Everything on AODA  Compliance

What is the AODA?

The AODA stands for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Enacted in 2005 by the provincial government of Ontario, Canada, the ADOA’s primary goal is to ensure that people with disabilities are given equal opportunities to participate in everyday life. 

The AODA applies to various aspects of Ontario-based organizations’ policies and facilities, as well as to their websites. Under the AODA, websites must meet defined web accessibility guidelines: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 at Level AA.

The AODA’s evolution over the years

In 2001, after years of lobbying by advocacy groups, the provincial government of Ontario passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which required workplaces and websites to remove barriers to participation by individuals with disabilities. 

This marked a major step forward toward transforming Ontario into an inclusive and equitable province. However, as it only applied to government ministries, this act was limited in its influence and could not be relied on to deliver true equality to members of the various disability communities in Ontario. Additionally, as the act lacked enforcement guidelines, compliance requirements, and details regarding penalties for those who violated it, it was clear that the law needed to be updated almost as soon as it was ratified. 

Four years later, the AODA was introduced.

As a follow-up to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the AODA offers an improved and comprehensive accessibility policy. Additionally, it includes critical elements that the former act lacked, like clear rules, deadlines, enforcement systems for compliance, and penalties for those who fail to achieve said compliance. Just as importantly, the AODA introduced infrastructure that could keep accessibility policies up to date. To that end, the AODA aims to develop, implement, and enforce standards related to goods, services, accommodation, employment, and buildings before January 1st, 2025.

The AODA’s structure and standards

The AODA is organized into five distinct standards, each targeting a different aspect of public life with the aim of enhancing accessibility within each of them. These standards are:

  1. Customer service: This standard requires organizations to provide accessible customer service. For example, a retail store might offer assistance services for shoppers with disabilities, such as providing a sign language interpreter or ensuring aisles are wide enough for wheelchair access
  2. Information and communications: This standard focuses on making information accessible, including websites and printed materials. An example is a university providing course materials in accessible formats like braille or audio for students with vision impairments
  3. Employment: Aimed at making employment practices accessible, this standard involves creating inclusive workplaces and recruiting practices. For instance, a company may implement flexible work hours or provide specialized equipment to accommodate the individual needs of employees with disabilities
  4. Transportation: This standard ensures accessible public and specialized transportation services. An example is a city’s public transit system equipping buses with low-entry steps and audio announcements for stops to assist passengers with mobility or vision impairments
  5. Design of public spaces: This standard addresses accessibility in new or redeveloped public spaces. A common example is the installation of ramps and tactile walking surface indicators in public parks to aid individuals with mobility or visual challenges

The AODA and web accessibility

The AODA applies not only to Ontario-registered organizations’ physical locations and stores, but to their websites, as well. Under the AODA, your website needs to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG is the most important and influential set of web accessibility standards today, and have a deciding impact on the way global web accessibility laws are shaped. 

What does achieving AODA website compliance mean?

Throughout the years, a number of WCAG versions have been published, each consisting of three levels of conformance

  1. Level A - the most basic level of conformance
  2. Level AA - a more advanced level of conformance
  3. Level AAA, the highest level of conformance and the hardest to achieve

Under the AODA, websites need to conform to WCAG 2.0 at Level AA, an earlier version of WCAG. 

To conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA, your website needs to meet a number of technical and design-based requirements. While the full list is longer, here are a few examples of such requirements:

  • Ensure compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers
  • Allow for keyboard-only navigation
  • Add alt text to meaningful images (i.e., images that convey essential information)
  • Ensure sufficient contrast between text and its background color
  • Ensure that text can be resized to 200% without loss of content or function
  • Ensure that when website visitors adjust text spacing, there is no loss in functionality
  • Use clear headings and labels
  • Ensure that online documents, such as PDFs and Word documents, are fully accessible
  • Provide audio descriptions and captions for videos

Who needs to comply with the AODA?

The AODA affects all organizations in Ontario, including:

  • Private businesses
  • Non-profits
  • Government bodies

However, the AODA requirements vary for private businesses and non-profits based on size:

  • Businesses with 20 or more employees must file an accessibility compliance report every three years
  • Businesses with fewer than 20 employees do not need to file this report

Who enforces the AODA?

The AODA is primarily enforced by the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, which is part of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. This body is responsible for monitoring compliance, reviewing mandatory reports from organizations, and addressing any violations. The directorate also facilitates education regarding the AODA’s requirements through informative resources and support, helping organizations across Ontario to effectively meet their accessibility obligations.

The consequences of not complying with the AODA

Not complying with the AODA by presenting a website that does not fully-conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA is an act of discrimination against members of the various disability communities. 

Violation of this law might result in legal recourse, including potential penalties. 

The type of penalty you would face in such an event would largely depend on yours or your corporation’s history of prior transgressions. 

How are penalties determined under the AODA?

