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We’ve written about why investing in web accessibility is important, and organizations working to make their content more accessible typically follow guidelines enacted by a government body. In the US, most organizations adhere to “Section 508” (also known as “508 compliance”). In Canada, accessibility guidelines are mandated by provincial governments. In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, organizations must comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
Let’s take a closer look at what the AODA means and what it covers.
What is the AODA?
The AODA is an Ontario law mandating that organizations follow accessibility standards for people with disabilities. All levels of government, private sectors, and nonprofits are required to comply with the act’s requirements, with deadlines specific to each organization’s type and size.
The Ontario government passed the AODA in 2005, but it was actually something of an expansion of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 2001. With the AODA, Ontario became the first province in Canada to enact accessibility legislation covering public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
What are Disabilities Under the AODA?
The AODA uses the same definition of “disability” as the Ontario Human Rights Code, which states that the term covers:
- any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
- a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
- a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
- a mental disorder, or
- an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.
What is the Purpose of the AODA?
The AODA’s goal is to make Ontario accessible to all by 2025. To accomplish that, the act establishes standards for businesses and organizations to identify and remove accessibility barriers in five areas:
- Customer service
- Information and communication
- Built environment (or the design of public spaces)
These AODA standards are part of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR). The IASR provides requirements for each standard, and mandates that organizations must:
- Train staff and volunteers
- Develop an accessibility policy
- Create an accessibility plan and update it every five years
- Include accessibility in procurement and when designing or purchasing self-service kiosks
The AODA and Accessibility Policies
As stated above, the AODA requires all public sector organizations to develop an accessibility policy. Private and non-profit organizations, on the other hand, only have to comply with this requirement if they have more than 50 employees.
An accessibility policy puts organizations’ commitment in writing, helping them set goals, identify barriers, and determine how those barriers can be removed. It should work hand-in-hand with an accessibility plan that outlines the steps an organization has to take to be accessible to all, and when it will complete those steps.
Penalties for Not Complying to the AODA
If an organization does not comply with the AODA, they may be fined up to $100,000 per day, with directors and officers also fined up to $50,000 per day. These, it should be noted, are maximum penalties.
As of 2017, organizations with more than 20 employees are required to submit an online compliance report, which confirms their adherence to the AODA.
Compliance is Good for the Bottom Line
The Royal Bank of Canada estimates that people with people with disabilities have an annual spending power of $25 billion. That demographic also represents one of the largest pools of untapped employment talent. In short, improving your organization’s accessibility – both from a digital and operational point of view – can be a net benefit, expanding your potential audience and workforce.