Understanding the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation in Ontario
AODA is a set of regulations created by the Ontario government to ensure everyone has equal access to information online to ensure digital accessibility. If you are not compliant with the AODA compliance requirements and accessibility policies, you could face a severe fine.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about AODA website compliance from customer service standard information to best practices from accessibility experts.
What Is The Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act?
The Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) was established in 2005. Its goal was to improve website accessibility using digital compliance to make a more accessible Ontario. The laws were established by the government for Ontario’s public and private entities to ensure that all Ontarians are able to equally access resources and information. This includes online resources, websites and digital applications.
Essentially, AODA is a set of accessibility standards for private organizations and non-profit organizations to follow. Its goal is to remove digital accessibility barriers that people with disabilities would encounter when they access online content.
All organizations in Ontario need to follow clear requirements and standards in order to remain AODA compliant in their employment practices and in the way they share information. The new accessibility laws are an improvement on the existing Ontarians With Disabilities Act of 2001.
This doesn’t mean that the AODA replaces the existing Ontario Human Rights Code or WCAG accessibility standards. However, AODA website compliance adds an extra layer of compliance standards to further improve digital accessibility. This is to ensure disabled people’s rights are considered on an ongoing basis by government entities and private organizations alike.
Who Needs To Comply With The AODA?
Any public sector organization, business, or non-profit that has 50 employees or more needs to operate in line with this accessibility law. The AODA system was created by various committees with representation from different sectors. This includes representation from the disability community.
Why Is The AODA Important?
Having clear and consistent accessibility laws is important in Ontario. There are approximately 6.2 million people in Canada living with a disability that can make it difficult to access daily resources. Because of this, the goal of Ontario’s Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements is to provide all residents with equal accessibility across all private and public sector organizations by the year 2025.
From both a humanitarian and a business perspective, it’s important that organizations are able to provide digital experiences for all individuals to access.
Thus, AODA helps to break down any accessibility barriers for people with disabilities. It creates equal opportunities for everyone living in the province of Ontario.
The AODA And Web Accessibility
These days, looking at online resources is the most popular way to find information. The internet is the first place people go when they need to find an answer to a question.
For people with disabilities, using and navigating websites can be a major challenge. For example. For someone with a disability that impairs their vision, hearing, or motor skills, then they may not be able to use a website the same way other people would and may have different requirements specific to their disability.
If individuals cannot properly access web pages, then they miss out on the vast amount of information and services available on organizations’ websites. As such, it drastically limits their access to important resources and opportunities. This goes against basic human rights and equality laws.
The AODA helps to ensure equality through its web accessibility standards. The fundamental role of the Act is to improve accessibility and make sure all Ontario residents are able to gain access to the same resources.
The AODA Accessibility Laws
The Ontario government implemented AODA for all relevant organizations in the private and non-profit sector to follow.
Qualifying organizations need to perform AODA progress reports and meet all requirements in line with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The exact AODA rules and non-compliance ratings depend on the size of the company and the type of information and service the company provides within Ontario.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
To make Ontario accessible to everyone, all websites need to follow the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are the necessary general requirements and guidelines to create a web page that is widely accessible by anyone with disabilities.
Three levels of WCAG accessibility
- Level A: basic web accessibility features
- Level AA: removes the most common barriers for disabled users
- Level AAA: the highest level of web accessibility
The guidelines include things such as adding larger text or a text resizer to your page or adding the option for screen readers to provide audio playback to help vision-impaired people.
However, there are two WCAG accessibility standards that organizations don’t need to follow for their websites. These two exceptions are live captions and pre-recorded audio descriptions.
It’s important to check your site regularly to ensure you are keeping up with WCAG standards. Use our AODA Compliance Checklist to make sure you are complying with all accessibility standards for citizens in Canada and abroad.
The 5 AODA Accessibility Standards
Organizations are required to meet all five standards of AODA regulations that fall under the following categories. Each category helps to remove barriers around different web accessibility issues and provides website owners with a way to assess the experience their website offers the public. It is important to provide contact information and a business email address for people with accessibility requirements to report potential issues they encounter on your website.
Information and Communications
Any type of content and information that your site communicates to the public needs to be easily accessible for people with disabilities. This includes elements on your site like videos, PDFs, and apps.
Accessibility requests must be available at no added cost. Removing barriers to access this information could mean including things such as:
- live captions on videos
- audio descriptions and text alternatives
- written transcriptions of audio content
- and enlarged text sizes
Videos and audio content need to have the option to skip to sections, pause, and re-watch/re-listen.
Ultimately, there should never only be one way to access and consume information on a website.
Any business that provides goods or services needs to provide a customer experience that remains AODA compliant. The Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act requires all eCommerce websites to be fully accessible, understandable, and easy to navigate by any customer.
If businesses offer a customer support chat service, this also needs to operate in line with the correct regulations. Anyone who has difficulty typing, reading, or using a mouse needs to have alternative access to contact assistance.
Websites need to comply with the relevant AODA regulations. All employees of the business need to understand these changes. It’s important that any employees of an organization with a new website are notified about the current AODA compliance measures.
Providing up-to-date training around the website is necessary so that all employees know how to access and make the relevant changes on a website. This isn’t only important for customer-facing employees. These accessibility requirements also include employees who have disabilities. All organizations need to make sure that any technology they use to create or manage their website can be properly used by any employees with disabilities.
All transportation service providers need to ensure all technical features and equipment on their transport routes offer complete accessibility for Ontarians.
For example, if a transport company makes a change in its route schedule, they need to inform all passengers about this change in an accessible format. For example, if a transportation provider circulates a PDF about its current routes, this document should also be available in a format for those who are vision impaired.
Design Of Public Spaces
The public spaces standard ensures that no elements of any built environment create a barrier for people with disabilities. This includes spaces like recreational trails, playground picnic areas, parking, and outdoor paths of travel.
The five AODA standards ensure complete accessibility for individuals in both online spaces, as well as physical spaces.
Must My Website be AODA Compliant?
All organizations in Ontario need to follow the mandatory AODA regulations if their website falls under the type and size requirements. If your website content does not meet the necessary compliance regulations, you may face up to a legal fine of up to $100,000 for each day of non-compliance.
As of January 2021, all websites need to be AODA compliant and follow the WCAG Level AA standards. The WCAG 2.2. Standards will be finalized by June 2022 allowing enough time for website owners to make improvements to their website. The draft for these latest standards can be found here.
Update Old Content To Comply With AODA
Any website content published after January 1st, 2012 must meet the WCAG Level A compliance standards. So if you have any old web content, you need to revise it to make sure it’s up to date with current AODA regulations.
Public Sector Organizations and Businesses In Ontario Must Be AODA Compliant
All Ontario public sector organizations need to comply with AODA law. Any businesses that provide good services or facilities to the public need to meet AODA law if they have at least 50 employees, and have at least one of these employees based in the Canadian province of Ontario.
Removing Barriers With AODA Compliance
AODA compliance is a vital solution to provide equal accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. If all organizations comply (which they need to), a whole new world of online resources open up to those with disabilities who may not have been able to access these resources in the past.
Not only is it important that your business offers complete accessibility, but you also run the risk of a hefty fine if you don’t meet the necessary standards.
At Parachute Design, we include all of the necessary AODA requirements and best practices into our custom web design process. Whether you’re creating a new site or updating an existing one and need help improving your online experience, get in touch with us to see how we can keep your organization compliant with a custom website design.