AODA/WCAG - Website Accessibility Standards in Ontario

While building up your online business, many people may overlook some of the more technical side of things - while your attention may be brought to your products, SEO, or partnerships, one thing that you need to comply with if you're a business in Ontario is the AODA - Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

This act differs a lot depending on if your business is a physical location or online; for the sake of this guide, we'll be focusing on web accessibility specifically. 

The 5 accessibility standards you'll need to accommodate for are:

  • Customer Service
  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • Built Environment 
  • Information and Communications 

Find out below if you are AODA compliant, if you need to make changes to your business to accommodate the act, or what this means for you.

How can a website be AODA compliant?

While you may look at physical stores and understand some of the functions that AODA has been ingrained into daily life, AODA Website Compliance is very similar in the sense that you're allowing people of all abilities and disabilities be able to access your web content. This includes making accommodations to visual, audio, and operations on your business.

While the AODA Compliance requirements for web services are continuously changing, with a final revision and deadline being predicted for January of 2025, we can explain which requirements are needed for that deadline, and to make sure your business is protected and prepared.  

What businesses are affected by the AODA?

All Ontario-run websites that are a public or private business with at least one employee, or a non-profit organization which have at least 50 employees need to meet accessibility requirements. Additionally, all public sector organizations, such as hospitals, public transport, and schools.

What isn't a requirement, or optional, for AODA Compliance?

Currently, there's only two criteria that your website doesn't need to meet. These are Live Captions and Pre-recorded Audio Descriptions. Everything else in the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), must meet the minimum level AA requirements.

What are the A, AA, AAA levels of the WCAG?

Detailed outline below the full description of what all the guidelines within the WCAG are. But for an overview, your site needs to meet all A standards before moving on to AA, and then meet the listed standards in that level. You need to comply with the guidelines below. Use this (insert link to AODA Levels) as a checklist when reviewing your own site:

What are the punishments if I don't comply with AODA?

Regardless of what business you run, it's good to accommodate to everyone, legality aside. It'll help your business grow, and the small amount of time you put into making your site compliant, will ultimately giving your business a lot more traffic. You need to keep in mind retention, and how something easy for users to use and navigate will hold the attention of your users more. However, there are legal repercussions if your business doesn't become AODA compliant.

  • Up to a $50,000 per day fine for all independent business owners until it becomes compliant
  • Up to $100,000 per day fine for all large businesses until it becomes compliant.

This is one of the most important things to focus on for your business, and also one that is very easy to overlook. 

Are there existing programs or services that I can use to check if my website is compliant?

While there may be a lot of tools and software to check your business, these software aren't impervious to errors, and is much more reliable to get a human to test each of these things individually. You could use one of these programs to quickly see anything basic you need to fix, but relying on them exclusively could be harmful. 

Do I need to worry about mobile functionality for compliance?

The short answer, yes. There is no separate accessibility guidelines to follow for mobile functionality, however. As long as your site follows all standard WAI guidelines for both, everything will be met! Make it a habit to test everything in mobile and desktop view as you go through your checklist.

While it may seem like a lot of work and testing, AODA is a vital act that all Ontario businesses must abide by. Not only online businesses, but physical businesses as well. As long as you get this all setup, all future applications of the guidelines will be much easier to comply for. Even if you're not from Ontario, the AODA is a good practice to get into to keep your site accessible for all types of customers and clients. Don't underestimate that fact, and your site will be growing, legally, before your very eyes!

AODA Levels

A Level:

  • Providing alternatives for all non-text content, such as pre-recorded audio 
  • Providing alternatives for time based media, such as audio descriptions
  • Providing adaptability, allowing all content to be available in a form that can be perceived by all viewers
  • An introductory to distinguishable content, such as not making color a factor when relaying information, and the ability to control the volume of any audio that plays (volume adjustment, pausing)
  • Keyboard Accessible, meaning all content on your site can be functioned using only your keyboard
  • Providing users enough time to read and use any content on your site
  • Make sure no content on your site has flashing visual content to prevent seizures (three flashes or below threshold
  • An introduction to making your content navigable - the user should be able to always know where they are on your site, and have the ability to go somewhere else. In addition, make sure your content is titled appropriately, and presented in an order that makes sense.
  • An introduction to making your content understandable - so that text reading applications can read the text and make sense of your wording, and make any AT (assistive technologies) able to easily identify the language of your site.
  • An introduction to making your content predictable - having a consistent layout can help people navigate your site easier, always find the content or menu's in the same places on every page.
  • An introduction to making your site have input assistance - some people make errors, make sure to have ways to correct these errors, such as corrective text for search bars, or lenient searching.
  • Make your site conventional and easy to follow for AT (assistive technologies).

AA Level:

Once your site has been verified or checked to meet the A Level requirements, you'll want to make sure you are compliant with the AA level. The basic rundown of each compliance in that level can be found below:  

  • An expansion to distinguishable content, such as content that appears on top of another content needs to have a highly contrasted background, and allowing text on your site to be adjustable, including images.
  • An expansion to navigable content, such as allowing users to find where they need to go in a manner that makes sense and is easy to find, and a way to show that which blocks on your site currently have keyboard focus.
  • An expansion to readable text content, making sure that all content is relevant to the language of your site. For example, don't use slang or sayings in other languages if the surrounding text isn't for that language.
  • An expansion to making your content predictable - you'll want to make sure all functions on your site always behave the same no matter where you are, so AT (assistive technologies) can read that and behave accordingly based on their familiarity with the function.
  • An expansion to input assistance - making sure that anything that can have serious effects due to human error, like payment pages, are configured to prevent erroneous purchases or irreversible mistakes.

These are a basic overview of all WCAG requirements to make your business website AODA compliant. Click here to view the official Ontario website for details on each category.