By Robert Pearson
Accessibility compliance guidelines help guide the work of governments and professionals to ensure digital inclusion for users of all abilities. But how do we ensure that these guidelines are enforced and measured?
Who enforces accessibility in specific situations, for instance, in public transit?
I was on a full city bus recently and witnessed what could have been an accessibility infraction. Toronto city buses are able to ‘kneel’ to give passengers in wheelchairs the ability to roll onto the bus with a retractable ramp. The wheelchair users then secure their chair in a designated position inside. This bus was full to the front, so the driver asked the passengers to move back even further when the person in wheelchair entered. I noticed that several people reacted rather poorly, whispering to each other about the inconvenience of having to move further back and stick close to each other to provide space for the wheelchair user. In looking at things with an accessibility eye as I do, I could have spoken up and asked them to stop fussing and allow the wheelchair user their rightful place and space.
In this case, it was the bus driver enforcing the accessibility regulations on the bus. But it led me to wonder: in everyday situations, who enforces accessibility regulations?
In Ontario, the same regulations that govern the accessibility of our transportation system were part of an initiative that also created accessibility standards for customer service, employment practices, the built environment, and information and communications. Each of these standards was drafted around the same time in the latter half of the last decade, with the once stated intent of making Ontario accessible by 2025. Various milestones have passed in the last few years for what needs to be completed by when, but the next major one is coming up in a few months time, that of the accessibility of Information and Communications Technologies accessibility compliance.
I can tell you first hand, having been a member of the information and communications standards development committee that it was clear that we would look to adopt the W3C standards in regards to creating requirements for Web accessibility compliancy. At the time, the WCAG 2.0 was not yet even an official recommendation of the W3C, but it was clear that they would be. What then filtered out in the following years following, as the standard became law, was a set a guidelines comprising only part of the original recommendation: W3C WCAG 2.0 Level A compliance by January 2014 and Level AA only by 2021.
The division of seven years for compliance to the guidelines, which will quite likely not remain the official recommendation by the time of the next decade, poses many challenges. Primarily, how does one test for only Level A compliance? Secondly, if you are going to work to achieve the first level, why not do the extra work to achieve the second? Most importantly though, who is going to be there to say that it is correct? How are we planning to measure accessibility and with what tool?
This is the challenge that we face when it comes to enforcing accessibility. How should an organization approach a law that indicates a specific deadline, but without any indication of what may happen if it is not met? Is the solution to have an accessibility police force patrolling the local Internet with a copy of NVDA in search for missing alternative text?
Not to worry about audio description though, as this specific guideline has been excluded from our local standards set. This exclusion means that a provision of accessible media will only require captioning, to the detriment of those who may require or enjoy description on media when delivered via the web.
So how will the rules be enforced? I would assume that hopefully soon after the deadline passes, we will have some indication of this. In the meantime, a deadline written into law seems to be sufficient in pushing forward some of the largest employers in the Province, and also the country, to realize that the time has come for accessibility and that the exclusion of it is no longer an option.