The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005 is focused on ensuring the rights of people with disabilities in the province of Ontario. The act builds on a previous act, the similarly named Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2001. These laws work in a complementary fashion with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code to define the overall scope of rights provided to individuals with disabilities in Ontario.
As part of implementing the AODA the Ministry of Community and Social Services was charged with developing a set of accessibility standards that define the level of accessibility required of public and private sector organizations providing goods or services to the public. In response to this the Ministry published a series of regulations including Ontario Regulation 191/11 – Integrated Accessibility Standards that provide the overall accessibility standards relevant to the province. This standard includes portions relating to information and communications, employment and transportation. The area of principal interest to organizations operating Web and intranet or application is Part II – Information and Communications Standards.
The Information and Communications standards provide for a series of standards covering aspects of organizational communication. Among other requirements, this section defines standards for Accessible formats and communication supports, Accessible websites and web content and Educational and training resources and materials. The portion related to Accessible websites and web content is likely to be the area of greatest interest to organizations and requires that public sector and large private sector organizations – organizations with fifty or more employees in Ontario – “make their internet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, initially at Level A and increasing to Level AA.” The deadlines for implementing conformance vary. Government of Ontario web sites are required to comply for all new sites by January 1, 2012 and for all sites by January 1, 2016. All other covered organizations must conform to WCAG A for new sites by January 1, 2014 and have all sites fully conform to WCAG AA by January 1, 2021.
In addition, unless shown to be “not practicable” all web content published after January 1, 2012 must be conformant. In determining what is practicable organization can consider (a) the availability of commercial software or tools and (b) whether making the content compliant will have a significant impact on an implementation timeline for a project planned or initiated before January 1, 2012.
In summary, public and private sector organizations with operations in the Province of Ontario will be required to make their Web and intranet sites accessible to individuals with disabilities. The question for most organizations we work with, then, is not if this will be a requirement but when it will become relevant.