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AODA Compliance: A Primer on Canadian Web Accessibility Standards

  • Ontarians With Disabilities Act

    Ontario, Canada offers some of the most comprehensive web accessibility standards in the world.

    The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) regulates disability accommodation in employment, transportation, IT, and communications. It triggered the passage of several other regulations to encourage Ontarians to break down barriers, physical or digital, to full inclusion of people with disabilities.

    The Laws: An Accessible Ontario by 2025

    According to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, 1 in 7 Ontarians has a disability. This number is expected to increase, with disability affecting 1 in 5 of the population by 2036. With that in mind, these standards were created with the ultimate goal of a barrier-free Ontario by 2025.

    The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed in 2005 to set an accessibility standard in which no person with a disability is prevented from fully participating in all aspects of society because of his or her disability. This means removing barriers, whether they be physical, architectural, technological, or informational. A policy or procedure that does not make the appropriate accommodations can also be considered a barrier.

    Importantly, the AODA sought to include people with disabilities in the creation of official accessibility standards so their needs can be adequately met and their voices heard.

    Three years after the AODA, Ontario passed the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (Ontario Regulation 429/07), which focuses on creating accessible infrastructure in Ontario. 

    This was followed in 2011 by the passage of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (Ontario Regulation 191/11), which sets standards for electronic communications.

    WCAG & AODA Compliance

    The AODA references Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 for specific standards to achieve.

    Those organizations which are covered by the AODA’s web accessibility standards must ensure all new websites or content meet at least WCAG 2.0 Level A.

    By 2021, such organizations’ websites should be fully WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance.

    Exceptions to the AODA

    Ontario’s government clarified that the AODA web accessibility requirements do not apply to internal (intranet) websites, not to content published before 2012.

    How the AODA Applies to Education

    Schools and Universities

    Private schools with 50 or more employees and all public schools are subject to AODA regulations for web accessibility.

    For these institutions, any new websites or digital content published after January 1, 2014 must be accessible, and all archival or existing web content must be accessible by January 1, 2021.

    These educational institutions must provide educational and training resources and materials in accessible formats upon request. 
    For example, if a deaf student cannot listen to a recorded lecture, they may ask to have the file captioned or request an ASL translator.

    Schools must train educators in accessibility awareness and how it relates to teaching.

    Educational Publishers

    The AODA extends to any publishers of educational materials, such as private textbook publishers, eLearning courses, university presses, and school boards.

    As with schools, the rules apply to private organizations with 50+ employees and all public sector entities. All their new web content must be accessible, with all existing and archival material accessible by 2021.


    Large private libraries (50+ employees) and all public libraries adhere to the same deadlines as schools and educational publishers when it comes to making their websites accessible.

    How the AODA Applies to Private Businesses

    The AODA set accessibility standards for private organizations bases on company size. Companies with under 50 employees don’t have specified web accessibility requirements, but larger organizations do.

    Large Organizations (50 employees or more) must:

    • Update their websites and web content accessibility according to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
    • Provide accessible formats and support for electronic communications as quickly as possible and at no additional cost when requested by a disabled person.
    • Create an accessible feedback process with accessible formats and communications supports upon request.
    • Make public emergency information accessible upon request.

    How the AODA Applies to Government

    As of January 1, 2016, all websites from the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

    Municipal government bodies and public sector organizations in the province must make all their web content WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant by January 1, 2021.

    Any new websites or digital content published since January 1, 2014, must be at least WCAG 2.0 Level A compliant.

    Penalties for Non-Compliance with AODA

    Section 21(4) of the AODA states that those in violation of the regulations may be ordered to pay a fine and/or comply within a specific timeframe.

    The charts below, sourced from Blaney McMurty LLC, outline the financial penalties of non-compliance with AODA.

    Penalties for Individuals and Unincorporated Organizations

    Impact of Contravention
    Contravention History Major Moderate Minor
    Major $2000 $1000 $500
    Moderate $1000 $500 $250
    Minor $500 $250 $200

    Penalties for Corporations

    Impact of Contravention
    Contravention History Major Moderate Minor
    Major $15,000 $10,000 $5,000
    Moderate $10,000 $5,000 $2,500
    Minor $2,000 $1,000 $500

    In cases where the impact of contravention and contravention history are both determined to be major, the above amounts may be treated as a daily penalty to a maximum of $100,000 for corporations or $50,000 for individuals or unincorporated organizations.

    AODA Compliant Employment, Training, and Hiring Practices

    The AODA requires that all employers adhere to hiring, training, and management practices that do not discriminate against people with disabilities. The following digital or physical processes must be made fully accessible:

    • New employee recruiting, vetting, and hiring
    • Internal communications
    • Performance assessments and management
    • Development and advancement
    • Workplace emergency response information

    Employers should maintain documentation for individual accommodation plans, as well as a return-to-work process for temporary disabilities.

    Deadlines for organizations to comply with these standards:

    • January 1, 2016 – Organizations with 50 or more employees
    • January 1, 2017 – Organizations with less than 50 employees

    For more details on how the AODA affects online video captioning, download:

    Download the white paper: Accessibility in Ontario: How the AODA Impacts Web and Online Video

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