Achieving AODA Compliance


By Lily Clark

The next AODA deadline is just around the corner -- is your website meeting the requirements?

Complete accessibility everywhere, for everyone — by 2025.

That’s the goal of the Canadian Province of Ontario. And when Ontario reaches that goal, people with disabilities will have the widespread accessibility they need.

Achieving the goal of complete accessibility in Ontario hinges on the AODA — the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act — and the step-by-step requirements and deadlines it lays out. This step-by-step implementation process ensures that each and every business is able to tailor their company to the AODA accessibility requirements at a manageable pace.

The next AODA deadline is just around the corner, but luckily, we have some good news: it just got a 6-month extension.

For all businesses in Ontario with 20+ employees, the new deadline to submit an AODA compliance report is June 30th, 2021. (The original deadline was December 31st, 2020).

If you were stressed about being able to meet the compliance deadline or were unable to even start addressing your company’s accessibility issues due to remediation services being completely booked up, now is the time to use the extension to your advantage and address your company’s accessibility.

Need an AODA refresher? Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming deadline, including a rundown of the AODA itself and what it means for your website.

What is the AODA and How Does it Work?

The AODA is a Canadian anti-discrimination law that was passed in 2005 for the Province of Ontario. Similar to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2001 (ODA), it supports equal opportunities and treatment for people with disabilities. The AODA improved and expanded upon the accessibility requirements businesses must follow, and replaced the ODA altogether.

The AODA applies to all types of businesses in Ontario — including private and public businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. It’s organized into 5 categories that every business must address:

  1. Employment
  2. Transportation
  3. Customer Service
  4. Design of Public Spaces
  5. Information and Communications

Each category includes specific accessibility requirements, along with corresponding time frames and deadlines to meet in order to verify compliance.

Since the AODA went into effect 15 years ago, the first 4 categories have been incorporated into common business practice. The 5th and final category, Information and Communications, incorporates a 2-step process that specifically concerns websites and digital content.

The upcoming deadline addresses the second Information and Communications step, which covers more in-depth digital accessibility requirements that businesses must meet — and that means there’s no room for error when it comes to your company’s website, web content, and digital accessibility.

AODA Web Compliance

The June 2021 deadline includes digital accessibility requirements that only apply to businesses of a certain size. According to the Ontario government, “you must make new and significantly refreshed public websites accessible if you are a private or nonprofit organization with 50+ employees or a public sector organization.”

In order to meet both steps for the Information and Communications category, all websites and web content must conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. The WCAG are internationally recognized as the go-to accessibility standards for all web content and were created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international organization of accessibility and development experts.

The W3C rolls out updated versions of the WCAG on a routine basis, expanding and improving them as technology advances and accessibility best practices multiply. The newest version is version 2.1 — and version 2.2 is in the works. However, the AODA only mandates that businesses comply with version 2.0 (as of the publishing of this article). In addition to having updated versions, the WCAG are broken down into 3 different levels of success criteria for websites to meet: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA.

  • Level A includes all criteria that is absolutely essential for accessibility — meaning that a website that doesn’t satisfy any of the criteria could not be accessed even with significant levels of assistive technology use.
  • Level AA is for criteria that aren’t quite essential, but are important for improving a user’s ability to interact with the site without encountering significant barriers and frustration.
  • Level AAA includes the criteria that, if incorporated, would offer the best current way to make websites and web content actually user-friendly with the fewest barriers possible.

The majority of businesses that are mandated by law to follow the WCAG are typically required to meet WCAG Level AA requirements. The AODA Information and Communications section includes 2 digital accessibility deadlines concerning the WCAG:

  • As of January 1st, 2014, all new public websites and any content published after January 1st, 2012 must meet the WCAG 2.0 Level A requirements. These requirements are the simplest of the WCAG guidelines to address. There are 25 Level A success criteria to meet.
  • As of January 1st, 2021, all public websites and any content published after January 1st, 2012 must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA — excluding the success criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions). The Level AA requirements are more complex, and therefore require more time and skill to fix. Excluding the 2 requirements above, there are 10 Level AA success criteria that businesses must meet.

While the January 2021 deadline is now only one month away, it will still be 6 months until businesses have to submit accessibility reports proving their compliance, thanks to the extension. If you’re a business that just found out about the deadline — or one that has been panicking about the longer waitlists at compliance companies because of the tight deadline and an abundance of worried Ontarian businesses — this extension is invaluable. It also means there are only 6 short months left to make sure you’re in compliance and submit your report.

