Rescinded [2011-08-01] - Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet, Part 2: Standard on the Accessibility, Interoperability and Usability of Web Sites

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Effective date

This standard comes into effect on January 1, 2007, and replaces the following Treasury Board Common Look and Feel Standards and Guidelines for Internet:

  • Standard 1.1 - W3C Checkpoints;
  • Standard 1.2 - Document Technologies;
  • Standard 1.3 - Alternate Formats;
  • Standard 1.4 - Text Equivalents;
  • Standard 6.8 - Validation;
  • Guideline 1.1 - HTML 4.0; and
  • Guideline 6.1 - Cascading Style Sheets


This standard applies to institutions listed in Schedules I, I.1 and II of the Financial Administration Act.

Related policies


Canadians have the right to obtain information and services from Government of Canada Web sites regardless of the technologies they use. The key to effective implementation of universal accessibility lies in designing sites to serve the widest possible audience and the broadest possible range of hardware and software platforms, from adaptive technologies to emerging technologies.

For many Canadians, accessing Web content is more complicated than clicking a mouse and typing on a keyboard. Some Canadians rely on adaptive technologies such as text readers, audio players and voice-activated devices to overcome the barriers presented by standard Internet technologies. Others may be limited by their own technology.

The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has developed universal accessibility guidelines. Along with these WAI guidelines and, in keeping with the client-centred approach of Common Look and Feel, this standard is directed toward ensuring equitable access to all content on Government of Canada Web sites.

This standard clearly allows an institution to provide information in multiple formats.


Deputy heads are accountable for implementing this standard in their institutions.


1. Compliance with World Wide Web Consortium Priority 1 and Priority 2 checkpoints

The institution respects the universal accessibility guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative by ensuring compliance of its Web sites with the Priority 1 and Priority 2 checkpoints of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG), with the following exception:

  • WCAG checkpoint 3.4 is superseded by requirement 2 of the Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet, Part 3: Standard on Common Web Page Formats.

Each of the WCAG's fourteen guidelines is accompanied by one or more actions that a page author must perform to meet the requirements of the guidelines. These actions are called "checkpoints".

Institutions must consult the Directive on the Use of Official Languages on Web Sites for direction regarding the application of official languages requirements to text equivalents and other non-textual elements.

2. Baseline technologies

To ensure content will be available to site visitors regardless of the technical configuration of their system or device, the institution must establish XHTML 1.0 Strict and Cascading Style Sheets 1.0 as the baseline technologies for Web page markup, layout and design.

3. Accessible alternate format of documents on Web sites

The institution uses standard methods to ensure accessibility of its products by employing languages described by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Recommendations. However, simply using these languages for markup or application design does not mean that products will be naturally accessible.

Where best efforts cannot make the content or application accessible - that is, where a document cannot be represented in XHTML 1.0 Strict or a language described by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Recommendations - the institution must:

Providing accessible versions other than accessible XHTML is a "last resort" measure. It is not intended to be a convenient method of avoiding the often-minimal effort necessary to make Web pages or Web applications accessible.

4. Offering information in multiple formats

The institution respects universal accessibility guidelines by ensuring that Web pages offering information in multiple formats include a text indication of the format, file type and size with each non-XHTML format link. For each format that requires specialized software, a hyperlink must be provided to a site where the appropriate viewer or plug-in application can be obtained. If an accessible version of a plug-in is also known to be available, then a note and a link to that product should also be included.

Neither this standard nor the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines suggest that a content provider cannot provide information in multiple formats. What they do require is that the first format encountered by a visitor is the most accessible version.

Sample treatments of documents in multiple formats and of multimedia files in multiple formats are provided in the CLF Toolbox.

5. Contrast

The institution must ensure that there is sufficient contrast between textual elements and background colours or images when the page is viewed by someone having colour deficits or when viewed on a black and white screen.

6. Assessing accessibility, interoperability and usability

The institution respects universal accessibility guidelines by employing a validation methodology to assess the accessibility, interoperability and usability of its Web sites. All sites must be tested with a variety of browser software, platforms and technologies to ensure that Web pages remain accessible and interoperable.

Validating Web pages on both existing and future sites against XHTML 1.0 Strict document type definition (DTD) or a similar format that is a recommendation of the W3C will ensure they are syntactically correct. The World Wide Web Consortium provides validation methodology.

Testing with site visitors, current or potential, is also critical and must cover ease of use, navigation, comprehension and user satisfaction.

Monitoring and reporting

Consistent with the requirements above, deputy heads will monitor adherence to this standard within their institutions, taking direction from Treasury Board's Active Monitoring Policy, Evaluation Policy and Policy on Internal Audit.

At a minimum, the institution assesses the following:

  • compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 Priority 1 and Priority 2 checkpoints of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative;
  • use of and conformance to XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS 1.0 as baseline technologies;
  • where presenting the content in XHTML 1.0 Strict or other language described as a W3C recommendation is not possible, the availability of accessible alternate versions and Accessibility Notices;
  • where multiple formats are offered, a text indication of the format, file type and size is provided for each format and a link to any specialized software required; and
  • sufficient contrast between textual elements and background colours or images.

The Treasury Board Secretariat will monitor compliance with all aspects of this standard in a variety of ways, including but not limited to assessments under the Management Accountability Framework, examinations of Treasury Board Submissions, Departmental Performance Reports and results of audits, evaluations and studies.

With respect to the Office of the Auditor General, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Office of the Information Commissioner, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, the deputy head of the institution is solely responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with these standards within their organizations, as well as for responding to cases of non-compliance in accordance with any Treasury Board instruments that address the management of compliance.


Deputy Heads are responsible for addressing significant issues that arise regarding compliance and ensure appropriate remedial actions are taken to address these issues commensurate with the specific nature of the failure.

Consequences of non-compliance can include informal follow-ups and requests from the Treasury Board Secretariat, external audits and formal direction on corrective measures.

Authority to amend

The Treasury Board of Canada delegates to the President of the Treasury Board the power to amend, revoke or add to the approved Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet. Treasury Board is to be kept informed of updates and amendments.

Requests for exemption

The Treasury Board of Canada delegates to the President of the Treasury Board the power to grant exemptions from the Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet . The minister presiding over the institution may apply in writing to the President of the Treasury Board for an exemption from one or more requirements of this standard. The application must consist of a detailed rationale and risk analysis for exemption from each requirement.


For more information, please contact:

Common Look and Feel Office
Information Technology Division
Chief Information Officer Branch
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
2745 Iris Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0R5
Telephone: 613-952-6987
Toll free: 877-636-0656
Facsimile: 613-960-0050
Teletypewriter: 613-957-9090 (TBS)


Deputy head (administrateur général)
This term is equivalent to "deputy minister", "chief executive officer" or some other title denoting this level of responsibility.
For the purposes of CLF, an institution is any organizational entity listed under a unique title in Schedules I, I.1 and II of the Financial Administration Act.
Plug-in (module d'extension)
A plug-in (or plugin) is a computer program that interacts with a main application (for example, a Web browser or an email program) to provide a certain, usually very specific, function.
W3C validation methodology
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - Checkpoints
World Wide Web Consortium