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.
If you’re just looking for guidance on making your website compliant, jump to The Essential AODA Compliance Checklist.
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.1
Accessibility Compliance Report Requirements
Under the AODA, qualifying Ontario organizations need to submit an accessibility compliance report. The purpose of a compliance report is to show the government and the public that your organization is meeting the correct AODA Level AA compliance standards.
Small and large public sector organizations need to complete a compliance report once every two years. Any private businesses or nonprofits with over 50 employees must complete an AODA compliance report every three years.
To do this, organizations need to fill out the accessibility compliance report on the official Ontario Government website. When an organization submits its AODA compliance report, it needs to make this report available to the public.
AODA directors review all reports and ensure all of the details are correct. These directors check to see whether a website meets all of the correct AODA standards. It’s essential that organizations understand all of these accessibility requirements before submitting the report.
Website Accessibility Guidelines: The Essential AODA Compliance Checklist
To be AODA compliant, you need to ensure your website provides complete accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
So, to help you get a better idea of what accessibility standards your web content needs to meet, we’ve compiled a complete AODA checklist below. This will help you meet the Level AA accessibility standards and pass an AODA compliance test.
Organizations can find more resources and details of the accessibility requirements on the official Ontario Government website here.
Text Alternatives For Non-Text Content
Any kind of non-text content on a web page, such as video, images, or audio recordings, needs to be accessible for those who cannot access this kind of content. For example, people with a hearing impairment should still be able to access valuable information shared on a podcast.
To meet this AODA compliance standard, ensure your non-text content offers a text alternative or “alt text”. This could include:
- screen readers that display video captions
- having written transcriptions for audio content
- and offering text descriptions of visual resources
Control Over Time-Based Media
Any kind of pre-recorded time-based media on Ontario websites needs to be able to provide users with control. When we say time-based media, we’re referring to things like videos and audio clips. Accessible websites let the user pause, rewind, fast forward, and play this media.
This makes websites and web content more accessible by giving the user control. Those with certain disabilities may require a longer period of time to consume video content. If a video plays too fast and you can’t stop it, this makes it inaccessible to many.
Video And Audio Features For All Content
Ontario’s accessibility laws require all website content to offer options for visual and audio features. This means any written text should have audio descriptions, or video alternatives, available. Again, if a user cannot consume content in one form, then this content needs to be available in other accessible formats.
Not only this, but public websites and web content need to be presented in a simple manner. AODA website compliance exists so that everyone can understand online information to improve web accessibility. If a website is overly confusing to navigate or view, it will have a poor level of digital accessibility and people will struggle to use it because it won’t be fully accessible.
All Web Content Must Be Clearly Understandable
To achieve website compliance, all of the web content that you publish needs to be understandable without having to rely on color or design, including link text for external and internal links.
Some people have disabilities that limit their vision and ability to process color. This means web content posted online needs to be clear enough on its own. It should not need additional design elements to support it. Good heading structure is important to improve readability for all users, but AODA standards require the proper use of heading tags, alt text and various other typographic assignments to communicate clear and simple language with assistive technologies.
This area of digital accessibility also applies to audio content. Just like color and design can distract from visual content, so can noise in audio content. For this reason, AODA standards state that any audio content needs to minimize background sound as much as possible. The audio should only focus on the main information.
All Web Content Must Be Keyword Accessible
To improve digital accessibility, organizations must ensure that all of their web pages’ content is keyword accessible by search engines and assistive technologies alike. This makes it a lot easier to navigate websites and find relevant content.
With an effective keyword system, web accessibility becomes a lot easier for everyone to navigate. Manual websites without keyword accessibility can pose a real challenge to some visitors using target keywords to aid in their search and consumption of information.
Users Must Have Enough Time to Consume Content
If timed content exists on a website, like a video or a slideshow, then this content needs to be displayed for long enough to give users enough time to read and comprehend the material.
For instance, giving a user only five minutes to read an article may not give everyone enough time to truly understand it. Ensure you provide plenty of time for users to read and comprehend any material you offer them.
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Avoid Visuals That Could Cause Seizures
Certain imagery can trigger seizures in some people. This generally includes fast, bright flashing lights. To maintain AODA compliance, organizations need to avoid any kinds of visuals that are known to cause seizures amongst individuals.
If an individual who is prone to such seizures sees this content, they will avoid it. If it is important content, they could be missing out on an opportunity.
