A barrier free Canada is for everybody! Things to consider before your next site launch
This morning I woke up, grabbed a coffee, checked the weather on my phone, took a look at today’s news, paid a bill, read my email, checked social media then got down to work. For work, I checked online correspondence, reviewed a video, set up some remote training, did some research and fixed a bit of code on a client’s site. We are having company on the weekend, so I was coordinating that via text messages as well. All that before 7:30 AM.
This is routine stuff for millions of people around the world. There’s nothing interesting about it.
For far too many people though, completing these mundane tasks is extremely difficult, or in some cases, impossible. That’s why accessibility is important. We need to remove barriers that prevent people from participating in society. At OpenConcept we have been concerned with accessibility for decades. Our president, Mike Gifford, is a well-known expert on the issue.
We are pleased to see that Bill C-81, an Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada has passed its 3rd reading in Parliament without a single MP voting against it. On November 27, 2018, it had its first reading in the Senate.
The Overview of the bill states:
The purpose of the Accessible Canada Act is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada. It would require the Government of Canada and the federally-regulated public and private sectors to identify and remove barriers and to prevent new barriers, that hinder the full and equal participation in society of persons with disabilities. It would focus on barriers in the areas of employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, the procurement of goods and services, the delivery of programs and services, transportation, and other designated areas.
What really catches my attention here is “...benefit all persons,” and “…identify and remove barriers, and to prevent new barriers, that hinder the full and equal participation in society…”
I’ve taken those lines a bit out of context. On their own though, I really like how inclusive they are. There are a lot of people who, while not considered to have disabilities by any definition I’ve come across, face considerable barriers to participating in society.
There are several reasons somebody may be excluded from equitable access to services and resources requiring the use of information and communication technologies.
In Canada, we have some of the highest wireless and internet rates in the world. Many people on low income are using old mobile phones with a pay-as-you-go plan. In some areas, there is the option of going to use public wi-fi, however, that requires transportation, time, and the costs to get there. In some cases, you need to be a paying customer to use the service and there are restrictions on hours of use. All that assumes you have a device that can support whatever you are trying to access.
Where you live can be another barrier to using information and communication technologies. Many rural communities do not have anything close to high-speed internet or LTE mobile networks. In the northern parts of the country, there is no cabled internet access. These places rely on satellite, which is vulnerable to weather disturbances, sun transit and latency. It is also prohibitively expensive. In Nunavut, the Taki Pro plan will get you 55GB of traffic a month at speed of download speed of 5MBPS for $399. Compare that to Rogers Ignite 500u plan where you have unlimited traffic, 1GBPS (200 x faster) for $84.99/month. You need to live in an urban area to get it. To be clear, the people running the ISPs in the north are not ripping people off. That’s the cost of delivering internet in remote areas.
What can we do to help make a barrier-free Canada?
To truly make Canada barrier-free, we all need to pull our weight. There is only so much that can be legislated and regulated.
While there has been some work done to bring internet access to those in a financial crisis, for example, the Connected Families initiative, there is a long way to go. The same can be said for bridging geographical barriers. The Connect to Innovate program is a start, but much more investment in infrastructure will be needed.
For OpenConcept, our role in a barrier-free Canada primarily has to do with web development. The same can be said for the hundreds of companies across the country doing what we do. There are three key things we need to pay attention to:
Make websites as accessible as possible
Everybody involved in web development needs to understand that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) exist and generally what they are for. Designers and developers need to understand how to implement the standards on web projects. Additionally, we have a responsibility to work with our clients to understand the importance of accessibility. In many cases, it’s a legal requirement.
Use progressive enhancement
Progressive Enhancement means that no matter what, you’re core content is available to all possible site users. It may not be pretty, but the content should be there. This means use fallbacks, structure documents properly and optimizes content.
Be aware of your biases
This one is a bit tricky. It’s difficult to be aware of our biases, that’s what makes them a bias. However, we do need to be aware that we have them. Am I linking directly to a 15MB PDF with no indication what the viewer can expect? I’m being biased to my situation of using a laptop on a fast connection with no bandwidth cap. Tapping that link is costing a viewer in Nunavut a fair bit of money. For the person struggling with their 2010 smartphone, I’ve likely just crashed their browser with a document that can’t even be properly read on a phone if it does open. To deal with bias, always test. Always ask. Better yet, include people from a diverse background of experience in the development of the project.
By doing these three things, everyone benefits because we are building something better.
If an inclusive, barrier-free Canada is truly important to us, we will get there. When we build things, build with kindness and love. If we do that, not only can everybody enjoy equitable access to all society has to offer, we can feel safe doing so and maybe even enjoy ourselves while we are at it.
This is part one of a three part series we will be doing on a Barrier Free Canada during January 2019.
About The Author
Craig is the User Experience (UX) team lead, designer and digital strategist at OpenConcept. He specializes in working with clients to identify problems and solutions that are easy to understand and use. Coming from an artistic background, Craig is particularly interested in working with the team to create products that exceed customer expectations.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @craigatcrow