Accessible graphic design & communications — your legal requirements

Many colourful plastic balls
We don’t all see colour the same so let’s stop designing things as if we do / Photo: Greyson Joralemon Unsplash

Have you ever been frustrated by an online form that’s impossible to read? What about a website without a mobile-friendly version where links are impossible to click? Or trying to watch an online video on mute while your kid is sleeping beside you, only to find there’s no captions?

We’ve all experienced temporary annoyances because of inaccessible digital content, but what about the 15% of the world’s population who have disabilities and experience barriers to access every day

At iilo, we love to advocate for the end-user and broaden the reach of our communications by employing a higher-standard for design. Although there’s always more learning to be done and accessibility is a constant work in progress, we wanted to share some of the ways you can begin to integrate accessibility into your communications.

Quick disclaimer, while we want you to be aware of some legal requirements surrounding accessibility, we’re not lawyers, and none of this post should be considered legal advice. For more information on the legal requirements we recommend checking out the BC Government guidelines (or those of your local government).

What do businesses and other organizations need to know about accessibility legislation?

In an aim to make organizations under federal jurisdiction barrier-free by 2040, the Canadian federal government passed the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) in 2019. 

This legislation describes barriers as, “anything — including anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice — that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation.”

This broad definition covers several areas that may not have occurred to many business owners (ourselves included). There are accessibility considerations for internal communications, such as a company intranet, learning resources and employee services, as well as temporary limitations caused by illness, injury or aging

It’s important to understand that when you’re doing business online, you need to be in-line with the legislation local to the user — not just the physical location of your business. Legal motivations aside, it’s estimated that 15% of the population with disabilities have a total disposable income of nearly $500 billion. That’s a huge demographic you could be ignoring (or worse, excluding) for your potential client base. On top of that, most assistive technology uses the same systems and processes as popular search engines, so the easier your content is for screen readers to process, for example, the easier it will be for Google to find. In other words, prioritizing accessibility in your communications isn’t only good from a social perspective, but from a financial and marketing perspective.

How can businesses make their digital design and communications more accessible?

Many legislations use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a measure of accessibility, so they’re the perfect jumping off point.

The WCAG outline 4 pillars of accessibility as follows:

  1. Perceivable: all information and functionality must be visible or accessible to all of a user’s senses, e.g. having alt text for an image that can be read by a screen reader or felt using a Braille display if the image cannot be seen.
  2. Operable: a website should function well regardless of the method used to access it, e.g. keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, joystick, etc.
  3. Understandable: content should not be overly technical or difficult to read e.g. forms should be easy to fill in, and buttons should have consistent labels.
  4. Robust: content should remain usable as technology advances or changes e.g. a website should load regardless of browser or device used.

When looked at this way, it becomes clear that accessible design is simply good design. Having a well thought out content strategy and a clear design gets you more than halfway there. Using Headlines in order? Clear, logical labels? Seems simple, but these details can be the difference to a successful screen-reading user experience. You can start by auditing your current content using one of the many free, automated accessibility checkers available online (WebAIM has a great tutorial on Acrobat and Accessibility).

In 2021, iilo collaborated with KunStudios to redesign the Accessible Employers website for the Presidents Group. We were challenged with building a fully accessible website that could be regularly updated (to keep up with changing technologies and WCAG requirements) that was still visually appealing. Testing the website with people with different abilities was a key part of this project. Tester input helped our team truly understand how people with disabilities navigate websites and confirmed site functionality and improvements at strategic web development points.

What are some ways to improve accessibility in your digital designs and communications workflow?

  1. Build collaboration between designer and developer early on, and be sure to document your logic to make it easier to share throughout the project.
  2. Design with a colour contrast of 4:5:1 or higher (our favorite tool for this is one created by
  3. Make sure colour isn’t the only indicator of an action, link or change.
  4. Get users with lived experience to test your digital content.
  5. Use alt text for all images and videos, making descriptions clear and concise.
  6. Try accessing your content with a variety of assistive technologies and on a variety of devices.

For more suggestions, we recommend checking out this handy checklist from A11y Project or signing up to attend Axe-Con by Deque. 

If you’re reading this and recognizing that you’ve been unintentionally excluding users up till now, there are solutions, and it’s okay to start where you’re at. We like to think that once we know better, we do better. We’re here to help! Get in touch today.

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