Ontario businesses that don’t prioritize accessibility may soon face significant penalties. Enacted in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires all public websites and web content to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA, excepting criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions).
That requirement applies to all web content dating back to 2012 — not just new content — including mobile apps that rely on the internet to operate. Businesses must also file a compliance report; the filing deadline was set for Dec. 31, 2020, but has been extended to June 30, 2021.
So, what happens if a business fails to comply? Per Accessibility Services Canada, the maximum penalties under the AODA include:
- Corporations can be fined up to $100,000 per day.
- Individuals and unincorporated organizations can be fined up to $50,000 per day.
- Directors and officers of a corporation or organization can be fined up to $50,000 per day.
According to current enforcement guidelines, businesses face larger fines for their first violations, and these penalties can apply every day that the violation continues.
With that said, most organizations that fail to comply with the law will not face the maximum penalties; the exact fines will vary depending on the impact of the violation and the company’s violation history. Some organizations may pay as little as $500 per day for minor violations. That’s a considerable sum, but certainly much less than the maximum.
While the AODA applies to all levels of government, all nonprofits, and all private sector businesses with one or more employees (including part-time employees and contractors), penalties are currently restricted to organizations with 50 or more employees. That includes businesses, public sector organizations, and nonprofits.
Accessibility issues are expensive, compliance aside
The AODA is one of the most significant pieces of legislation geared towards internet accessibility, partly due to its strong enforcement mechanism. No business can afford significant daily fines — but the actual costs of nonconformance are much steeper.
Companies that fail to prioritize accessibility ignore a significant portion of the population. As of 2017, about 1 in 5 Canadians aged 15 years or older had at least one disability (the ratio is about the same for the United States). The exact nature of those disabilities varies considerably, and the WCAG guidelines help organizations reach the widest possible audience without creating unintentional barriers. Businesses that fail to meet the criteria risk alienating their audiences, potentially including employees and job applicants with disabilities.
And because search engines use accessibility as a factor in their rankings, an inaccessible website faces an uphill battle for organic growth. The principles of accessibility also tend to improve SEO naturally.
In other words, improving accessibility isn’t simply the right thing to do — it’s a smart business decision, regardless of legal compliance concerns. The BOIA offers accessibility audits, planning, reporting, and other resources to make the process easier.
To learn more, visit our AODA Compliance page.