If you own or operate a business or an organization in the province of Ontario, you’re likely aware of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). You may already have taken steps to meet its requirements for accessibility in some or all of the five areas it addresses: information and communications, customer service, transportation, employment and design of public spaces. But what you might not know is how the AODA applies to your website and other digital properties.
The AODA came into effect in 2005, and it applies to Ontario’s public and private sectors. The goal is for the province to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 20251. That includes web accessibility. “By law, you must make new and significantly refreshed public websites accessible if you are: a private or non-profit organization with 50+ employees; or a public sector organization,” states the Government of Ontario. “The organization that controls the website must meet the accessibility requirements2.”
The AODA has a time frame for website compliance, and it includes deadlines for digital accessibility:
- Beginning January 1, 2014: new public websites, significantly refreshed websites and any web content posted after January 1, 2012 must meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A
- Beginning January 1, 2021: all public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012 must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA other than criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions)
Your obligations under the AODA depend on the type and size of your organization (how many employees you have). People who are self-employed and don’t have employees are exempt. For general information about the AODA, including how to count your employees, visit the government website.
What is WCAG 2.0?
The AODA’s Accessibility Standard for Information and Communications says that public websites and their contents must meet the technical requirements of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
WCAG is the most widely accepted accessibility guideline in the world. It is managed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international network of accessibility experts dedicated to making the internet as inclusive as possible. WCAG 2.0 is the current version, and it is the one required by many regulations, including the AODA.
WCAG 2.0 has three levels, each with a list of testable success criteria. Level A addresses basic accessibility issues, such as providing text alternatives for non-text content, such as images. Level AA goes further, addressing the major, most common accessibility issues. Level AAA is the highest standard – you are not yet required to reach this level. Any web content that your company or organization posts on its website must meet the criteria for Level A now, and starting in 2021, it must meet Level AA.
For a handy list of the criteria for the three levels, download a free copy of The Must-Have WCAG 2.0 Checklist.
Meeting AODA Requirements
There are three areas under the AODA that require digital accessibility: information and communications, customer service and employment standards. Here’s how your company or organization can work towards meeting its obligations:
1. Information and Communications
Under the AODA, all public-facing information must be accessible, including (but not limited to) websites, videos, apps and PDFs. 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.
2. Customer Service
Businesses and service providers must ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to obtain, use and benefit from their goods or services. If you have an e-commerce site, it has to be accessible, so customers with disabilities are shop online freely. Similarly, if your site includes web self-service options such as live chat, chatbots or virtual agents, those technologies also have to be made accessible under the regulation.
The AODA also stipulates that you must provide your goods and services in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of people with disabilities. For example, your website could offer assistive technology to customers who have difficulty typing or using a mouse, so they can browse your site with ease.
3. Employment Standards
Workplace information must be accessible. This includes notifying employees and the public that your company or organization will accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities. You must also ensure that employees have the information they need to perform their jobs and make general information about your organization available to all staff. This includes updates sent in a PDF, training videos and job application portals.
This also includes providing accommodations, such as assistive technology, to employees who need it. For people with physical disabilities, tools such as voice recognition, hands-free navigation and keyboard alternatives can allow them to control various functions without using their hands.
Determining Your Level of Accessibility
To determine what you need to do to make your website AODA-compliant, you’ll first need to evaluate its current level of accessibility. You can easily find automated testing tools and compliance checkers online. They won’t find every issue. In fact, accessibility testing tools will only discover 25 – 30% of the issues.
To uncover the rest, you’ll need human testers to thoroughly evaluate your digital properties. They can perform manual and functional testing to identify more barriers than automated testing alone. You can either build an in-house team that includes people with disabilities, or work with a third-party vendor, such as company that specializes in digital accessibility.
Choosing a Qualified Consultant or Developer
Unless you’re a web developer well versed in accessibility, you will likely need assistance from accessibility experts to upgrade your site’s accessibility. It’s important to choose an individual or company with expertise in AODA and WCAG 2.0 requirements. Although the AODA became law more than a decade ago, not all web developers are knowledgeable about what’s necessary and how to implement it.
Having a third-party vendor step-in and evaluate your digital properties comes with its fair share of benefits. In addition to monitoring your digital properties on an ongoing basis, firms specializing in accessibility will be able to provide your organization with accessibility statements and a conformance statement attesting to the level of accessibility achieved.
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.
- The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan Government of Ontario, 2017
- How to Make Webasites Accessible How to Make Websites Accessible, 2017