Ensuring your business meets all 37 accessibility criteria — both Level A and Level AA of the WCAG — is essential for complying with the upcoming AODA deadline.

Noncompliance Penalties

The AODA is meant to create a more inclusive and accessible way of life for all Ontarian citizens. If you overlook the AODA and do not comply by the deadline, you and your company could face severe financial penalties:

  • Single individuals can be fined up to $50,000 per day for each day the offence continues to occur, including directors and officers of noncompliant companies who hold any ethical or financial responsibility.
  • Corporations can be fined up to $100,000 per day for each day the offence continues to occur.

While the penalties above are maximum amounts, it isn’t wise to brush off any financial penalty associated with noncompliance. All noncompliance is risky — and ultimately, it’s not helping people with disabilities.

Incorporating digital accessibility, and accessibility in general, is a necessary step we must take in order to create an inclusive world for all people. Currently, there are 2.6 million people in Ontario who have some type of disability — including them throughout all types of business will boost profitability and create a welcoming and equal community.

The sooner you address your website accessibility and can verify it through a compliance report the better.

But what’s the best way to make sure you’re following all of the AODA requirements?

The Next Step: Professional Accessibility Certification

In order to comply with the AODA, all businesses must make sure their website meets the WCAG. The specific criteria included in the guidelines are both technical and nuanced, so knowing if you’re following and implementing them correctly can be tricky.

Because the WCAG is a complex and technical, code-level guide to be used for website remediation, it’s best to have a developer do the work of updating your website’s accessibility. If you have a developer on your team, you need to make sure they know the in’s and out’s of the WCAG and digital accessibility first — not all developers will know how to properly address digital accessibility issues. To ensure your website conforms to the WCAG and is fully compliant with the AODA, it’s best to hire a digital accessibility expert or professional to do the remediation work themselves.

Achieving AODA compliance is a task that shouldn’t be left up to chance or guesswork. If you use a third party accessibility company, you will be spared the stress, confusion, and worry of wondering if your website is “accessible enough.”

Because the truth is, “accessible enough” isn’t enough — in order to comply with the AODA, you must have a website and web content that is 100% accessible.

Hiring a digital accessibility expert is one of the best and most reliable ways to meet the WCAG and comply with the AODA, especially since the 2021 deadline concerns the more complex WCAG Level AA criteria. An accessibility expert — like Online ADA — will bring your website up to snuff, offering the highest compliance results available through a process that involves human auditors checking, auditing, and remediating the actual code of your website itself. This is called the certification process, and it is the most reliable WCAG accessibility solution you’ll find. Getting certified will minimize your AODA legal risk and create a truly accessible digital space for all users.

Online ADA offers the best solution for web accessibility certification and AODA compliance. Our in-depth certification process includes more (and better) perks than any other service you’ll find:

  • An extremely fast turnaround time — a whole 2 – 3 times faster than the industry standard, in fact, thanks to our full auditing and production staff.
  • The offer to benefit from our Ongoing Compliance Management, which allows you to continually stay on top of your website’s accessibility. Our OCM is the industry’s best value, by a country mile.
  • True unlimited technical and customer support — unlike our competitors, who will require you to buy blocks of customer support hours.
  • Absolutely free litigation support — unlike our competitors, who will bill you by the hour.
  • Access to our Training Academy curriculum — because supporting our clients and increasing their own accessibility knowledge and skills is just as important as the work we do on a website itself.
  • In-depth monthly reports from our Compliance Auditing Platform software to keep you up to date on all of your accessibility progress.
  • World-class personalized support with your assigned Client Care Consultant who acts as your primary point of contact on your project.

The extended deadline is approaching fast, and the possible repercussions for being noncompliant are intimidating. Even with the deadline extension, it is imperative that businesses make sure that all web content meets the WCAG in order to comply with the AODA as soon as possible. High demand can increase waiting lists and turnaround times with professional compliance companies. Luckily, Online ADA has very competitive prices and a speedy turnaround time — the best you’ll find in the industry — and the results say it all.
Ontario is so close to becoming accessible to everyone. Let Online ADA help you get the rest of the way there.

Contact us today to discuss your unique business needs and how Online ADA can help you meet them.

Is Your Website Accessible?

The Author

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Lily Clark