Self Explanatory Links, Menus, And Titles
To maintain website compliance, all navigational elements on a web page need to be easy to understand. They must offer a clear purpose to the reader. Wherever there is a link, a menu, or a title, anyone should be able to understand exactly why it’s there and where it leads. This makes website navigation easy.
If websites are confusing to navigate and understand, they won’t provide complete accessibility for Ontarians. So, go to your website and check each of these navigational elements. If it’s not completely clear what their purpose is, reword the clickable element.
Enlarged Text Option
This is an important part of AODA website compliance for anyone with visual impairment. All websites need to offer the option for large print text for easy readability. Wherever there is text on a website, an alternate format should be available to help those who can’t see the smaller text.
By offering enlarged text options, as well as screen readers to provide audio playback of the text, people with disabilities will be able to access the information on the website.
Web Pages Must Be Clear And Predictable
In order to meet accessibility standards for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, all content needs to be easy to understand. Whenever a user is on a website, they should be able to know exactly what each page is about and what they can expect from the different pages.
The web content accessibility guidelines state that all web pages and related technologies must be predictable and clearly state their purpose. For example, if you’re looking for the organization’s business number, it should be clear where to find this on their website.
Available Support And Assistance
The web content accessibility guidelines also clearly state that effective support and assistance must be available to help or correct any mistakes or errors. To maintain AODA website compliance, you need to be able to adapt and improve your website as required.
You may have achieved AODA website compliance, only to later discover a new accessibility issue present on other pages of your site. Having readily-available support will help you eliminate these issues and maintain compliance.
Input Assistance And Error Indication
Proper input assistance forms another one of AODA’s accessibility policies. The idea behind this is that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s only too common for website users to leave an error when inputting information on your site. However, people with disabilities may have a harder time detecting these errors.
AODA requirements state that error indication methods need to be clearly visible to all users. This will help reduce the number of serious or irreversible errors that are made. Error indication methods should be obvious to anyone with a limited field of view, limited color perception, or anyone using assistive technology.
The disabilities act states that websites need to maximize compatibility with any current or future user agents, including assistive technology (AT). Technologies change very quickly, so it’s important that your web content follows conventions to remain compatible with APIs. This makes it easier for different AT solutions to work with your website as this technology develops.
To achieve AODA website compliance here, make sure that anything published on your website doesn’t include anything that could make AT break or circumvent – such as poorly formed or unconventional markup or code. You also need to expose information in your content in standard ways so that AT can easily recognize and interact with it.
Offer Adaptable Content
According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, when you create website content, it needs to be able to be presented in different ways without losing its information or structure. For example, you should be able to display the content in a simpler layout while still offering all of the same critical information.
The aim of this accessibility standard is to ensure that organizations offer information in a form that can be perceived by everyone. For example, this could be information that is spoken aloud or presented in a simplified visual layout.
If all information offered on a website is available in a way that can be read by software, then this information can be presented in different ways – such as visually, audibly, or tactilely. If this information is embedded in a format that assistive technology cannot recognize, then it can’t be rendered in other formats for the user.
Make sure that all information communication supports alternative formats.
What If You Can’t Comply?
If your organization doesn’t comply with the standards set by the Government of Ontario and the World Wide Web Consortium, then your organization will be liable for financial penalties. However, before you start seeking legal advice, there are occasions where not being able to comply within the reporting deadline can be accepted.
Sometimes, it’s not possible to meet the WCAG 2.0 level regulations if you used tools and software to develop your site that predate the WCAG 2.0 level standards.
Older websites can update their products to support accessibility. However, it may not always be possible to publish content in a specific format that meets the accessibility directorate requirements.
If this is the case, your organization must be able to explain why the information is unconvertible. In addition, you need to provide a summary of the unconvertible content to the user and legal authority governing your Canadian province.
Make Sure Your Website Complies With AODA
At Parachute Design, we incorporate all of the necessary regulations and best practices into our web development services. We know how to work with the latest WCAG standards to help organizations stay compliant with the many AODA regulations while creating a beautifully unique website design.
If your website needs a refresh to improve compliance get in touch with us today. We can help all organizations and non-profits in Ontario achieve the AODA compliance standards in line with the Ontario government and World Wide Web Consortium (WCAG 2.0). This is essential to keep all of your online resources up to snuff and provide equal access to your products and services.