Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

As a business owner who wants to make sure he/she is providing a welcoming environment for everyone, there are certain steps one must take. These include ensuring accessibility standards are met, and that employees receive training to help them understand how to interact with people with special needs.

In addition, businesses should also be aware of any relevant legislation regarding disability rights so we prepared this guide to help you.

What is the AODA?

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a provincial law in Canada that requires all public and private sector entities to make their services, programs, and facilities accessible to people who have disabilities. 

The AODA was passed by Parliament to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to services and facilities provided by the government. The AODA applies to government bodies of all types, non-profit organizations, and commercial organizations in Ontario with at least one employee. The AODA was established in 2005 and aims to establish accessibility requirements for both public and private organizations.

Its goal is to create a Barrier-Free Ontario by 2025. It’s important to remember that the AODA doesn’t replace the Ontario Human Rights Act (OHRA), but rather sets out clear processes for organizations to ensure their practices and policies comply with OHRA. This includes standards for web accessibility.

As the largest province in Canada, Ontario has led the charge in defining how accessibility laws relate to websites, and in establishing clear deadlines and penalties for those who fail to comply. The Ontario Accessibility Standard (OAS) was introduced in 2013 and became effective on January 1st, 2015. This legislation requires all organizations providing goods or services to the general population to meet certain accessibility guidelines. In addition, it applies to any organization that offers employment opportunities to the general population.

How does the AODA apply to Websites?

The AODA applies to websites in two ways: First, it establishes minimum standards for website content:

1.1 All information presented on a page should be easily accessible to users with disabilities.

1.2 Information and functionality should be organized so that users with different abilities can find what they need quickly and easily.

1.3 Users should not encounter barriers when accessing information and functionality.

Second, it establishes specific timelines for website development.

These timelines include:

2.1 By July 31st, 2018, all new websites will be required to be compliant with WCAG 2.0 AA.

3.1 By July 31, 2020, all existing websites will be required to become compliant with WCAG 2AA.

4.1 By July 31st, 2021, all websites will be required to comply with WCAG 2.1 AA.

5.1 By July 31 st 2022, all websites will be required to comply with WCAG 3.0 AA.

6.1 By July 31 th 2023, all websites will be required to comply with WCAG 4.0 AA.

7.1 By July 31th 2024, all websites will be required to comply with WCAG 5.0 AA.

8.1 By July 31, 2025, all websites will be required to comply with WCAG 6.0 AA.

In 2013, the Ontario Government created the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO).
Their mandate is to lead the creation of technology solutions that support Ontarians’ quality of life. One of these initiatives is the Ontario Accessibility Standard (the OAS). The OAS is a set of accessibility guidelines that are designed to help organizations provide better customer service and improve the overall user experience.

The OAS defines four levels of compliance with web content standards. Each level is based on the number of pages on a site. For example, Level 4 requires that every page on a site contain information about the purpose of the site, and contact. Level 4 also requires that each page contains links to other relevant sites.

Levels 1 through 3 require only that pages contain basic text and images. Levels 4 through 7 require more complex features such as videos, audio files, and interactive elements like forms.

How do websites need to comply with AODA’s web accessibility standards?

The AODA requires that public-facing websites meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A and AA criteria internationally accepted standards for web accessibility.

However, there are two exceptions to WCAG 2.0 AA conformance: success criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and 1.2.5 (audio descriptions).

AODA compliance standards define what your organization must do to ensure all have equal access to your digital information resources.

What are the 5 AODA standards?

1. Design for All – Ensures that everyone can use your website or app without having to make special adjustments.

2. Accommodate People with Disabilities – Makes sure that no matter who you are, you can easily find and understand the content on your site.

3. Provide Appropriate Communication – Communicates clearly so that people with hearing impairments, vision impairments, and learning difficulties.

4. Be Inclusive – Includes people from diverse backgrounds.

5. Promote Inclusion – Provides opportunities for people with disabilities to participate fully in society.

The AODA has been developed by the Accessibility Standards Council, and it was first published in 1997. The current version is called “Accessible Canada: Building Inclusive Communities” (ACBC). ACBC includes three parts:

Part 1 – General principles.

Part 2 – Guidelines for building and maintaining accessible buildings and communities.

Part 3 – Guidelines for building and operating accessible programs and activities. 

This part establishes the basic principles of accessibility. It also provides guidance on how to apply these principles to other areas such as education, health care, transportation, telecommunications, culture, recreation, and social policy.

How does AODA define disability?

According to the AODA, disability means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This definition applies to both individuals and businesses.

Major life activities include walking, seeing, speaking, breathing, working, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, using transportation, communicating, sleeping, eating, and thinking.

For an individual, this may mean they cannot walk upstairs, see well enough to read, speak clearly, breathe properly, work at their full capacity, communicate effectively, perform manual tasks, drive safely, eat, sleep, or think.

For a business, this could mean not being able to provide services to customers with disabilities, or not being able to hire employees with disabilities.

Why should I be concerned about AODA compliance?

If you want to attract new clients, customers, and partners, then you need to comply with the AODA.

It’s important to know that if you don’t comply with the AODI, you will face fines of up to $25,000 per day.

You’ll also lose your certification status.

How do I know if my website is compliant with the AODA?

In line with many other regional and national accessibility legislation frameworks, the AODA uses the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as its benchmark for determining compliance.

As of January 1, 2021, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires all public and private sector websites and web content to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility standards.

The AODA requires that all public-facing websites meet the following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0):

  • Success Criterion 1.1 – Text Alternatives.
  • Success Criterion 2.3 – Non-Text Content.
  • Success Criterion 3.2 – Time-Based Media Alternatives.
  • Success Criterion 4.1 – Perceivable Characteristics.
  • Success Criterion 5.4 – Keyboard Navigation.
  • Success Criterion 8.2 – Hyperlinks.

Want to make sure your website is AODA compliant? You can complete an accessibility audit for free, and it is easy to do using tools such as accessScan.

What happens if your website isn’t compliant?

The AODA allows for monetary penalties for any violation of the Act.
The maximum penalties under the AODA include: 

  • An individual and an unincorporated organization that commits a major offense under this law can be fined up to $50,000 for each day they continue to violate the law.
  • If a company is found guilty of violating the law, it could face fines of up to $100,00 per day.
  • If an officer or director of a company has fiduciary responsibility, he or she may be held personally responsible for any fines imposed.

What is the difference between a “continuing” and an “ongoing” offense?

An ongoing offense occurs when the person continues to violate the AODA after being notified.