What is the AODA?
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) codifies the accessibility standards for services in the Canadian province of Ontario. The bill was ratified by the provincial authorities in 2005.
AODA came about as an improvement to existing accessibility legislation that had been on the books for nearly four years prior. In 2001, the provincial government had passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act after years of lobbying by advocacy groups. The Act required the government to adopt practices that eliminate barriers to participation by individuals with disabilities. The new law focused primarily on structural accommodations to places of work but also included requirements for websites. However, these new rules were limited in scope as they only applied to government ministries.
While the 2001 act was a great step forward for accessibility in the province, several big flaws quickly became apparent. For one, the law had no clear guidelines for enforcement. No penalties or even deadlines for compliance were laid out. Furthermore, the fact that statutes were only mandatory for official agencies and ministries left no means to bring the private sector into compliance.
Lawmakers set out to address these shortcomings, and pass a robust legal standard that could be applied to all sectors in the province.
The AODA was improved upon accessibility policy in several vital areas. It set clear and extensive rules, created systems of enforcement and penalties as well as an infrastructure to administer accessibility policies.
AODA also codified comprehensive standards for website compliance.
Rules and Provisions
The standards of AODA for web compliance are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
AODA makes an important exception for content that by its nature can not be made accessible. For example, it may be impossible to make some online maps and complex diagrams accessible to people with visual disabilities. In such cases site owners may still post the content but may need to provide an accessible version (albeit less precise or lower-quality) upon request.
Similarly, if software or programming tools were used that make certain site features incompatible with accessibility mechanisms, those features are exempt.
Furthermore, web content posted before 2012, is not subject to AODA rules. If the content is ever updated, it will need to be made compliant.
In terms of deadlines for compliance for achieving web accessibility, the law lays out two distinct time frames:
- WCAG 2.0 Level A compliance by 1 January 2014
- WCAG 2.0 Level AA (other than criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions) by 1 January 2021
Who Has to Comply?
Part II of AODA states very clearly that accessibility rules apply to all governmental and private entities, to individuals and corporations.
As part of the long term accessibility effort of the Ontario government, the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council was formed to give guidance on accessibility policy. The council can recommend reforms and additions to accessibility regulations. For this reason, it is important for business operators in the province to stay updated on any reforms to accessibility standards.
Violations and Penalties
AODA contains very specific violations categories as well as penalties for those violations.
The three groups of AODA infractions are:
Minor - the lack of specific accessibility requirements.
- These violations occur when a specific feature on a site is inaccessible to a particular type of disabled person. For instance, text content is incompatible with a screen reader.
Moderate - Lack of “organizational preparedness”
- This can occur when a company demonstrates a disregard for accessibility standards on their online platforms.
Major - elements that can pose a safety or health risk to persons with disabilities.
- This category applies more to physical structural issues than online platforms. But it is not inconceivable that a website could be deemed as committing a major level violation. For example, the WCAG’s Success Criterion G19 requires minimal light flashes on a webpage to avoid triggering seizures in users with various photo-sensitivities. A site with flashing-light features--and no tools to control them--could be considered endangering certain disabled users.
Within these definitions, there is certainly room for interpretation. Whether a violation is minor, moderate, or major, is decided at the legal proceedings following a complaint.
Another factor determining the severity of a violation is the violators' compliance history.
- Minor - First offense
- Moderate - 2 to 5 offenses
- Major - 6 offenses or more
The Ontario government isn’t taking these accessibility standards lightly. Failure to comply with the AODA web accessibility rules can result in fines of $50,000 per day or part day for individuals and fines of up to $100,000 per day or part day for corporations.
Relation to Other Canadian Laws
The Ontario government’s guide to AODA makes reference “other laws” that can influence accessibility rules. It’s important to note that the province already has human rights legislation in place that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The AODA doesn’t replace the Ontario Human Rights Code. On the contrary, from a legal perspective, the AODA could be seen as an addition to human rights law in the province and could subject violators to review by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.