Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Compliance

 

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was enacted in 2005 and is a Canadian provincial law designed to improve access for Ontarians with disabilities. Building on earlier web accessibility laws, the AODA sets high standards to achieve its goal of an accessible Ontario, including specific mandates for making websites, web content, and web-based applications accessible for individuals with disabilities.

 

5 quick facts about AODA compliance

 

  • Regardless of size or industry, the AODA applies to all organizations registered in Ontario, and sets forth standards for accessibility in five key areas: customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation, and public spaces.
  • The AODA requires that public web content created after 2012—including, but not limited to, websites, applications, and digital documents—must meet the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (more on WCAG below).
  • The deadline for public sector organizations of any size and private organizations with 50 or more employees to ensure their public-facing web content meets WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria was January 1, 2021.
  • All businesses and nonprofits with 20 or more employees were required to file an accessibility compliance report with the Government of Ontario, confirming compliance with AODA requirements, by June 30, 2021.
  • Depending on the severity of the violation, failure to comply with the AODA can result in fines up to $50,000 per day for individuals, and up to $100,000 per day for corporations (more on penalties below).

 

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WCAG: The standard for AODA compliance

To comply with the AODA’s web accessibility requirements, all web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 AA success criteria with two exceptions: criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and criteria 1.2.5 (audio descriptions).

WCAG is a set of technical standards that, when applied, make online content accessible for users of all abilities. At a high level, WCAG standards suggest a site should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust:

  • Perceivable = Information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways that they can perceive. For example, it’s important to present information that can be perceived in different ways, where a user can adjust color contrast or font size, or view captions for videos.
  • Operable = User interface components and navigation must be functional for users in ways they can operate. For example, a user must be able to perform required interactions using a keyboard or voice commands, not just using a mouse.
  • Understandable = Information and user interface operation must be understandable. For example, information and instructions should be clear and navigation methods should be easy to understand and use.
  • Robust = Content must be robust enough so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users and types of assistive technologies. As technologies evolve, code and content should remain accessible for users of common and current assistive devices and tools.

WCAG was developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and updates are reflected in the version number. For example, the first release was WCAG 1.0. Subsequent releases include 2.0, 2.1, and soon, 2.2. Each version includes a set of specific success criteria that build on the previous set. A, AA, and AAA represent the three levels of WCAG conformance. Each level builds on the previous level like a pyramid. So, in order to meet Level AA, you must meet all of Level A, and in order to meet Level AAA, you must meet all of Level AA.

  • Level A: This level represents the base level of conformance. Level A criteria affect the broadest group of users with the most benefits and are essential. But, with the base level of support, some barriers will still exist that impact certain groups of users.
  • Level AA: This level is the most common target conformance level, often adopted in regulations or negotiated in legal settlements. The criteria at this level establish a level of accessibility that works for more users, including those who use assistive technology.
  • Level AAA: This is the highest conformance level achievable, meaning it covers the success criteria of all three levels. However, level AAA is not applicable or realistic in all situations. Some organizations may choose to adopt specific criteria at this level.

As the shared global standard, WCAG is consistently adopted as the benchmark for accessibility. When content conforms with WCAG 2.0 AA, it’s compliant with the web requirements of the AODA as well as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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Frequently asked questions

What are the five AODA standards?

The five AODA standards include:

  • The Information and Communications Standards
  • The Employment Standards
  • The Transportation Standards
  • The Design of Public Spaces Standards
  • The Customer Service Standards

  • Learn more about each of these accessibility standards on the AODA website.

    What does AODA compliant mean in relation to web content?

    In order for web content to meet AODA compliance requirements, public sector organizations, commercial organizations that serve the public and have at least one employee in Ontario, and large businesses must ensure web content and web-based applications are accessible for individuals with disabilities. Similar to Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 , the AODA evaluates web accessibility according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, with two exceptions (regarding live captions and audio descriptions). Therefore, compliance with AODA means conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA.

    Who does the AODA apply to?

    The AODA applies to all Ontario public sector organizations (government, municipalities, and educational institutions); all commercial organizations that provide goods, services or facilities to the public, and have at least one employee in Ontario; and large businesses (50 or more employees).

    What should you do if you get an AODA Notice of Non-Compliance?

    If you receive an AODA Notice of Non-Compliance and your accessibility issues have not been corrected, there are several steps to take. First, draft a clear summary of the work you’ve completed. Next, create an accessibility remediation plan that includes proposed deliverables and milestones. The Ministry will likely respond with a Formal Compliance Plan and conduct annual audits to verify ongoing compliance.

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