Enacted in 2005 in Ontario, Canada, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was created to improve accessibility standards for Ontarians and ensure that those with physical or cognitive disabilities would be able to fully access all public establishments by January 1, 2025.
The legislation was considered necessary to address the fact that, according to Ministry of Community and Social Services data, 1 in 7 Ontarians has a disability — and this number is projected to increase to 1 in 5 by 2036.
The Act makes Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to develop, implement, and enforce mandatory accessibility standards related to goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodations, and buildings. The AODA applies to all levels of government, as well as non-profit and private-sector organizations.
In 2001, the Ontario government passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, that required the government to eliminate barriers to participation for individuals with disabilities. The Act included requirements such as building and structure guidelines, as well as restricted the public sector to lease only properties compliant with the guidelines, and required organizations to source products with consideration to accessibility for persons with disabilities.
It stated that by December 31, 2002, all provincial websites were required to be accessible. It also required institutions such as public transportation systems, hospitals, district school boards, universities, colleges of applied arts and technology, and other government agencies to prepare annual plans that detailed efforts to address accessibility issues.
The 2001 legislation was, however, considered weak because it had no detailed enforcement, imposed no penalties, and required no deadlines. This led to accessibility groups lobbying the government to improve the legislation.
The AODA 2005 Act
The AODA 2005 Act was developed to build on the efforts made by the Ontarians with the 2001 Disabilities Act and includes accessibility standards for key areas of everyday life:
- Customer service
- Information and communications
- Built environment
Together, these five categories of standards detailed in the AODA Act make up the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulations (IASR), which were progressively implemented over several years. In January 2008, the first set of accessibility standards, the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, became law, impacting all businesses, regardless of their level of interaction with the public. The standards lay what organizations must do to ensure accessible customer service for people with disabilities.
The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service require that individuals with disabilities are able "to obtain, use, and benefit from goods and services” and covers a range of issues, such as granting access to service animals and support people in publicly accessible areas, providing accessible customer service, and implementing a feedback system. The deadline for public sector compliance was January 1, 2010, while the private sector had until January 1, 2012.
The Information and Communications, Employment, and Transportation standards were implemented in July 2011. In January 2013, the Built Environment standards took effect, completing the full implementation of the five standards that form the IASR.
In addition to the requirements specific to each standard, the IASR also includes general requirements for organizations:
- To provide training to staff and volunteers
- To develop an accessibility policy
- To create a multi-year accessibility plan and update it every five years
- To consider accessibility in procurement and when designing or purchasing self-service kiosks
Compliance with the AODA
The AODA gives the government the authority to set penalties to enforce that organizations comply with the IASR standards. Penalties for organizations can be up to $100,000 per day, and directors and officers of offending organizations are subject to fines of up to $50,000 per day.
As of 2017, organizations with 20 or more employees will also be required to file online reports that confirm their continued compliance with the standards contained within the AODA.