Making the Web a More Accessible Place

The Neil Squire Society creates opportunities for independence for individuals who have physical disabilities. One of our strategies is job development, and an important tool in that process is the National Occupation Classification (NOC) (new window) by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) (new window).

The NOC (new window) lets clients and job developers learn the national code that a career falls under and that code is powerful in using other government and private employment resources to assist in finding workplace information, training, and job postings.

Until recently, the HRSDC (new window) NOC (new window) site, while adhering to internationally established W3C web accessibility standards (new window) , was not providing a service that was actually useable to persons with screen readers. Visual Impaired users were unable to scan NOC (new window) web pages. They had to listen to every page in its entirety and try to remember where things were on a site with over 1000 sub pages. While possible, this should not be realistically expected of anyone.

Neil Squire Society employee Ryan Thomas contacted the Products and Services Department of the HRSDC site (new window) , asking for the right to rebuild their site in a Neil Squire Society web space so that our visually impaired clients could make use of it. His intention was to build an accessibility bridge that exceeded basic W3C standards (new window). What came of the process was something that no one expected.

Ryan began a dialogue with Amy Read, who at first was reluctant to allow the Neil Squire Society to reproduce the HRSDC (new window) content. Ryan explained how visually impaired persons experience their webpage and the internet as a whole. He then introduced the team at HRSDC (new window) to some tools that would let them simulate the experience. After that, the need was recognized but a solution was still withstanding.

Ryan went on to develop a proof of concept for what an accessible version of the HRSDC site (new window) would look like and shared the source code behind it. He spoke to Amy over the phone and explained what they would likely have to do to implement it on their side. Part of the explanation was direction on what they would likely have to actually do, some script to accomplish it, and reassurances that it was probably an hour’s work at most.

The changes were implemented over a period of several days, and the HRSDC (new window) and NOC (new window) web resources became useable. Ryan and the HRSDC team (new window) were proud of what they’d accomplished in such a short period of time. Awareness of an issue was raised and quickly resolved through the sharing of expertise and a willingness on both ends to see it through. The source code on the new pages ended up looking an awful lot like the code Ryan shared with them, fortunately, he’s alright with that!