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'Time for businesses to reassess web accessibility': Canadian tech company

Dave Hale (Courtesy Talk Shop Media)

The owner of a Canadian company says it's a troubling tech trend that needs to be fixed

The owner is urging B.C. businesses to make their websites more accessible for people with disabilities

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — One of the partners in a web accessibility business wants to pass on a reminder to B.C. companies, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dave Hale is with Craft & Crew in Ontario, where that province is aiming to ensure website accessibility is happening, and he says with everything going on, it’s not something a lot of corporations have been thinking about.

Unfortunately, this means people with disabilities may have inadvertently been left behind.

“When everything from government services to education to a lot of health care, to of course retail and shopping experiences — when all of those dramatically moved online, I think that these issues that were always there really came much more into the limelight,” he tells NEWS 1130.

He says as they’ve worked with companies to create websites, they’ve been forced to take accessibility seriously, and that continues to be the case. There’s been a particular rush in Ontario, even after that province pushed back its start date for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) – that was supposed to start this month but has since been moved to June.

Once AODA goes into effect, businesses and other organizations that don’t follow the rules around accessibility could face stiff fines.

“In the late summer, we just started getting say, four to five times more inbound requests from organizations that were like, ‘hey, are you guys able to help us at least conduct an audit, or make enhancements or improvements?’ So, I’ll be honest, we assumed everyone was on the same page, and that everyone had been working hard…especially big brands, that everyone is on this. We were shocked by the number of organizations that were reaching out to us,” he explains.

Hale’s reminder comes as Craft & Crew enters into a partnership with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) as they work together to figure out where improvements can be made, and the not-for-profit told Craft & Crew this continued to be an issue.

“We contacted [CNIB] mainly just as a fact-finding mission to be like, ‘is what we’re experiencing something you’re also experiencing? Are there really this…number of organizations that are still so far behind in this arena that this is a really big problem?’ CNIB was like, ‘oh yeah. You’d be shocked at how many requests we get as well.'”

Comparatively speaking, Hale believes Craft & Crew hasn’t seen as much of an issue with various levels of government across the country as he has with individual businesses.

“I think provincial, municipal and definitely the federal government have taken accessibility from their service standpoint seriously for a while, but I think that it’s the large of amount of, let’s say, other digital services…from insurance companies to banking…you name it. Any service, that’s not necessarily a tangible e-commerce transaction, but I think a lot of those services that people need – sometimes essential – when they’re not being delivered in a digital format that is accessible, all of a sudden you really start to stress test where people living with disabilities are at a further disadvantage,” he says.

B.C. previously promised to become the most progressive province in the country when it comes to helping those with disabilities, and while we’re still a few years away from the 2024 goal, Hale says it’s never too early to reassess where websites can be improved.

“[Government should] really look at the numbers here, and really look at in terms of percentage in terms of government effort, resources and interest, is it getting a representative percentage of attention, budget, etc.”

Based on the most recent stats he’s seen, Hale says there are about 600,000 British Columbians living with at least one disability, and about 25 per cent of those in this province who are over the age of 15 self-identify as having a disability.

“Right now, if you turn on most media outlets, the conversations are not often about this. Maybe they were at one point, but it’s still to us a very considerable scope when you think of the number of people that are affected by a disability of some kind. We’re mainly talking about visual and audio, hearing disabilities.”

While some might think it can be tough to regulate a website’s business, there are actually standards in place that companies can use to make sure sites are as accessibly friendly as possible.

“2.0AA is kind of the standard that, in Canada, federally, we say we want people to be held accountable to. In Ontario, that’s the provincial standard, I believe. That’s the standard that’s being worked towards in B.C. as well by 2024. Definitely for government websites, if not for everyone,” he says.

Hale says Craft & Crew is working to provide website accessibility auditing services for any company that is wondering where it currently stands to improve, and the profits from the work done to create improvements for compliance will be donated to the CNIB.