there is a very real deadline looming for businesses in Ontario. As of January 1st, 2014, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act impacts businesses of 50 people or more in size, which requires that all public websites meet WCAG 2.0 Level A compliance. By 2021 websites and content posted after January 1, 2012, must meet Level AA compliance (with the exception of synchronized captions and audio descriptions for live and pre-recorded video content). Penalties for failure to comply can get very steep - up to $100,000 per day for corporations, and up to $50,000 per day for individuals and non-incorporated companies for major contraventions in both severity and history.

In the United States, where Section 508 has taken much of the spotlight, there was a famous case involving Target Corporation and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB). In 2005 the NFB brought to Target's attention that its website,, was not accessible. There were several problems cited, all easily rectifiable, but Target refused to do anything. So in 2006 the NFB took Target to court. Two years later, Target settled the case for $6 million, plus another $4 million to cover the NFB's legal expenses (not to mention their own). This put the total cost to well over $10 million, and they still had to make their website accessible. A big lesson learned there!

So the big question is, what does it cost to make a website accessible? Well, just like asking how much it costs for a website, it really depends. The main factors impacting the cost of integrating accessibility into a website include the types of content being displayed (is there audio or video which will have to be transcribed or captioned?), and how much interactivity or complex functionality there is (javascript widgets for example).

Some estimates range from 1-3% for a simple static HTML/CSS website, to 4-6% for a larger more robust site with some javascript, to as high as 10% for complex e-commerce or media-heavy websites. But that's relatively low in comparison to the costs of retrofitting an existing sites, which can run 2 to 3 times higher (in other words, up to 30% of the initial build cost). So the big take away here is you really want to build in accessibility from the beginning, rather than having to implement it after launch.

Since this presentation was for DrupalCamp, everyone was interested to know how Drupal handles the issue of web accessibility. Few people realise that the Drupal Association actually has an accessibility mandate, and has issued an official statement on the topic. So not surprisingly, this is an area where Drupal does extremely well, especially when matched with modules and themes that have taken the #D7AX pledge to be as accessible as possible. Having built and themed the DrupalCampToronto website this year, I was pleased to announce that we had successfully achieved Level AA compliance, after adjusting a few link and header colours for adequate colour contrast. (see before and after screenshots below)

Before Accessibility Changes Were Made

After Accessibility Changes Were Made

Of course you can't just trust that using Drupal will ensure adequate accessibility. Fortunately there are several free tools available to validate your projects with, including handy browser extensions for both Firefox and Chrome. For Firefox there is the WAVE Toolbar (WAVE can also be added to Developer Tools), and the Juicy Studio Accessibility Toolbar. For Chrome there is an Accessibility Developer Tools extension. In addition there are several other useful tools for testing, including IDI Web AChecker, Total Validator, the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker, and the Photosensitivity Epilepsy Analysis Tool (PEAT). And the Government of Canada has published their own WCAG 2.0 Conformance Assessment Tool.

Of course a validator is only good at finding the accessibility issues in your website. It won't necessarily be able to tell you what you need to do to fix them. For that I suggest getting informed, by purchasing a good book on the topic (I suggested a few in my presentation, see my slides on Slideshare). 

And with the rapid pace of development, keeping up to date on the latest guidelines and best-practices can be a challenge. By joining the Drupal Accessibility Group you can stay abreast of what's happening in the Drupal world, and by participating in your local a11y meetup group (Toronto has a vibrant one), or by going to one of the amazing conferences or A11y Camps put on every year in Toronto and Guelph, you can stay informed of what's happening in the broader context. There is also a large community of people on Twitter discussing the topic, usually using the #a11y hashtag.

Several great questions came out of the Q&A period following my presentation that required a little research. Here's what I was able to find:

Q: How do the laws requiring accessibility affect websites that display ads? Are the ads themselves included?

A: As far as I have been able to determine, ads are not considered part of the content, and as such are not covered.

Q: What about PDFs? Do they have to be accessible?

A: While technically the WCAG 2.0 spec does not cover downloadable content, it is possible to make PDFs somewhat accessible. I say somewhat, because only 1 of 3 types of PDF are optimized for accessibility (tagged), and even then it requires using special (and expensive) screen readers that have built-in support for the accessibility features that Adobe has implemented (and currently there is no accessibility support for PDF in non-Windows operating systems).

Q: What about gaming or purely entertainment sites?

A: The topic of accessible video games is actually quite current. There is an initiative called the Game Accessibility Guidelines, which is "a collaborative effort between a group of studios, specialists and academics, to produce a straightforward developer-friendly reference for ways to avoid unnecessarily excluding players, and ensure that games are just as fun for as wide a range of people as possible." That being said, video games are not explicitly covered by the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines, and are not subject to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). 

  As far as entertainment sites go, however, things might be a bit different. For example, in the United States Netflix was sued by the National Association of the Deaf for not including captions on their streaming video. In the end Netflix decided to settle for $795,000 USD and agreed to ensure all of its movies will be close-captioned by 2014. The court had ruled that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) applies to web-only businesses (not just business with a bricks-and-mortar presence as was the case in the Target case).

Q: If my website was launched in 2011 does it have to comply with AODA and be A-level compliant by Jan 1, 2014?

A: It depends. Technically, if no new content has been posted since 2011, the answer is no. But any web content published after January 1, 2012 does have to comply, which means that many aspects of the site would likely also have to be retrofitted to ensure that the new content is actually accessible.

Q: Are there any accessibility labs in Toronto?

A: Currently there are no open labs in Toronto, however Devlin Digital has a usability lab which they rent out and which has been used for testing accessibility. The University of Toronto provides access to assistive devices for students with disabilities, however you have to be a student of the university. Similarly, York University has an Adaptive Equipment Lab which has a full range of accessible computers and adaptive technology software, but it too is only available to students of the university.

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