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The AODA: Ontario Digital Accessibility Requirements

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The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed in 2005, making Ontario the first Canadian province to enforce mandatory digital accessibility guidelines with some of the most comprehensive accessibility standards in the world. In Ontario, it is estimated that about 14% of the population has a disability, with that number expected to rise to 20% by 2036. This legislation was considered necessary in order to meet their goal of a completely accessible Ontario by 2025.

The 2005 AODA was built on the 2001 Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which called for all provincial websites to be accessible by the end of 2002 but failed to detail any enforcement measures, leading to calls for greater action. In 2005, they created the AODA, which includes accessibility standards for five categories: customer service, information and communications, employment, built environment, and transportation. 

The AODA also created definitive deadlines for website accessibility, this time with detailed enforcement efforts. By January 1, 2021, all Ontario businesses and nonprofits with 50 or more employees, and public sector organizations with 20 or more employees, must make all websites and digital content accessible. These organizations must also submit an Accessibility Compliance Report confirming that all accessibility requirements are met. If an organization does not meet the deadline, they could be fined up to $50,000 CND (approximately $37,500 USD). Note: these requirements do not apply to companies based in other countries.  

The compliance requirements detailed in the AODA are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), specifically to 2.0 Level AA. These guidelines are determined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C has published guidelines up to WCAG 2.1 Level AA, with WCAG 2.2 on track to be released early next year. 

For organizations struggling with how to submit their compliance reports, there are lots of helpful resources available on the Internet. 

Stricter legal requirements for companies to make their digital properties compliant with WCAG are popping up all over the world. Recently, the United Kingdom’s September 23rd, 2020 deadline for their Accessibility Regulations passed, requiring all public sector organizations to be fully compliant. If an organization is not in compliance, financial penalties will ensue. 

In the United States, it is largely accepted, due to overwhelming case law, that the Internet is a place of public accommodation and, therefore, is broadly considered that the WCAG success criteria is the compliance standard that applies to Title III (places of public accommodation) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. 

There is a federal law in place for some types of organizations. Sections 504 and 508 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was amended in 1998, required that all healthcare and public education websites be accessible, and all government sites to provide equitable access. The “refresh of section 508” was announced in January 2017 and adopted in January 2018, named the WCAG 2.0 AA as the standard, and that still stands. Recently, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) called out the need for privacy notices used on websites viewable in California to meet WCAG 2.1 AA starting in 2020. 

As the deadline for the AODA gets closer, many companies are scrambling to engage with a third-party auditing company who can help them to achieve compliance, or to at least get started on a list of accessibility milestones and defensible actions, as quickly as possible. Accessible360 is the United States’ leading live user auditing company and has supported this effort for global organizations (including those located in Canada) for many years.

For more information about our services, the AODA deadline, or the digital accessibility industry in general, fill out our contact form on this page, and we will be in touch right away. 

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