Everything is going to be okay.

While we can’t say this with any great accuracy over the state of the world, we can address some fears a bit closer to home. As the passenger liner of 2020 plows into the iceberg of 2021, we have all been looking forward to the New Year. However, we have received some concerned messages (via the ITS Service Desk) from some of our CCMS users that they would wake up to a $100,000 fine from the Province of Ontario on New Year’s Day. This is related to the fact that by the first day of 2021 the Province required that Carleton University meets the AA Level WCAG standard, as stipulated by Ontario’s 2005 AODA act. The maximum fine for non-compliance is $100,000.

Whoa – $100,000??

It is worth understanding the structure of the penalties and how they are applied.

Read about penalties for AODA contraventions

This makes it clear: the fines are to encourage institutions and corporations like Carleton to work in a strategic and methodical manner in order to achieve maximum accessibility across all its websites. If you miss an alt text attribute on an image on one of your pages, you will not automatically be fined $100,000. Having said that, AODA is the law.

Compliance is Compulsory

This fear is not baseless. In other words, by 1st January all our websites should be accessible – or as accessible as possible – as laid down by provincial law. Technically, if Carleton contravenes the law on this matter, the University could be fined $100,000. The law is not there as a nice-to-have, nor as a loose guideline. We are compelled to comply. But while these fines are the full sanction of the law, it seems very unlikely that Carleton is heading down that path.

How far we’ve come

For one thing, we as a institution are making huge efforts around web accessibility. Here are some of the strides we have made over the years. We:

  • were fully WCAG 2.0 Level A compliant by 2012 (we were legally obliged to be so by 2014)
  • have designed and developed for web, including mobile devices for over a decade
  • regularly test our template to check for accessibility issues
  • have a new template lined up for roll out in 2021 that displays no errors when tested against WCAG

The Task Eternal

It is also worth noting that in the 9 years since we initially became Level A compliant, there has been no contact from the province to either follow up on errors in content or template that have emerged over time. We believe that the University is doing a lot to improve accessibility and comply to AODA, and are doing a great job.

However, in Web Services our attitude has always been that we develop templates and content not just to comply with the AODA legislation. Instead our aim is always to achieve accessibility so that everyone has the best opportunity to access information. In this way they can learn, research and enjoy the Carleton community to the maximum. If we do this we will be compliant with AODA legislation – but the main goal will also have been met: to make things accessible. This is an eternal task and it is one we welcome.

The cost of inaccessibility

Let’s go back to that figure for the maximum fine possible under AODA: $100,000. That amount is huge and no wonder the threat of it keeps web content owners and creators awake at night.

But you know what else can cost us $100,000? Not making content accessible to just one student! What do we mean by this? Let’s take the example of a potential international student seeking information about studying at Carleton. If they cannot find what they are looking because information presented online by the University is not readily accessible, that is a potential $20,000 in fees per year over four years which does not come to Carleton. Add in the money they bring in other avenues (for example, research grants, residence expenditure, meal plans, etc.) it quickly adds up to $100,000 of turnover for the University.

The point is that the risk with inaccessible content is not so much in a fine from the province but that we fail prospective and current students and that is a much faster way for us to lose out.

But the financial factor is the least important whether it be a fine or income from student enrolment. The main reason to make things accessible is this: it is the right thing to do. Not just for people with accessibility challenges but for everyone – accessible sites are easier for all users to find and navigate.

So please feel free to contact the ITS Services Desk to request an accessibility report about your website (most of you will be very pleasantly surprised at how well you are doing) and at the same time remember why you are trying to make your website as accessible as you can.