Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA): Addressing Common Questions

July 13, 2021

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) recently passed an important deadline, and many businesses will need to update websites, apps, and other digital content in order to comply with the legislation.

The goal of the AODA is to remove barriers for people with disabilities. To that end, the act sets requirements for customer service, employment, transportation, design of public spaces, and employee training. The act also addresses internet accessibility, setting standards that could improve the internet landscape as a whole for real-world users.

Since its passage in 2005, the AODA has enforced mandatory requirements on established deadlines. By June 30, 2021, all businesses and non-profits with 20 or more employees had to submit a report outlining their accessibility compliance. Earlier deadlines applied to larger organizations with 50 or more employees.

Below, we’ll address some of the common questions and concerns about the law. If your organization needs assistance with AODA compliance, visit our AODA Compliance Report and Accessibility Plans page. We also encourage businesses to contact us directly.

How are AODA requirements related to other accessibility standards?

AODA requirements are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. WCAG is the most widely recognized set of web accessibility standards, developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that develops guidelines and protocols for the web.

WCAG sets three ascending levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. To comply with the AODA, organizations must meet the WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance level, with the exception of success criteria 1.2.4 Captions (Live) and 1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded).

Read about how our WCAG 2.1 testing exceeds minimum AODA requirements.

Does the AODA apply to all websites and digital content?

The AODA requires accessibility for all new and refreshed content dating back to 2012. A refresh can include a new look, new features, a site redesign, or navigational changes. In short, if a website is active and maintained, it likely needs to conform with WCAG 2.0 success criteria.

These requirements also extend to smartphone apps that use the internet to function. Part of the goal of the AODA is to ensure that future technologies are accessible for everyone — and for businesses, that’s an excellent priority to keep in mind.

Should AODA reports demonstrate an organization's WCAG conformance?

The reporting process is straightforward, as organizations simply need to answer basic questions about the steps they’ve taken to ensure accessibility. AODA reports can be downloaded here and completed with the free version of Adobe Acrobat Reader.

However, the reports must contain an accurate assessment of each organization’s conformance. A third-party analysis (along with a well-designed accessibility statement) may be helpful in demonstrating a good-faith attempt to follow WCAG guidelines.

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility uses WCAG 2.1 testing to help organizations exceed the minimum requirements of the AODA. Because WCAG 2.1 is backwards-compatible with WCAG 2.0, websites that meet A/AA conformance under the most recent guidelines are well-positioned to maintain and prove their compliance. Read more about our four-point hybrid testing model here.

What are the penalties for websites that fail to comply with the AODA?

According to Accessibility Services Canada, the maximum penalties for AODA compliance failure include:

  • Fines of up to $100,000 per day for corporations.
  • Fines of up to $50,000 per day for individuals and unincorporated organizations.
  • Fines of up to $50,000 per day for directors and officers of a corporation or organization.

Enforcement is carried out through "inspections, compliance orders, and administrative penalties." For more information, read our Overview of the Financial Penalties of AODA Non-Compliance.

Do non-Canadian businesses have an obligation to comply with the AODA?

The AODA applies to Ontario businesses, non-profits, and government agencies. Organizations that do not have employees in Ontario will not face penalties for non-compliance. However, businesses that neglect accessibility take serious risks — regardless of where they’re physically located.

In the United States, companies can face litigation for failing to take reasonable actions to make their websites accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). European organizations must comply with the European Accessibility Act and/or European Web Accessibility Directive, two pieces of legislation that draw from WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

If you're noticing a theme of WCAG serving as the international standard, read How Widely Used Is WCAG?

To reach a wider audience and avoid compliance issues, treat accessibility as a priority

Legislation like the AODA can help to promote some of the concepts of accessibility. With that said, legal compliance certainly isn’t the only reason to adopt an accessible mindset.

Full compliance with WCAG 2.1 can improve the user experience for all people. Better accessibility naturally improves search engine optimization (SEO), user retention, and conversion rates. Really, there are endless reasons to treat accessibility as a priority.

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