The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a law, passed in 2005, that’s designed to increase the participation of people with disabilities in Ontario society. It aims to do this by improving the accessibility of facilities, goods and services, including web-based services. Under the AODA, web-based services are considered accessible if they follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Thus a WCAG compliance checker can help you test for AODA compliance.
Why the need for the AODA?
People with disabilities in this province are already protected from discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. But the AODA sets specific accessibility standards for the public and private sectors to follow, and a timeline for these to come into force1. It makes it easier for organizations and businesses to understand how best to meet the needs of people with various kinds of disabilities.
Ontario’s people with disabilities are no small group. This is Canada’s most crowded province, after all – about 39 percent of the country’s population is here – with 14 million people and growing. Well over two million of them have disabilities. Ontario is also a popular destination for tourists with and without disabilities, as it has many attractions to offer visitors. By removing accessibility barriers, the AODA ensures that people with disabilities are included in all facets of society.
What Does the AODA Say About Web Accessibility?
The AODA has grouped its accessibility standards for public sector, private and non-profit organizations into five categories. They are: information and communications, customer service, transportation, employment, and design of public space. The AODA’s web accessibility requirements are listed under the Accessibility Standard for Information and Communications. As we mentioned above, they make reference to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the most widely used technical requirements for online accessibility2.
WCAG 2.0 has three levels of accessibility – A (basic), AA (better) and AAA (advanced). Since 2014, under the AODA, new or significantly updated websites and web content have had to comply with the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0, Level A. But as of January 1, 2021, they will have to be in compliance with most of the Level AA criteria. That’s only a little more than two years from now. If you don’t yet meet these requirements, it may be time to get a move on.
Keep in mind, too, that the earlier you improve the accessibility of your website and other digital properties, the more quickly you can begin tapping into the disability market. This is only expected to grow. A recent Conference Board of Canada report, produced for the Rick Hansen Foundation, noted that the spending of Canadians with mobility, vision or hearing disabilities will increase significantly between now and 2030 – from 14 percent of the consumer market to a whopping 21 percent3.
Checking for AODA Compliance
Want to know if your web pages, electronic documents and multimedia are in compliance with the AODA, and free of disability barriers? It takes comprehensive testing to know for sure whether or not people with disabilities can use and engage with them.
There are automated tools available, both online and downloadable, that can check for specific web barriers. These checkers aren’t thorough, and they don’t replace human experts who combine automated tests with extensive manual and functional testing. But these tools can help you understand your website’s current level of AODA compliance in a few areas.
Examples are WAVE, a tool by WebAim that uses color to highlight problem areas of a website that may include barriers4. Another is Siteimprove, which provides customized checking depending on your role in web development5.
WCAG 2.0’s list of criteria for web accessibility is lengthy – that’s why you call in the experts – but it’s worth becoming a little more familiar with them, because it will help you become more aware of the ways that online barriers exclude people with disabilities.
Here are six examples of criteria you’ll want your WCAG checker (or accessibility partner) to test for.
Text alternatives for non-text content. If your web page contains photos, diagrams, pie charts, icons or other graphics, they should have brief yet descriptive text alternatives. This is primarily so that people who are blind and use screen readers (assistive technology that reads all text out loud) will know what’s in the images.
Use of color. Not everyone can distinguish between colors. If your website relies on different colors to mean different things – for example, the mandatory fields on a form have a red border and the rest have a grey border – then some people with vision disabilities won’t perceive the difference.
Video captions. Videos can be useful tools for explaining instructions, promoting products or demonstrating emergency procedures. If they haven’t been captioned with subtitles, however, then people with hearing disabilities won’t be able to understand what’s being said.
Keyboard controls. Your web page should be operable using just the keyboard. That means that everything that can be controlled with a mouse or a touchpad should also be controllable with keys like tab, up arrow, escape and enter. Often, people who can’t use a mouse or touchpad because of their disabilities will use the keyboard instead – or they’ll use assistive technology that offers a mouse or touchpad replacement.
Descriptive headings and labels. The headings, subheadings and labels used on your website should be self-explanatory. There are many reasons for this. It makes it easier for people with screen readers to find their way around quickly without having to read every single block of text out loud. It also helps people who have magnified their screen and are only looking at limited amounts of text at a time. It helps minimize the number of keystrokes people need to use to move around a site. And it’s useful for people who have memory or other cognitive disabilities.
Flashing content. Content that flashes, blinks or flickers at a fast rate can cause a seizure in some individuals. Any animation or video on your website that flashes should do so at a low rate – no more than three times per second. The guideline is even more restrictive for flashing of the color red, because people with seizure disorders are often especially sensitive to red.
These are just six examples of accessibility criteria to check for. There are many more types of accessibility barriers that are often inadvertently introduced into web content and need to be removed.
Don’t Skip the Human Testers
Although validators can look for some kinds of accessibility features, these features usually still need to be verified by a human. That’s because automated testing tools only catch between 25 – 30% of the errors, and can issue false positives. They can flag barriers that aren’t actually a problem, and they can miss other barriers.
Results can also be incomplete. For example, a checker may recognize that an image has alternative text, and categorize that image as accessible. But if that text is not accurate or descriptive enough, it doesn’t actually serve its purpose – it is, in fact, inaccessible.
Don’t forget that the AODA requirements become more rigorous by January 1, 2021. Back when the AODA first became law, that may have seemed a long way off. Now it’s close at hand. If you don’t yet comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.0, now’s the time to start planning how your organization’s website will become fully accessible to Ontarians with disabilities.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, S.O. 2005 c. 11 Government of Ontario, 2005
- How to Make Websites Accessible Government of Ontario, 2017
- The Business Case to Build Physically Accessible Environments The Conference Board of Canada, 2018
- WAVE: Web Accessibility Evalution Tool WebAim, 2018
- Siteimprove Siteimprove, 2018