February 19, 2021

- 5 Minute Read

Inclusive Design: Thrive Health’s AA Compliant Canada COVID-19 App

Roughly 6.2 million Canadians experience one or more disabilities, according to a 2017 Stats Canada survey [1].

This number works out to approximately one in five Canadians, and the variety of disabilities spans physical, sensory, cognitive, and mental health-related. While the focus of the survey is on disabled Canadians’ access to employment and social services, this figure also highlights the need for accessible information channels within the context of COVID-19. Given how the pandemic has disproportionately affected aging populations, and how this survey notes that “the prevalence of disability increase[s] with age,” it’s crucial that all Canadians, regardless of the obstacles they face, have access to the same health information and guidelines from public health.

Over the past year, Thrive Health has been developing and improving the Canada COVID-19 App in partnership with Health Canada - and from the beginning, making the app accessible has been at the forefront of all conversations. The importance of accessibility factored into every aspect and iteration of the app, from baseline code to UX/UI design to written content. In December 2020, Thrive completed a sweeping app upgrade centered around increasingly accessible design ensuring that the app could continue to support all users, regardless of what challenges they faced.

“Health Canada did a great job of setting an example for the kind of priority that accessibility should be given. While our designers were aware of the standards that came with accessible design, Health Canada inspired a new level of accessibility throughout the Thrive product suite.” - Dylan Otruba, one of Thrive’s Lead Developers.

While there are a wide variety of sensory disabilities that accessible design can help support - ie. visual, motor/mobility, auditory, cognitive, seizures - it also helps those individuals with socioeconomic and geographic limitations, such as language barriers, location, and internet access [2]. Thrive Health’s goal is to make important health information accessible for all Canadians, and the Canada COVID-19 App was developed to offer users the latest public health guidance - regardless of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms - as well as resources for keeping themselves healthy. In other words, the app was purpose-built to give Canadians access to important information no matter which province or territory they live in, or accessibility challenges they face.

To ensure that the December 2020 app upgrade continued to reflect this mission, Thrive’s engineering and design teams followed the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s official Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The W3C works collaboratively with organizations worldwide to provide a global standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of both individuals and governments. The WCAG are organized around four leading principles: perceptibility, operability, ease of use, and robustness. Learn more about these principles here [3].

Currently, the Government of Canada is building a $22M Accessible Technology Program for both hardware and software solutions so that more accessible tools like the Canada COVID-19 App will be available for Canadians [4]. Alongside our partnership with Health Canada, Thrive also engaged the Neil Squire Society - Canada’s leader in Assistive Technology - to make sure that all app upgrade plans aligned with the needs of disabled populations [5].

“As a person who has worked in the accessibility space for several decades, I found Thrive Health’s seriousness and responsiveness refreshing. They are treating the topic of accessibility with eager interest and respect.” - Ryan Thomas, Senior Software Developer from Neil Squire.

Thomas and his team have been working on accessibility implementations since 1984, and have provided Thrive’s development team with valuable input on over 500 support requests. The feedback from Neil Squire continues to support Thrive’s design collaborations with Health Canada as we evolve the Canada COVID-19 App to be increasingly accessible and relevant.

“Even though the app is AA compliant, what we’ve learned throughout this process is that accessible design is never done. We know that accessibility is a primary feature of a quality health information app, and it will be a central focus point for our development team moving forward.” - Dylan Otruba, one of Thrive’s Lead Developers.

The Canada COVID-19 app is no longer active. To continue accessing the latest data and guidance please visit canada.ca/covid-19.

Connect with us to learn more about how Thrive Health’s digital healthcare platform prioritizes accessibility and data security.

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