Accessibility Issues Are Inevitable, So Let's Get On With It!



February 12, 2011

Back in November of 2010 Federal Court Justice Michael Kelen gave the Treasury Board of the Government of Canada (GoC) 15 months to make all of it's websites accessible to the blind.  This is still a landmark case even though the government decided to appeal the case on Jan 10th. I'm not sure how much longer the appeal will extend the case, but the writing is on the wall, the GoC is going to need to begin the long and difficult process of ensuring that it's millions of public web pages are accessible to all Canadians.

It is unclear at this point what will come from the appeal. I would hope that the judgment is revised to:

  • a strengthened mandate for collaboration between departments on making accessibility enhancements;
  • a properly resourced, centralized agency for departments to help make their sites more accessible;
  • a grandfather clause to exclude web pages that were last modified before January 1st 2009 (unless requested by public);
  • an improved & consistent mechanism to report accessibility/usability problems to be added to the CLF framework;
  • expansion to include everyone with disability issues and not just blind Canadians.

What the government is ultimately going to be responsible to implement and when it will need to be delivered by are still up in the air.  We can be confident that the deadline will need to be extended beyond April 1st, 2012, but beyond that we can really only speculate.  I don't think that there is any doubt however that:

  • all departments and agencies will need to implement an extensive review of the accessibility of all of their web pages;
  • the target they will be expected to meet will be based on WCAG 2.0;
  • accessibility guidelines will continue to change to keep up with the changing demands of IT;
  • at the very least any pages produced since the judge's first ruling will need to be made accessible.

Unfortunately, many departments seem to be playing a waiting game to invest in making the changes which will make their web pages accessible.  Every day that new inaccessible content is being produced by public servants represents an increased cost to tax payers to fix it when the final judgment is released.  There is the hope that by waiting it out that Treasury Board will come up with the funds to make this transition more affordable or perhaps that a technological solution will be found which will ease the effort of making accessible sites accessible.  

I can't speak what Treasury Board will do, but there are solutions that can be implemented now which will make maintaining websites both easier to maintain as well as more accessible.  Drupal 7 provides a web platform which has undergone considerable accessibility testing and which can provide a strong framework for both flat websites as well as interactive social network sites.  Implementing Drupal based solutions now will help ensure that departments are future compatible and are more easily able to upgrade to meet the needs of Government 2.0.

So let's work together now to implement solutions that can be shared across government agencies to produce more accessible sites websites affordably.  

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.