Enacted in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a powerful non-discrimination law that applies to both government agencies and private organizations operating in the province of Ontario.
It requires organizations with more than 49 workers to meet the Level AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the de facto international standard for digital accessibility.
Below, we provide an overview of the AODA’s requirements and share tips for improving your website’s compliance.
What is the AODA?
In 2001, Ontario’s provincial government passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA), which was designed to “improve opportunities for [people] with disabilities” and identify, remove, and prevent barriers to their “full participation in the life of the province.”
Although the ODA was important legislation, it lacked detailed enforcement mechanics or deadlines.
The government addressed those shortcomings in 2005 by passing the AODA, which built on the earlier statute by including accessibility standards for five key areas of daily life: customer service, information and communications, employment, design of public spaces, and transportation.
Collectively, these standards are called the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulations (IASR). The AODA gives the government authority to set deadlines for meeting IASR requirements — and to assess penalties for non-compliance.
Under the AODA, it is important for organizations with more than 49 workers to regularly test their website for website accessibility in order to ensure that it meets WCAG Level AA and is fully accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.
What are the Five Standards Set by the AODA?
The AODA currently contains five standards, but additional standards are being developed. The current standards include:
- Customer Service Standard: Applies to service providers and requires them to make their “goods, services, and facilities" accessible for customers or patrons with disabilities.”
- Information and Communication Standards: Applicable to digital communications such as websites, mobile apps, and web-delivered documents.
- Employment Standard: Requires that employers make their workplace practices accessible to both current and potential workers with disabilities. It applies to paid workers but not to volunteers.
- Transportation: Requires that transportation companies make the features and equipment on routes and vehicles accessible to passengers with disabilities. Additionally, it requires that transportation companies inform the public about equipment and features.
- Design of Public Spaces Standard: Outlines the need for newly constructed or redeveloped public spaces to be accessible for people with disabilities.
The two future standards will include:
- Health Care Standards: Expected to apply to hospitals, doctors' offices, walk-in clinics, wellness centers, and other healthcare facilities with more than one worker.
- Education Standards: Expected to apply to colleges, universities, public and private schools, school libraries, and producers of educational materials (such as textbook publishers).
It’s important to note that the AODA currently applies to healthcare and outpatient facilities, schools, and other institutions that are not directly addressed by one of the five current standards. In other words, every organization must follow the AODA.
For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on compliance with the AODA’s Information and Communication Standards. To learn more about the other standards, review the AODA’s website.
Who Has To Comply With the AODA?
All public agencies and all private organizations with at least 49 workers must meet WCAG 2.0’s Level AA guidelines. While the law outlines potential exceptions for situations where content cannot be made accessible, those exceptions are extremely limited.
Additionally, all public agencies and all private organizations with 20 or more employees must also file an AODA accessibility compliance report every three years.
Under the AODA, businesses must count full-time, part-time, contract, and seasonal employees as “workers.” However, they should not count independent contractors, volunteers, or workers from outside Ontario.
Although some small businesses are exempt from these requirements, it’s a great business practice to accommodate as many customers as possible — and by following WCAG, you may be able to improve compliance with other laws, such as the Accessible Canada Act(ACA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA).
What are the Benefits of AODA Compliance?
Ensuring that people of all abilities can access information and services online is clearly the right thing to do from an ethical perspective. It’s also the right thing to do from a business perspective — in fact people with disabilities have an estimated spending power of about $25 billion annually across Canada.
More than 16% of Canadians over the age of 15 are living with a disability, and this number will continue to grow as the population ages. Ignoring that audience doesn’t make sense — particularly if you’re trying to grow your business.
AODA website compliance has profound benefits:
- Better user experiences: The best practices of digital accessibility improve the internet for everyone. Users can navigate your content easily — which often means more sales, more engagement, and better word of mouth.
- Reduced legal risks: Adopting WCAG helps to limit the chances of a lawsuit under the AODA or other non-discrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Increased traffic: Accessible design reinforces the best practices of search engine optimization (SEO), drawing more users to your website.
AODA compliance isn’t optional, but it’s not a burden. Every organization should invest in digital accessibility, and the AODA’s requirements are both reasonable and achievable.
Which Disabilities Are Protected by the AODA?
According to the AODA, the term “disability” covers a broad range of visible and invisible conditions that may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Visual impairments.
- Hearing impairments.
- Mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and neurocognitive differences.
- Physical or mobility disabilities.
To fully comply with the AODA, you must accommodate all these disabilities. Providing a website that works for people with visual or hearing impairments alone isn’t sufficient.
What Are the Penalties for Non-Compliance?
The AODA establishes strong maximum penalties for non-compliance:
- A corporation can be fined up to $100,000 CAD per day.
- Directors and officers of a corporation or organization can be fined up to $50,000 per day.
- Fines grow until the violations are resolved.
The License Appeal Tribunal has jurisdiction over AODA enforcement (and AODA fines). According to the AODA’s monetary penalties scheme, the Tribunal will not assess maximum AODA fines unless an organization has a history of significant compliance violations.
Understanding AODA and WCAG 2.0
Under the AODA’s Information and Communications Standards, organizations must make their websites and mobile apps accessible. They can do so by conforming with WCAG 2.0, which gives businesses technical guidelines on how to make their digital content accessible and operable for people with disabilities.
