AODA and WCAG: 2021 Web Accessibility Standards Deadline for Ontario

If you run a business in Ontario, you should be aware of the AODA and the effect it has on organizations. The AODA creates guidelines and requirements for accessibility in public spaces throughout the province. 

The new standards for web accessibility go into effect in January 2021 and you may have to update your website to comply.

What Is the AODA?

The AODA, or Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, was established in 2005. The goal of the act is to make workplaces and communities more accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities. The AODA hopes to eliminate all obstacles for people with disabilities by 2025 so that everyone in Ontario can participate fully in society regardless of ability or disability.

Over the years, the Ontario legislature has successfully introduced a number of accessibility standards for public, private, and government sectors in the following areas:

  • Transportation
  • Customer service
  • Employment
  • Information and communications
  • Design of public spaces

What Are the AODA Web Requirements?

The AODA has outlined a few new requirements that businesses must meet in 2021 in order to make their websites more accessible. In Ontario, all public sector organizations and all private businesses with 50 or more employees must adhere to these requirements. Private companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt. The deadline is January 1, 2021.

The new requirements are outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0

There is a list of 12 qualifications for websites to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. If your site is required to adhere to the WCAG standards, it should offer the following content and features:

  • Text alternatives for non-text content
  • Alternatives for time-based media, such as audio and video content
  • Content that can be offered in different layouts or formats without sacrificing the information
  • Content that is easy to see and hear
  • All functions available through the keyboard
  • Time limits that are long enough for visitors to read or use the content
  • No content that will trigger seizures
  • Tools to allow users to easily navigate the site
  • Readable and understandable text
  • Predictable operations
  • Input assistance to avoid or correct user mistakes
  • Compatibility with assistive technologies

The WCAG guidelines are meant only for public websites. If you have an internal site only for your employees, you don't have to update it to meet these requirements.

Penalties for Non-compliance

The penalty for failing to comply with AODA varies depending on the severity of the violation and your company's violation history.

Penalties for individuals or unincorporated organizations:

Minor Contravention History

  • Major violation: $500
  • Moderate violation: $250
  • Minor violation: $200

Moderate Contravention History

  • Major violation: $1,000
  • Moderate violation: $500
  • Minor violation: $250

Major Contravention History

  • Major violation: $2,000
  • Moderate violation: $1,000
  • Minor violation: $500

Penalties for corporations:

Minor Contravention History

  • Major violation: $2,000
  • Moderate violation: $1,000
  • Minor violation: $500

Moderate Contravention History

  • Major violation: $10,000
  • Moderate violation: $5,000
  • Minor violation: $2,500

Major Contravention History

  • Major violation: $15,000
  • Moderate violation: $10,000
  • Minor violation: $5,000

If both the impact of the contravention and the contravention history are major, you or your business can be charged daily. The maximum total charges are $100,000 for a corporation and $50,000 for an individual or unincorporated organization.

How to Get Your Site Ready

The WCAG guidelines for accessible websites are very thorough. You may have a lot of work to do if your site wasn't designed with accessibility in mind. To meet the requirements by January 1, start working on the guidelines right away. It will take some time to prepare your site, so the earlier you begin, the better.

First, consult with your legal counsel to ensure that you're aware of all the relevant deadliness and requirements. Then, evaluate the current state of your website with your web designer or developer. If possible, hire an expert to perform an website accessibility audit.

Once you know exactly what needs to change, you and your developer can create a plan to meet the WCAG standards. You don't have to modify any site content that was posted before 2012, but all of your content from 2012 onward must be accessible.

After implementing changes to your site, run a series of accessibility tests. For example, you could try to navigate your site with a screen reader or other assistive technology to evaluate the user experience. You could ask people with disabilities to visit your website and provide feedback. There are also online accessibility tests that can identify problems with your site.

Meeting these guidelines will benefit your business overall. Accessible websites are available to a larger audience, so you can expand your customer base by meeting the WCAG standards. Accessibility measures can also help your site perform better on search engines, which is a great way to reach a wider audience.

The AODA makes Ontario more accessible for people with disabilities, and the WCAG guidelines expand that accessibility to the internet. If you run a business in Ontario, you have until January 1, 2021 to meet the standards for web content laid out by the WCAG and the AODA. Start working toward these requirements today so that your website can be fully updated and functional by 2021.