The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a wide-ranging law from 2005 designed to develop, implement and enforce standards for accessibility related to “goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodation and buildings” in Ontario.
The AODA led to corresponding regulations, and while many different regulations pertain to many different areas, we’re going to focus on web accessibility. Most of the AODA deadlines for website accessibility have already passed. By now any information added to your website since January 1, 2012” must be WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant. (The government of Ontario and the legislative assembly need to be completely WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformant, while businesses with more than 50 employees and designated public sector organizations need to be WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformant though they do not need to provide live captions and audio descriptions.) Given that the deadlines have passed, your main concern is ensuring all your updates are WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant.
On its own, a regulation is just an instruction—to be effective it must be carried out. Because of this, an organization with more than 20 employees must regularly file an accessibility report detailing how it is following the standards laid out by the government, and there are penalties for failing to follow the standards. The accessibility compliance report deadlines are different for different groups. Per the AODA, businesses and nonprofits with 20 or more employees fill out their reports on a three-year cycle, but the public sector is on a two-year cycle. This year, both groups’ reports are due on December 31, 2023.
How Were the AODA Standards Created?
The AODA gives the Ontario government the power to create standards for accessibility. The accessibility standards are established in steps:
First, committees put forward “proposed targets (proposed accessibility standards).” These committees represent the groups affected by accessibility laws – people with disabilities (or their representatives), organizations that must follow the standards, and Ontario government ministries relevant to the standard.
Next, the standard is sent to the minister for review and opened up to public comment. Then, the minister can go to the Lieutenant Governor in Council and suggest that the standard goes from a suggestion to an official legal regulation. If the Cabinet and the Lieutenant Governor in Council agree, the regulation becomes a requirement enforced by law.
Finally, five years after the regulations were created, every regulation was required to be kept the same, updated, or replaced.
Enforcing AODA Compliance
Ontario’s accessibility requirements are backed up by possible inspection and penalties. The Ontario government can send an accessibility inspector to a business to ask questions and check if accessibility standards are being followed. In more extreme cases, the inspector may seek out a search warrant.
If an organization is not following regulations (including failing to file a report), the director, who oversees AODA enforcement, may issue a notice of an order. In this context, the order has a specific meaning. It is defined as “a direction made under the power of the AODA that tells a person or organization what it must do or not do to comply with the Act.” Essentially, “Here’s what you need to do not to break the law.”
With an order, the director can require a “person or organization to provide more information on its implementation of the standard or to file the report(s) that the Act requires.” The notice of an order opens up a dialogue. The organization can argue that an order is not needed by involving a tribunal. The organization pays a filing fee and writes up a defense of why the director’s order is unnecessary, and the director writes a defense of why their order is needed. The tribunal examines both and decides whether the order is needed, not needed, needs to be modified, or whether to recommend mediation.
If matters become more serious, the director can issue an order calling for the organization to pay a fine. Like with other orders, the organization will have a chance to defend itself in writing.
Preventing the enforcement of the AODA by engaging in dishonest behavior (which is not the same as not complying with the AODA), such as sending in an untrue accessibility report or refusing to participate in an inspection, will incur a steep fine. This fine is to the tune of “up to $50,000 for each and every day or part day that an offence happens for a corporation, up to $100,000 for each and every day or part day that an offence happens.” All directors and/or officers are also individually on the hook, and they may be individually fined $50,000 per day as well.
As the carrot to the stick of penalties, the minister will sometimes set up incentive agreements with companies. These are a trade—the company agrees to go above and beyond in accessibility, and in return, the government will modify a requirement. For instance, requirements around reporting might be modified so that the organization was required to create “fewer reports or different kinds of reports.”
The Government and AODA Requirements
To check its progress, the minister writes an annual report detailing “the implementation and effectiveness of the AODA.” Additionally, the Ontario government will review the AODA every few years to get a sense of the impact of the AODA and give recommendations. Writing this review will include seeking the public’s thoughts on the AODA, focusing on the thoughts of Ontarians with disabilities.
Under the AODA, accessibility is meant to become a regular part of government functioning, but not everyone has accessibility knowledge. Therefore, municipalities will assemble an accessibility advisory committee made up of a majority of people with disabilities, and this committee will “give advice to the municipal council to help it carry out its responsibilities under the AODA.”
The idea of an advisory committee comprised of a majority of members with disabilities is mirrored at a higher level of the government. The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council advises the minister on “the process for developing accessibility standards” or “accessibility reports prepared under the AODA.”
Achieving AODA Compliance in Your Organization
Beginning your accessibility journey can feel overwhelming and confusing at first. It is important to understand that achieving AODA compliance will not happen instantly, but you can continue to work on it overtime. Web accessibility is an iterative process that TPGi can assist with every step of the way.
TPGi helps companies of all sizes become AODA compliant. After assessing your website’s or application’s level of accessibility with an accessibility audit, we will work with you to create a custom and sustainable strategy to help you reach your accessibility goals.
Don’t be intimidated by the actions you have to take to become AODA compliant. Be proactive and work towards usability for all. Speak with an accessibility expert today!