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Guidelines and legislation - Understanding AODA

Digital accessibility guide for Marketers

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What is AODA?

AODA stands for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. It’s a law that sets out accessibility standards for organizations in Ontario.

The aim of AODA is to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. To identify, remove and prevent barriers for people with disabilities is important to the government of Ontario. In fact, they’re working towards a goal of making Ontario accessible by 2025. 

Ontario is also the first province in the world to pass specific legislation with a goal and time-frame for accessibility. AODA is helping them in their efforts to create a place where everyone can fully take part in everyday life. And they’re calling on businesses, organizations and communities to help them reach their goal.

AODA compliance is the responsibility of all public, private and non-profit organizations in Ontario with 1 or more employees. To help, AODA outlines 5 standards that support organizations to improve accessibility.

On this page discover:

What are the 5 AODA Standards?

The 5 AODA standards help organizations to identify and remove barriers for people with disabilities. It considers 5 areas of daily life.

They are:

  1. Customer Service Standards which help to make sure everyone can access goods, services and facilities.
  2. Information and Communication Standards which help organizations to make their information accessible to all.
  3. Transportation Standards make sure it’s easy for everyone to travel in Ontario.
  4. Employment Standards help organizations to make hiring practices more accessible. As well as employee support practices.
  5. Design of Public Spaces Standards help organizations to make outdoor public areas accessible.

Each of the 5 AODA standards outlines rules that sectors across Ontario must follow to improve accessibility for Ontarians.

For example, under the standards, organizations must give information in accessible formats or with communication support when asked for.

As well as the above, 2 new ADOA standards are being developed. They are:

  • The Health Care Standards which will specifically guide healthcare providers to improve accessibility. For example, under the Design of Public Spaces Standards, healthcare providers must make new and redeveloped public spaces accessible. However the new Health Care Standards will outline how to make medical settings more accessible. Such as giving guidance to help designers create accessible hospital rooms.
  • The Education Standards which will address specific barriers facing students from kindergarten to grade 12. As well as barriers to university and college.

These new standards will address accessibility barriers that the current 5 AODA standards do not.

Understanding the AODA for Websites

The AODA standards help organizations to create policies and practices that are inclusive of all citizens in Ontario. So that everyone, regardless of difference or ability, can access services, buildings, information and employment. 

When it comes to websites, under AODA compliance organizations must meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This is outlined under the Information and Communications Standards. It says that organizations;

“shall make their internet and intranet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, at Level AA, other than success criteria 1.2.4 Captions (Live), and success criteria 1.2.5 Audio Descriptions (Pre-recorded).”

AODA website compliance must be upheld by most public and private organizations including:

  • The Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly
  • Designated public sector organizations
  • Large organizations (with 50 or more employees in Ontario)

WCAG is the international standard for website accessibility and is used by accessibility laws all around the world. It explains how to make websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities. There are 3 levels of conformance. 

WCAG Level AA is considered the most achievable. It tackles the most common barriers for disabled users. At this level, your website would be considered usable and understandable for most people, including those with disabilities.

AODA implementation timeline

With the goal to be fully accessible by 2025, Ontario has set deadlines against AODA compliance. The deadlines are not the same for every organization. 

Below, we outline the most recent deadlines and who must meet them.

June 30, 2021: Ontario Organizations with 20-49 and 50+ employees

Organizations within this category must have filed an accessibility compliance report by June 30, 2021. This is to confirm that you are meeting the AODA standards. The Accessibility Compliance Report template can be found here

Please note that volunteers, contractors, or those outside of Ontario are not included in the employee number count.

January 1, 2021: Ontario Organizations with 50+ Employees

Organizations within this category were obliged to make sure their websites were accessible by January 1, 2021. This must be confirmed in the Accessibility Compliance Report due June 30, 2021.

