by Ian Morrison
The internet is central to our lives. However, we don’t all have the same experience when surfing the web. This is especially true if you are one of the many Canadians that live with physical or mental disabilities. You might rely on screen readers or other assistive technology to go online, or prefer sites that offer large text or higher contrast.
The AODA recognizes this and wants to prevent the barriers that people with disabilities might encounter when using the internet. So as part of their mission, they have created web accessibility standards for Ontario’s public and private entities to follow. Compliance laws have come into effect, based on these standards, which are designed to make the web a more inclusive, accessible place for all—and if you don’t comply, expect a hefty fine.
Who is the AODA?
The AODA stands for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This act went into effect in 2005, as an extension of the 2001 Ontario Disability Act. It was created for the purpose of identifying and removing barriers for people with disabilities. It is the AODA’s purpose to improve accessibility standards for Ontarians with physical and mental disabilities in all public establishments by 2025.
The AODA breaks down their accessibility standards into the following categories: information and communications, customer service, transportation, employment and design of public spaces. Web accessibility falls into the information and communications sections.
Accessibility requirements in other categories include things like standards against hiring discrimination, ensuring public spaces have infrastructure for people in wheelchairs and more. Many of these accessibility standards have become so second nature to us in Canada that we don’t think twice about them: standards such as handicap parking spaces, wheelchair ramps, etc. — but there is still a long way to go, and they make all the difference to someone living with a disability.
Who Needs to Follow AODA Web Accessibility Guidelines?
At this time, all Ontario public sector organizations, as well as businesses or nonprofits with 50 or more employees are required by law to have an AODA accessible website.
Businesses and non-profit organizations should count full-time, part-time, seasonal and contract workers as employees. However, volunteers, employees from outside of Ontario or in other countries or provinces and independent contractors or freelancers should not be counted as one of the 50 or more employees.
The deadline to achieve AODA website compliance passed on January 1, 2021. This applies to all web content published on or after January 1, 2012.
There are significant penalties for non-compliance. A business can be fined up to $100,000 per day and an individual up to $50,000 per day for websites which do not meet the standards set forth by the AODA. This continues until the issue has been rectified.
If you have not yet updated your website accessibility to reflect the standards set forth by the AODA, now is the time. Get started before you begin incurring a fine.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Required companies must meet the WCAG Level 2.0 AA criteria (with the exception of live captions and pre-recorded audio descriptions). WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
These standards were established with the help of international web accessibility experts known as the World Wide Web Consortium. The goal of the WCAG has always been to create a single, common, global standard for web accessibility.
There are three levels of the WCAG. These include Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. The first level includes very basic accessibility features but leaves out a large portion of the population. Level AA is what the AODA requires. It breaks down the most common accessibility barriers. While Level AAA is the most complex, websites that achieve this are considered optimally accessible.
WCAG standards are based on the acronym POUR. This stands for perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Users must be able to comprehend content, interpret it and use websites as widely as possible.
Success Criterion for AODA Compliant Website
There is a total of 38 success criteria that a Level AA WCAG compliant website must pass. These success criteria fall under the following guidelines:
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content
- Provide alternatives for time-based media
- Create adaptable content
- Create distinguishable content
- Provide users enough time to read and use content
- Support keyboard accessibility
- Don’t design content in a way that is known to cause seizures
- Create navigable content
- Create readable text content
- Create predictable web pages
- Create input assistance
- Support compatibility
The WCAG website shares strategies, supporting documents and resources to aid web developers to fulfill these digital accessibility requirements.
Why Follow AODA Compliance Requirements for Your Website?
There are many reasons to create an accessible website – besides the heavy financial penalty associated with non-compliance. According to the LDAC, one in five Canadians aged 15 years or older has one or more disabilities. That’s 22% of the population!
Having an accessible website is good for business. It helps you reach a larger percentage of the population and puts you in touch with aging demographics. It is also an ethical choice. We all have someone in our lives who could benefit from equal access across the web and someday that might be you too.
AODA compliance also means a more SEO and UX-friendly website. Adding alt-tags, captions to photos, creating a clear navigation structure and more, can position your website to perform better in search engines like Google while also making it more accessible.
When is Private Sector Compliance with the AODA Mandatory in Ontario?
Private organizations with 49 or fewer employees based in Ontario are not required to meet AODA compliance for their website. However, those with 50 or more employees should have met the New Ontario Web Accessibility Standards by January 1, 2021.
If you have a private organization with 50 or more employees, now is time to invest in accessibility requirements for your website content. The deadline has already passed.
An Accessible Ontario
The internet was created to connect us to one another. Don’t leave anyone out. AODA and web accessibility compliance might feel daunting at the start but it doesn’t have to be. A web developer specialized in web accessibility issues will be able to identify which critical pages or components of your site need to be tweaked to meet AODA requirements.
It is one step more step in the right direction when it comes to creating a fully accessible province.