Deadline for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is fast approaching

Posted on Thursday, 5 November 2020 by Marissa Sapega

UPDATE AS OF NOVEMBER 11, 2020: For businesses and non-profits with 20 or more employees, the deadline to file an accessibility compliance report has been extended to June 30, 2021.

Do you work for or own a public, private, or non-profit business that employs over 50 individuals in the Canadian province of Ontario? If so, your organization should be aware of the January 1, 2021 deadline for ensuring all web content (excluding live captioning and audio description) is WCAG 2.0 AA compliant under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“gavel,Organizations that fail to ensure accessibility face stiff financial penalties. Fines are assigned based on the severity of the violation and the organization’s compliance history. They can be as high as $15,000 (Canadian dollars) per day; repeat offenders can be slapped with fines of up to $100,000 per day.

Why is the AODA important?

Much like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the AODA seeks to protect individuals with disabilities and improve their quality of life. While this goal is perfectly sufficient motivation for its existence, laws like the ADA and AODA have also demonstrated improved quality of life for everyone, not just for those it aims to support. Many accessibility accommodations—in both digital and real life—have proven extraordinarily helpful for people of all abilities. For example:

  • Formatting a web page with helpful headings and sub-headers using the appropriate tags is a standard best practice for digital accessibility. This benefits everyone. People using screen readers can better navigate and skim a web page; users with no visual impairments can quickly grasp the content of the page (assuming the headings and sub-headers are styled and utilized appropriately). It is especially helpful for visual readers who are trying to consume content on a small mobile device.
  • Curb cuts are a physical example of an accessibility accommodation that helps everyone. Though they were initially created to help disabled WWII veterans navigate sidewalks and crosswalks, yet are now indispensable for parents with strollers, bikers, skateboarders, etc.

It is with this lens we should view the AODA (and the ADA). Such laws go beyond ensuring that people with disabilities have an opportunity for a fulfilling life; they benefit the greater society at large.

How to comply with the AODA’s January 1 requirements

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires all digital content to conform to WCAG AA standards by January 1, 2021. If you are unfamiliar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), here’s a refresher:

The World Wide Web Consortium

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international group that defines web standards for the internet. Its goal is to ensure that users will have a comparable experience on all websites irrespective of the device upon which they are viewed. One of the W3C’s programs, the Web Accessibility Initiative, aims to accomplish a similar achievement for web accessibility: ensuring that regardless of device/browser/user agent, an individual with a disability can access web content.

To this end, they created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines:

The WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:

  • natural information such as text, images, and sounds
  • code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.

Source: W3C

WCAG conformance levels

There are three levels of WCAG conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Experts recommend aiming for AA conformance to lower legal risk and improve the website experience for visitors with disabilities. This aligns with the AODA requirements as well.

What your organization can do right now to meet the deadline

There are several steps you can take to start your accessibility compliance journey:

  • Arrange for an accessibility review of your digital content. This is a comprehensive manual audit that will help surface accessibility failures across your website or app.
  • Subscribe to accessibility monitoring tools. Automated scans, like those performed by TPG’s ARC Monitoring, will prioritize machine-detectable errors for your team to remediate and allow you to resolve accessibility issues at the root.
  • Educate yourself on accessibility. Take advantage of TPG’s e-learning solution, TPG Tutor, to familiarize you and your team with accessibility guidelines and standards at your own pace. TPG also offers expert-led remote and on-site accessibility training for groups, which provide a dynamic environment in which people can learn.
  • Take advantage of free developer testing tools. TPG’s ARC Toolkit is a professional-level accessibility testing Chrome plug-in for testing single web pages. Your developers can use it to help remediate accessibility issues on your website.
  • Introduce accessibility as a priority. An inaccessible website or app is a risk for fines under the AODA and lawsuits from people who cannot access the content. Senior leadership, legal counsel, and risk/compliance departments need to be apprised of these risks. The more buy-in you achieve, the better your results will be.

The deadline for digital conformance may be fast approaching, but consider it an excuse to improve your organization’s website user experience. You’ll also expand your target market (people with disabilities have disposable income to spend like anyone else!) and lower your risk for expensive lawsuits. It’s a win-win situation!

For more information on how The Paciello Group can help your company meet the January 1 deadline, contact us today.


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