The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed in 2005 in the province of Ontario to ensure that people with disabilities could participate equally in society, without encountering obstacles. Although the province already had an Ontario Human Rights Code in place to protect these rights, there was a need for more prevention strategies, so organizations would be less likely to discriminate in the first place. As the Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated: “The purpose of the AODA is to address accessibility barriers systemically and avoid case-by-case litigation so individuals with disabilities need only bring a matter before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal as a last resort.”¹
The AODA’s accessibility standards cover several realms, including customer service, physical access, transportation and employment. One very important section applies to “Accessible Websites and Web Content,” which lists requirements for web accessibility. This is to ensure that organizations don’t exclude people with disabilities when they serve, inform or entertain their customers and clients online.
The AODA website standards are changing. Since 2014, new and redesigned websites have been required to meet Level A of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the universal technical requirements for accessibility. As of 2021, however, these websites will be obligated to meet Level AA of WCAG 2.0.
Organizations still learning about AODA website requirements may believe that these accessibility standards only benefit Ontarians with disabilities. While that alone should be enough to make the case for online accessibility – there are more than 2.2 million people with disabilities living in Ontario, or 15.5 percent of the province’s population – it’s important to know that they are by no means the only group to benefit.
Consider all the ways that meeting web accessibility standards can benefit different populations:
People with Disabilities in Ontario
As we mentioned above, there is a vast population of people with various disabilities living in Ontario. Like their fellow citizens, they have the right to participate in society and carry out the same kinds of online activities – shop, learn, pay bills, register for programs and stream videos – as everyone else. AODA standards make it possible for more people with disabilities to use and interact with websites and apps. For example, when you include text alternatives (alt-text) wherever there are images, people who are blind and use screen readers can understand what is depicted in the images. When you use an appropriate amount of contrast between the words and the background colors, people who have low vision can read the screen. Those are just two examples. WCAG 2.0 includes a long list of success criteria.
People with Disabilities Outside Ontario
Residents of Ontario are not the only people who will benefit from online accessibility in this province. Remember, the internet is a global network. People anywhere in the world could potentially be interested in traveling to Ontario, doing business with Ontario service providers, or buying products and supplies sold in Ontario. Over a billion people in the world have disabilities. When you adhere to AODA website standards, you’re welcoming all of these potential customers and visitors.
Other People with Accessibility Needs
You might be surprised by the variety of people without disabilities who have web accessibility needs – and often don’t even realize it! Examples include:
- The seniors who finds themselves spending more time on the websites that are easier to read.
- The entrepreneurs on the run who are drawn to those mobile sites that have larger touch-target areas on the screen.
- The busy parents who prefer the sites they can use with one hand, because they’re so often carrying something (or someone!) with the other.
- The ESL students who quickly click away from sites with complex language and structures.
- The injured athletes who, for a few weeks, discover they can’t easily operate a mouse.
All of these groups, and more, will benefit from a website that adheres to the standards of the AODA.
If you’re new to the benefits of online accessibility, you may not yet realize that it actually offers many advantages for your own organization. Consider these three:
- Online accessibility is a way of promoting your social responsibility. It demonstrates to the community that you are inclusive of diverse groups.
- By ensuring your site is accessible, you avoid complaints, fines and legal troubles stemming from online discrimination against people with disabilities.
- Your search engine optimization is improved. This is because when you provide alt-text along with images, the content is more appropriately indexed by search engines – and more online users will find you.
Now is the Time to Aim for a Higher Standard
Even if you’re currently meeting the WCAG 2.0 Level A website standards of AODA, keep in mind that the next deadline is less than two years away. At that point, you will be required to achieve Level AA of WCAG 2.0.
We recommend you start now. Don’t wait months before the next deadline approaches – the process of testing, remediation, retesting, etc. could be a much bigger commitment than you may think. That’s why we encourage, whenever possible, to develop your digital properties from the beginning with accessibility in mind (it’s ultimately cheaper and faster than remediation). Regardless of where you are in your accessibility journey, leaning on the expertise of an accessibility partner to help you achieve compliance can make all the difference. Learn more about how eSSENTIAL Accessibility is helping organizations just like yours by requesting a time to meet with our team today.
At the end of the day, the sooner you set out to meet this higher standard, the sooner your web accessibility will be on par with other accessible sites around the world that are already conforming to Level AA of WCAG 2.0. Best of all, the sooner you will be meeting the online access needs of literally billions of people.