This blog has been updated to reflect the release of WCAG version 2.2 in October of 2023.
Summary: The AODA establishes several web accessibility requirements for organizations in Ontario, Canada. Learn who the AODA applies to and how to comply in this blog.
What is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)?
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is an accessibility law that applies to both the public and private sectors in Ontario. It was passed in 2005 and seen as an improvement upon the existing Ontarians With Disabilities Act of 2001.
The AODA requires individuals and organizations to follow accessibility standards, broken down to five major areas of doing business:
- Information and communications (including an organization’s websites, apps, digital documents such as PDFs, etc.)
- Customer service
- Design of public spaces
The standards were developed by committees with representation from different sectors, including people with disabilities and from within the disability community.
Written into the AODA is a time frame within which government, public-sector groups, and organizations of different sizes must comply with the accessibility standards. The Ontario government’s goal is for the province to become completely accessible by 2025.
It’s important to note that there’s already human rights legislation in place in Ontario that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The AODA doesn’t replace the Ontario Human Rights Code. However, it does set out clear processes for covered entities to follow as they ensure their practices and policies are AODA compliant.
There are more than one billion people worldwide living with a disability. In Ontario, about 2.6 million people live with disabilities, which breaks down to roughly 25% of the total population. As the population ages, the proportion of those with disabilities is only expected to grow. Organizations are wise to ensure their digital experiences are accessible for individuals of all abilities, including this growing demographic, not only for compliance reasons, but for the benefit of their brand and customers.
Who must comply with the AODA?
The AODA requires you to make all public websites accessible if you are a designated public sector organization or a business or non-profit organization with 50 or more employees. Refer to the ontario.ca to determine how to count your employees.
Website compliance applies to all new websites or significantly refreshed sites. A new website is one that has a new web address. A significantly refreshed website is one that keeps the same web address but reflects substantial changes that impact the overall look and feel, the content or the navigation.
What does AODA web accessibility compliance require?
1. Improving accessibility through WCAG
The following list provides a few of the most important accessibility considerations organizations should address to be compliant with AODA. You can visit the Government of Ontario’s “How to Make Websites Accessible” page for a more detailed checklist.
- Non-text elements on the website, such as images, need to have text alternatives.
- Understanding the meaning of the content must not depend on being able to perceive colors, sounds, object size, etc.
- Individuals must be able to pause, stop or control the volume of any audio that plays for more than three seconds.
- Web pages and links should have self-explanatory titles.
- Text must be able to be resized (enlarged).
- Website functions must work using a keyboard.
- If there is a short time limit for certain functions, individuals must be able to control or extend the time limit.
- There should be nothing on the website that flashes rapidly.
To address these areas, the AODA requires that public-facing websites meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A and AA criteria. WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and is the internationally accepted standard for web accessibility.
To comply with the AODA, all web content must conform to WCAG success criteria.
With regard to WCAG, there is a newer version, WCAG 2.2, which includes all of the requirements of WCAG versions 2.0 and 2.1. Conformance with WCAG 2.2 is not required for AODA compliance, but organizations can “future-proof” their accessibility efforts by complying with the latest standard.
2. AODA compliance training
In order to be compliant with the AODA, not only are organizations compelled to improve accessibility, they’re also required to provide training to all their staff, directors, volunteers and contractors to ensure these individuals also understand how to comply.
This AODA compliance training, as outlined in Section 7 of the law, must take place as early as possible and a diligent record of the training must be kept. If an organization’s accessibility policies change, the training needs to be updated. The training should also include an understanding of the Ontario Human Rights Code and how it protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
The best accessibility training should address accessibility fundamentals such as the use of color, images, links and buttons, and content writing.
What are the consequences of noncompliance?
Besides the damaging reality of discriminating against users with disabilities, and the damage to brand reputation that goes with it, noncompliance with the AODA can lead to significant financial penalties. In the most severe cases, an organization can be faced with hefty daily fines for every day they remain noncompliant.
The deadline to submit a compliance report was June 30, 2021. As of summer 2022, organizations that filed a “non-compliant” report received First Notices of Non-Compliance. These organizations typically have two to three weeks to remedy their compliance issues, if they haven’t already.
How do you know if your website meets AODA compliance requirements?
The first step to AODA compliance is assessing your organization’s level of web accessibility. This is typically a multi-pronged process requiring a combination of automated and manual testing.
A great way to get started checking your website for accessibility issues is by using an automated scan or “checker.” Two helpful scans are WAVE and AChecker. Single page WAVE and AChecker scans are free.
However, it’s very important to remember that automated scans are limited in how many issues they can catch. This is why the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario strongly urges organizations to have their sites assessed manually by digital accessibility experts, even if they’ve already used online tools to evaluate their accessibility.
Furthermore, the Government of Ontario has developed the AODA Compliance Wizard to give organizations a customized list of requirements for compliance, based on what kind of business they are or the size of their workforce.
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