Meeting AODA compliance

To meet AODA compliance organizations must meet the rules set out under each of the 5 AODA standards. Not only that, in 2011 the AODA standards became part of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR). That means that organizations must also meet the general requirements below:

  • give training to staff and volunteers
  • develop an accessibility policy
  • create a multi-year accessibility plan and update it every five years
  • consider accessibility in buying and when designing or buying self-service kiosks

AODA website compliance checklist

When it comes to AODA website compliance, organizations must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA. That means meeting the criteria outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This criteria can be difficult to navigate, so we’ve given some advice below.

At this point it might be helpful to mention that WCAG is built on the POUR principles. For a website to be considered accessible it must be Perceivable, Operable, Understand and Robust. That means that all your visitors should be able to access, navigate and use your digital content. Regardless of their differences or what device they’re using.

AODA compliance therefore includes everything about your website. We’ve broken this down into 3 main areas:

1. Accessible code

Every part of your website must be able to be accessed by every visitor. This includes people who use adaptive devices. It must also be easy to navigate, helping users find content, and decide where they are.

Some steps you could take include:

  • Optimize web code to make sure that visitors can navigate your site from a keyboard only
  • Optimize your website for use with assistive technologies, such as screen readers
  • Give content in multiple formats
  • Use metadata to give a text description of images
  • Organize content under clear headings, using a logical order. For example a H1, followed by H2, H3 and so on

2. Inclusive design

Inclusive design means to design environments that can be accessed and used by everyone regardless of ability or circumstance. A truly accessible website will consider accessible design choices. And users will be able to see, hear and understand your content more easily.

Some steps you could take include:

  • Use good color contrast between text and background elements. For example, have a minimum level of contrast of at least 4.5 to 1 
  • Use a font size that’s easy to read (for example a font size of 12pt/16px)
  • Do not use content that could cause seizures, for example don't allow moving imagery to automatically play

3. Usable content

Accessible content might not necessarily be usable. It must be readable and understandable too. The use of language, abbreviations and pronunciations can affect how easy your content is to understand. Content usability is also affected by how intuitive your website is to use. That means whether it acts in a way which users would expect.

Some steps you could take include:

  • Use language that can be understood by all site visitors
  • Give users enough time to read and use content. For example, allow uses to stop and start video content
  • Be transparent, so visitors understand what to do on your site. For example, use link text that tells a user where they will end up
  • Help users to avoid and fix mistakes. For example, include field labels on forms. And highlight errors with a combination of both text and color
  • Meaning must not be conveyed through shape, size or color alone

To help you improve accessibility, we’ve created two WCAG checklists. One for your marketing team, and the other for your design team. It’ll help them to keep accessibility in mind as they create new digital content.

Why is the AODA important for businesses?

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act isn’t about setting legal obligations for organizations. Yes it’s true that organizations can be fined up to $100,000 per day for non-compliance. But the accessibility standards exist, and are enforced, because of a bigger vision. To truly improve accessibility for Ontarians.

AODA is important for businesses because it’s vital for Ontarian citizens. The AODA complements the Ontario Human Rights Code. They work together to make Ontario a place which values moral principles. Everyone has the right to be able to live independently. And to be able to take part in all aspects of life. By meeting AODA compliance, organizations are showing that they care about the people they serve.

In Ontario alone, 1 in 7 people are disabled. By 2036, this is expected to rise to 1 in 5. Businesses that aren’t accessible risk leaving this growing group from being unable to access their goods, services or facilities. A group that over the next 20 years will represent 40% of Ontario’s total income. That’s $536 billion.

Accessibility is an ongoing journey. It’s something that every organization should work towards. And maintain. Not only is it simply the right thing to do, it’s good for business too.

At Texthelp, we’re on our own journey with digital access and inclusion. To improve accessibility company-wide, we’re using ReachDeck. It’s a digital inclusion software that we created, because there was no all-in-one solution that met our needs. It supports WCAG compliance by helping you improve the accessibility and readability of online content.