How Does WCAG Support Digital Accessibility?
WCAG 2.0 contains 61 success criteria, each of which guides to help website owners, developers, and designers avoid specific barriers. For example:
- Maintaining appropriate color contrast so that text is readable against its background.
- Using color in an accessible way. This includes choosing accessible color schemes and avoiding using color alone to convey information.
- Including captions and transcripts for videos.
- Writing accurate image alternative text (also called alt text) and other text alternatives for non-text content.
- Using appropriate semantic HTML to make content accessible for screen readers and other assistive technologies.
- Ensuring that all content can be operated with a keyboard alone (no mouse).
- Ensuring appropriate behavior for keyboard focus indicators and dialog boxes.
- Following the best practices of link accessibility.
While the AODA requires that organizations follow WCAG 2.0, the best practice is to follow the latest official version of WCAG. Currently, that’s WCAG 2.2, which includes additional requirements that improve experiences for users of all experience levels.
To learn more, read: WCAG 2.2 Compliance, Explained.
Do I Need to Follow All WCAG Success Criteria for AODA Compliance?
WCAG is organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (the least strict requirements), Level AA, and Level AAA (the most strict requirements).
For AODA compliance, websites must meet all 2.0 Level A and Level AA success criteria, with two exceptions:
- Success Criterion 1.2.4: Captions (Live), which requires captions for all live audio content in synchronized media (such as real-time video presentations).
- Success Criterion 1.2.5: Audio Description (Prerecorded), which requires audio descriptions for all prerecorded video content.
AODA Compliance Deadlines
As of December 31, 2023, all public-sector organizations in Ontario and organizations with 20 or more employees must comply with the AODA. Those organizations must also submit a compliance report to the Ontario Government.
- Businesses and non-profit organizations with 20 or more employees must submit an accessibility compliance report every three years.
- Public-sector organizations must file a report every two years.
If you missed the reporting deadline, you should still file your report — even if your business is not yet compliant. Submitting an accurate report may help you avoid or minimize non-compliance penalties.
How to Report Your AODA Compliance
To report your compliance (or non-compliance), simply download the Accessibility Compliance Reporting Form and fill it out.
The PDF version of the form has an automated ‘Submit’ button, which sends the form directly to the Ontario Government.
The Accessibility Compliance Reporting Form includes simple yes-or-no questions, along with resources to help you understand and meet the requirements. You may also write in comments in the comment box below each question.
Below are additional helpful resources for AODA compliance reporting:
- Ontario’s accessibility compliance reporting guidance, which includes current reporting deadlines and guidance for submitting completed reports.
- The download page for the Accessibility Compliance Reporting Form PDF. The form is available in English and French.
What Other Canadian Disability Laws Should You Know?
The AODA is comprehensive legislation, but it only applies to Ontario businesses. It does not replace or supersede federal accessibility laws.
Federal laws in Canada also mandate digital accessibility:
- The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) applies to Crown corporations, the federal public sector, and all federally regulated organizations. It requires accessible digital communications.
- The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, religion, race, and other criteria. It applies to Canadian Federal Government employees and service providers.
Public sector organizations must meet Canada’s Standard on Web Accessibility to comply with the ACA. Like the AODA, the federal Standard on Web Accessibility incorporates WCAG 2.0 Level AA by reference.
The provincial governments in Canada have also passed legislation to ensure equal rights for all regardless of ability. The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) and the Accessible Saskatchewan Act (ASA) establish requirements for public and private sector organizations in their respective provinces.
Ultimately, if your website meets the Level AA requirements of the latest version of WCAG, you’re in a great position for compliance — regardless of where your business is located or your specific industry.
Testing Your Website for AODA Compliance
Ontario’s provincial government provides several tips for testing websites for accessibility, which we summarize below:
- Use a combination of automated and manual accessibility tests.
Automated tests can help identify common accessibility issues, while manual tests performed by experts using screen readers and other assistive technologies can help identify more subjective barriers.
- Listen to user feedback.
Customer feedback can help guide your accessibility initiative. By publishing an accessibility statement, you can inform people of your website’s current level of accessibility and give them an easy way to report issues.
- Keep a record of accessibility issues and remediations.
Keep track of your site’s current barriers and the steps you’ve taken to make improvements. Tracking key milestones can keep your team engaged in the process (and may be helpful if you’re asked to prove your AODA compliance).
- Make sure your team understands the importance of accessibility.
Consider investing in digital accessibility training courses from qualified experts.
Maintain an AODA-Compliant Website With Help From AudioEye
At AudioEye, we’ve built the industry’s most comprehensive platform for web accessibility testing and remediation. Our solution audits your content against current WCAG Level AA success criteria, performing a battery of over 400 tests to find potential accessibility barriers — and fixes many common issues as the page loads, providing users with a more accessible experience.
We combine powerful automation with expert manual testing and remediation, which helps us find and fix issues that cannot be caught with automation alone. Our Issue Reporting dashboard helps you keep track of your progress and provides guidance for fixing issues that require human support.
Want to get started today? Get a free scan of any URL to find accessibility issues on your site.
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