Introduction: Background and Working Groups

Background

Accessibility is a rich, broad term that refers, at its most general, to the relationship between a person’s needs and goals and the environment or system. While there will always be a wide range of views on how to get there, the objective of this process is to improve that relationship for people of all abilities, aspiring to a more inclusive community.

In the interest of using a variety of tools to advance accessibility in Ontario, The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (the Directorate) has engaged Deloitte to facilitate an open, multi-stakeholder public consultation to explore the creation of a third party accessibility certification program. Accessibility advocates, persons with disabilities, businesses, certification experts, non-profit organizations, and the broader public sector continue to come together through a variety of channels to provide recommendations to the eventual third party certifier on the objectives, design, feasibility, and implementation of an accessibility certification model.

This process relies on constant engagement with the public, seeking input through social media and an online platform, certifiedforaccess.ca, to inform in person discussions and, in turn, feeding in person topics back to the website for comment. Whatever model emerges from this process will be driven and built by stakeholders and will base its credibility on public approval.

The hope is that the discussion will deepen participants’ understanding of common interests, expand their use of shared language, clarify issues and opportunities, and build new tools, systems, and practices to support collaborative action. This form of community building manages the communities’ collective interests and highlights opportunities for collaboration going forward.

Phase 2 Working Group Discussions

This document reflects the discussion and work of five working groups, public discussion online, and a series of one-on-one interviews, focusing on five areas: model scope and design, incentives for business, governance and leadership, self-sustainability, and branding and marketing.

Participants agreed that one key task for the leader of an accessibility certification model would be to identify and clearly define four or five key words and what they mean in the context of the program. To start, the words “accessibility” and “certification”.

As mentioned above, the term accessibility is used in its broadest sense, the relationship between a person’s needs and goals and the environment or system. The intent, design and delivery of an environment or system should be inclusive of the wide diversity of needs in a variety of domains.

Certification refers to a “process, often performed by a third party, of verifying that a product, process or service adheres to a given set of standards and/or criteria." As such, the term also encompasses a broad range of models, differing in their scope, design, and leadership. Certification might be:

  • Non-institutional (i.e., reliant on crowd-sourcing) or institutional (i.e., run by a central organization)
  • Tiered or single-level; ratings-based or pass/fail
  • Sector-specific or network-wide; geographically contained or portable to other jurisdictions
  • Demographic-specific (i.e., a certain functional or interest area) or inclusive of a range

While working group participants did not reach consensus on all points relating to an accessibility certification model, they did reach alignment on a set of guiding principles and key program outcomes to be used as a framework for the eventual certification program. A range of viable models might fit within these principles and outcomes. Considerations and recommendations within each focus area are also highlighted below. As in any group or discussion process, not all members agreed on every point. Points of discussion, including dissenting opinions and identified risks, are included as critical input for any organization or association looking to lead the certification model. Finally, this document lays out three broad model options that could be consistent with the guiding principles, with special emphasis on the recommended hybrid option. These options, or prototypes similar to them, will be further developed for the public to review in Phase 3.

Conclusion

We have heard throughout this process that it is essential to use all tools at our disposal to make access accessible. Inclusive design should be a foundation of thinking in business, design, and development. Driven by community needs, the program should seek to empower persons of all abilities in their daily lives and adapt as quickly and as flexibly as people do to changing circumstances.

Concerns that users of certification may still experience barriers to accessibility are valid and serious. That said, the program can complement existing legal standards, adding value to the ecosystem of inclusivity-based initiatives. An independent, recognition-based program can combine best practices in standards development with input from lived experience. The model will be horizontal and robust, incorporating knowledge from each community with technical skills in inclusive design, user experience, and accessibility.

While these principles provide a framework, the model prototypes submitted for Phase 3 will be the first step in actualizing the accessibility certification model and supporting a broader culture change around accessibility in Ontario and beyond.

As noted in Phase 1, the process of designing this model is voluntary, in its design, development, and implementation. By nature, it will rely at all phases on the experience, goodwill, and enthusiasm of a varied group of individuals and organizations. While we have tried to design each stage to consult in a variety of low-cost, efficient, and effective ways, we are aware of the barriers to participation for persons of all abilities given the cost and time required. We thank everyone who has contributed, whether in person, over the phone, or online. The richness, complexity, and depth of discussion as well as the avenues opening for collaboration are already a success of kind. 

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