Businesses and organizations that operate in Ontario, Canada are required to familiarize themselves with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
The Act is an equality policy that seeks to ensure that all Ontarians, whether disabled or not, are able to access all aspects and areas of a website. The Act applies to all companies and organizations operating in the province including public bodies and organizations.
The goal of this policy is to ensure that by the year 2025, people with disabilities will have full accessibility to the province and all services offered. The law requires that organizations that run websites of businesses and other institutions in Ontario meet the set accessibility requirements.
The AODA comprises of five standards/parts that include:
Accessibility standards are policies and laws that stipulate how the government, non-profits, businesses and public organizations should enhance the accessibility of their websites. These standards make it possible for organizations and institutions to identify and remove hindrances for purposes of improving accessibility for disabled people in their day to day life.
These standards cover all types of disabilities including hearing and eyesight problems. Website designs should have features and functionalities that are meant to aid people with disabilities in accessing information and data in websites. Businesses and organizations need to evaluate the current accessibility levels in their websites and make necessary improvements.
Information And Communications
AODA provides that public information must be made accessible to the public including websites, PDFs, videos, and apps. For instance, if a transport agency circulates brochures and press-releases of its schedules and routes, or a public institution that releases a video highlighting information on public safety, such information and details should be readily available to disabled people at no additional costs whatsoever.
Additionally, information and communication should be produced in a way that such content will be easy to read, understand and comprehend for disabled people. For instance, such content can be produced in an audio-visual manner to cater for the needs of the deaf and blind.
Customer Service Standards
AODA provides that service providers and businesses should ensure that disabled people have equal opportunities of obtaining, using and benefiting from their products and services just like abled people. E-commerce sites have to be accessible in a way that disabled customers are able to shop freely on the sites. In line with this requirement, sites that offer self-service options like chatbots, live-chat or virtual agents, must ensure that these technologies should be accessible to people with disabilities.
AODA stipulates that business owners and organizations should provide their products and services in ways that upholds the dignity, respect and independence of disabled people. For instance, a website can consider offering an assistive technology to disabled customers who have difficulties with using a mouse or typing, so that they are able to access the website with great ease.
Information about the workplace must be made accessible to everyone; whether disabled or not. This provision includes the business/organization notifying their employees and general public that the organization has measures for accommodating the needs of disabled people. Additionally, the organizations must ensure that employees have access to the necessary information that they need while performing their duties. Further, general information about the organization should be made readily available to staff members.
Information and updates on issues like the availability of assistive technology to staff members who need it in their day-to day life at the workplace. For physically disabled people, tools like keyboard alternatives, hands-free navigation, and voice recognition software can help them in controlling various functions while not using their hands.
Universal Instructional Design
The Universal Instructional Design is a standard that seeks to enhance accessibility for everyone. The guidelines for creating a universal design stipulate various means of representation, learning, action and expression for everyone regardless of physical disabilities. These designs complement the information standards by ensuring that no one is discriminated from accessing a website or information in the website by virtue of having disabilities.
Penalties for Non-Compliance to AODA
Since AODA is not a voluntary policy, the law requires that organizations, businesses and institutions in Ontario comply fully with the provisions of the Act. Individuals, and organizations that fail to comply to the provisions whether fully or partially can incur fines of up to $50,000 daily as the violation continues. The fines for corporations can reach up to $100,000 daily while directors of corporations with fiduciary responsibilities are fined $50,000 every day for the entire duration of the violation.
How to Check Compliance
Compliance with AODA makes it possible for websites to be accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities with the inclusion of low vision (blindness), deafness & hearing loss, cognitive limitations, learning disabilities, speech disabilities, limited movement, and photosensitivity among other forms of disabilities.
The main principles that guide organizations on creating accessible websites are:
- Operable- Components and content on the user interface as well as navigation should be operable.
- Perceivable- Content and components on the user interface should be presented to users in a perceivable manner.
- Understandable- The information on the user interface should be understandable to the users.
- Robust- Content posted on the website needs to be robust for reliable interpretation by various user agents with the inclusion of assistive technologies.
Business owners and directors organizations should understand and realize that compliance with these standards and principles is mandatory.
It's worth noting that complying with the Act is equally beneficial to the organization and the business. This is because sites that are compliant with AODA are not only accessible to disabled people but also old people whose eyesight and hearing abilities are changing due to age. Consequently, this leads to an increase to traffic to the website thereby translating to more sales and increase in profits.
Choosing a Professional Developer or Consultant
Web design and development is a complex task that requires technical know-how and experience to accomplish. Therefore, unless you are well-versed in website design and development, you should consider hiring a professional web developer or consultant. These experts not only ensure that the website is dynamic for access using different devices but also compliance with AODA. Hire developers who are conversant with the provisions of the Act so that you are not fined for incompliance.
After the website has been designed and developed, you should hire an external vendor to evaluate the ease of accessibility and compliance of the website. In-house testing may not be effective and reliable especially if it is not undertaken by a professional. During the evaluation of the website, the vendor should also monitor the digital properties of the website.
While it may seem expensive and unnecessary to hire external vendors, their input to the compliance process in invaluable. In addition to this, the fines and other inconveniences that may arise due to lack of compliance may have a far-reaching financial impact on the organization. Due to increased awareness on the need for equality with disabled people, internet users are now becoming conscious on the need for AODA compliance.
Common Guidelines in Obtaining Accessible Websites
In addition to adhering to AODA, website owners can enhance the accessibility of their sites through other additional ways. For instance, web designers and developers should simplify navigation by ensuring that the components on the user-interface are neatly arranged. A cluttered user interface is not only hard to navigate but is also unpresentable; hence, it does not have a professional appearance.
Using different colour indicators is yet another way of improving accessibility of disability friendly websites. The developer should use a definite contrast between the background and text for better visibility of information posted on the website. Blinking images and content that plays automatically should be avoided as they can distract users with some eye conditions. Time limits when requiring internet users to provide information and responses should be avoided. This is because the response of people with disabilities is often slower than that of abled people.
Ideally, AODA provisions can be used as a way of enhancing the moral and community social responsibilities of businesses and organizations to the community they operate in. Valuing and appreciating disabled people is a crucial step in promoting the image and reputation of an organization. The website should be tested regularly for compliance and adherence to the provisions of AODA. Organizations should also establish and enforce additional policies that promote the well-being, independence and dignity of people with disabilities.