The penalty for a contravention of the AODA depends on a combination of two elements:

  1. The impact of the contravention
  2. The individual or corporation’s contravention history

Each of these two elements consists of three categories:

  1. Minor
  2. Moderate
  3. Major

Let’s explain how they are applied to each element:

Impact of contravention:

  1. A contravention is minor where it involves the contravention of an administrative requirement
  2. A contravention is moderate where it involves the contravention of a requirement for organizational preparedness
  3. A contravention is major where it involves the contravention of a priority requirement that includes, but is not limited to, a contravention that may pose a health or safety risk to persons with disabilities

Contravention history:

  1. Minor: If an individual or a corporation is found to have violated the AODA without having violated it more than once in the two years prior, the transgression will be categorized as ‘minor’
  2. Moderate: If an individual or a corporation is found to have violated the AODA and has two to five prior contraventions in the two years prior to the transgression at hand, the contravention will be categorized as ‘moderate’
  3. Major: If an individual or a corporation is found to have violated the AODA and have six or more contraventions in the two years prior to the transgression at hand, the contravention will be categorized as ‘major'

Bottom line:

  1. Depending on the impact of the contravention, individuals with a ‘minor’ contravention history can expect to pay a fine of $200 to $500 for violating the AODA, and corporations can expect to pay a fine of between $500 to $2,000
  2. Depending on the impact of the contravention, individuals with a ‘moderate’ contravention history can expect to pay a fine of $250 to $1,000 for violating the AODA, and corporations can expect to pay a fine of between $2,500 to $10,000
  3. Depending on the impact of the contravention, individuals with a ‘major’ contravention history can expect to pay a fine of $500 to $2,000 for violating the AODA, and corporations can expect to pay a fine of between $5,000 to $15,000 

In cases where the impact of the contravention is determined to be major and the contravention history of the person or organization is determined to be major, penalties may be determined as daily penalties to a maximum of $100,000, in the case of a corporation, and $50,000, in the case of an individual or unincorporated organization. 

For additional information on AODA-related penalties, you can press here. 

Additional consequences you can expect to face when you fail to achieve AODA compliance 

In addition to these financial and legal risks, not complying with the AODA can result in significant damage to your business’ reputation and to its bottom line. 62% of Canadians have stated that they prefer to support accessible businesses. By neglecting to remove barriers that inhibit members of the various disability communities from properly accessing your services and offerings, you are at risk of alienating your customer base at large. 

How can you know if your website is AODA-compliant?

You can use a free web accessibility auditing tool to test your website for AODA compliance and WCAG conformance with ease. With accessScan, accessiBe’s AODA compliance checker, you’re presented with a holistic overview of accessibility issues plaguing your website. Once you submit your website’s URL, accessScan will run a quick audit, after which you will be presented with a score (compliant, semi-compliant, non-compliant), along with a detailed breakdown of these accessibility issues found throughout the audit (if any exist). You’ll be able to download these results in PDF form as well.

How should you tackle ‌accessibility issues existing on your website?

There are a number of approaches you can take to address the compliance issues identified during the audit. For years, website owners’ only option was to turn toward expert service providers who would manually remediate ‌accessibility issues existing within their website. This process requires considerable time and financial resources. 

Today, however, there are automated solutions that can tackle many of the accessibility issues existing within your website in a fraction of the time and cost of manual services. accessWidget, for example, easily integrates with any CMS, performing an automated audit of your website’s code. Once accessibility problems are identified, accessWidget will then automatically remediate them. Additionally, accessWidget presents website visitors with disabilities with an interface through which they can adjust design and UI elements to fit their individual needs. These tweaks include adjusting color contrasts and text sizes, disabling animations, and enacting a ‘read-only’ mode, along with several other options.

Best practices to ensure your website is AODA-compliant

Achieving AODA compliance is an ongoing process. Evolving technologies and website updates will require you to take an active approach toward web accessibility. It is therefore worthwhile to invest in the following:

Stay informed and educated

Even if you use web accessibility tools or rely on expert service providers, it is always advisable to understand what conforming with WCAG and achieving AODA compliance entails on a deeper, more technical level. To that end, you can check out the following articles:

Pay attention to online documents and media assets

To achieve AODA website compliance, all elements hosted on your website need to be accessible and in conformance with WCAG. This includes digital files like PDFs and Word documents, along with videos and audio files, like podcasts. Zeroing in and then addressing accessibility issues existing within online documents and media assets is no easy feat. This is especially true when the assets at hand are comprehensive and lengthy. That’s why many website owners rely on expert service providers, such as accessServices, to help them with these projects. Because they are intimately familiar with the sections of WCAG that apply to these assets, expert service providers are more equipped to handle complicated remediation tasks in a cost-effective, quick manner.

Consider implementing accessibility measures during the development stage

Many organizations have high-performing websites and want a solution that doesn’t affect the source code. However, it is important to realize that there is also a development accessibility solution. accessFlow allows organizations to build their websites in an accessible and inclusive way, using AI to produce copy-and-paste code that developers can implement seamlessly. accessFlow integrates seamlessly into CI-CD pipelines, ensuring developers always ship accessible code from the basics to user action funnels.