Are you AODA compliant? In 2005, AODA compliance laws were established for Ontario’s public and private entities. The AODA is intended to protect Ontarians with mental or physical disabilities, ensuring widespread accessibility standards by 2025. To that end, Ontario’s government has established some clear requirements and standards that organizations need to be aware of and to follow. Here’s what you need to know about achieving AODA compliance.
What is the AODA & How Do You Comply?
AODA is an acronym for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.¹ This law, which came into effect in 2005, applies to both the public and private sectors in the Canadian province of Ontario. It was 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
- Customer service
- Design of public spaces
The standards were developed by committees with representation from different sectors, including people from 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.² However, it does set out clear processes for covered entities to follow as they ensure their practices and policies are AODA compliant.
There are good business reasons for organizations to serve the people of this province in a fully accessible manner. Today, there are 1.85 million people with disabilities living in Ontario, which breaks down to 15% of the total population, and 40% of those over the age of 65. Many more come to visit, as the province is home to North America’s fourth-largest city, Toronto, a cultural and business centre; and to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, another top tourist destination.
It’s estimated that a more accessible province will increase the gross domestic product by as much as $600 a year per capita.³ On an annual basis, it’s estimated that people with disabilities spend $25 billion throughout Canada.4
The AODA compliance dates and time frames depend on the individual accessibility standards.
AODA Website Compliance
One important area to consider is website compliance under the AODA. That’s because there are accessibility standards under the law that directly apply to web and digital accessibility. One of these is the Information and Communications Standards (Part II of the AODA).
Under Section 14, “Accessible Websites and Web Content,” organizations covered by this law are required to ensure that their websites are fully accessible (we discuss the actual requirements in the next section, below).
Other parts of these and other standards require information in other electronic or digital formats to be accessible. If, for example, a transportation agency circulates a PDF brochure of its routes and schedules, or a municipality posts a video with public safety information, these materials must be made accessible for people with disabilities upon request and at no extra cost.
There are financial penalties for failing to comply with the AODA. These can be steep, depending on the type of organization that’s breaking the law.
Web Accessibility Requirements of the AODA
What are the AODA requirements for web accessibility? Under this legislation, websites must adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.5WCAG 2.0 is an internationally accepted set of guidelines developed by a group of web accessibility experts from all over the world. It provides step-by-step instructions on how to make various components of a website fully accessible, as well as explanations about the importance of each criterion.
There are different levels of adhering to WCAG 2.0, depending on how accessible a website is. These are A, AA, and AAA. Under the AODA, websites and web-based applications must currently conform to the minimum level, A. But eventually, they must conform to most of the WCAG AA level criteria.
Under Section 14 (web accessibility) of the Information and Communication Standards, all covered entities will need to meet almost all the WCAG 2.0 Level AA criteria by the end of 2020. But for many groups, the deadlines to meet at least some criteria have already passed.
The compliance deadlines for Section 12, “Accessible Formats and Communication Supports,” have already passed for all sectors.
In addition to WCAG 2.0, a new version, WCAG 2.1, has also been introduced. WCAG 2.1 covers everything that WCAG 2.0 does but with a few additions, targeted towards making mobile devices, websites, and apps more accessible. WCAG 2.1 isn’t a required standard, but organizations can “future proof” themselves by elevating their standards to WCAG 2.1.
AODA Compliance Checklist
Here’s a quick checklist of many of the criteria that must be followed for AODA compliance. You can visit the Government of Ontario’s “How to Make Websites Accessible”6 page for a more detailed checklist.
- Non-text elements on the website, such as images, have text alternatives.
- Understanding the meaning of the content does not depend on being able to perceive colors, sounds, object size, etc.
- Individuals are able to pause, stop or control the volume of any audio that plays for more than three seconds.
- Web pages and links have self-explanatory titles.
- Text can be resized (enlarged).
- Website functions work using a keyboard.
- If there is a short time limit for certain functions, individuals can control or extend the time limit.
- There is nothing on the website that flashes rapidly.
One way to test whether your website meets these and other web accessibility requirements of the AODA or of WCAG 2.0 is to use an online compliance checker.
For instance, the AODA Compliance Wizard is a tool developed by the Government of Ontario to give organizations a customized list of requirements for compliance, based on what kind of business they are or the size of their workforce.
Another example is AChecker, an online tool that can automatically test your website to determine whether it meets the Level AA criteria of WCAG 2.0. A compliance checker like this one will flag areas where your website does not appear to meet accessibility standards.
However, there’s no guarantee it will spot and report every problem on your site, and you can’t even be sure that everything it does flag is a true accessibility issue. That’s why the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario7 strongly urges organizations to have their sites assessed by humans, even if they’ve already used online tools to evaluate their accessibility.
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 clock is ticking. It’s time to ensure your digital properties are in AODA compliance. If they aren’t, you should be reaching out to reputable experts who can help you meet your legal obligations.
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 like AODA. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s innovative solution by requesting a demo today.
- About accessibility laws. Ontario.ca, accessed 5 September 2019
- The Ontario Human Rights Code. Ontario Human Rights Commission, accessed 5 September 2019
- The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan. Ontario.ca, accessed 5 September 2019
- The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Gateway Community Health Centre, accessed 5 September 2019
- WCAG 2.0 and 2.1. W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, 22 January 2018
- How to Make Websites Accessible. Ontario.ca, accessed 5 September 2019
Editor’s Note: This post was updated in September 2019 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.