AODA for Websites The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), an Ontario law mandating that organizations must follow standards to become more accessible to people with disabilities, has been active since 2005. Nearly 15 years later, most organizations fall short of compliance online.
So, what’s the problem?
Although most organizations support the idea that websites should be accessible to the widest range of people possible (if for no other reason than it’s good for business), they struggle to understand AODA compliance, let alone achieve it.
The reason for this is simple, but easily missed.
AODA compliance is MORE than an enumerated checklist of technical requirements and it shouldn’t be approached with the same mindset we use to buy groceries. Unlike other areas where legislative compliance is required, AODA requires an organizational paradigm recognizing the fundamental goals of AODA for what they are: a collection of core principles which should inform each and every decision relating to the accessibility of your website.
What does this mean for your organization?
Well, for starters it means that if you’re looking for a checklist on the Internet to guide you, you’re out of luck. There is no such thing as the checklist that works for everyone’s content.
There’s good news though — understanding AODA isn’t as hard as you think it is, and we’re here to help. I’m going to review the goals of AODA, discuss how these goals easily translate into an AODA mindset for your organization, and how this mindset ALREADY ALIGNS with the work you’re already doing online (we hope).
Let’s first review what AODA is, then discuss how most organizations fall short. From there, I’ll outline how your organization can easily embrace an AODA mindset and incorporate it into standard operating procedures.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, having come into force in 2005, recognizes “the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in Ontario,” and in response to the same, seeks to benefit all Ontarians through two fundamental objectives:
- developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises, on or before 2025; and
- providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, the Government of Ontario, and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy, in the development of the accessibility standards.
Don’t worry, it isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
What this essentially means is that websites need to work for the user, regardless of the tools a user might need. That’s what you need to take away from this. Typically, users interact with a website via any combination of a monitor, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, stylus, etc. On the other hand, some require additional assistive technologies, like screen readers. AODA compliant websites make every effort to ensure everyone has the opportunity to engage with content.
It may sound ambitious, but it’s worth remembering that these standards already existed well before 2005, in the guise of the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines. If you’re already writing solid code that adheres to WCAG, you’re already on your way.
How most Websites Fail
Most organizations understand AODA compliance as something to be achieved by using a third-party tool. These tools are run alongside a website and they apply pre-render changes to non-compliant website code in an “end-of-pipe” attempt to output something “compliant”. This approach is a poison pill, a completely wrong-minded insult to the intention of AODA specifically, and good website design generally.
While there are certainly required technology components that attempt to augment user experiences toward a state of greater accessibility, AODA compliance is not a problem technology alone can solve. Let me be clear on this:
- There is no single piece of software or 3rd party tool you can install that will make your site AODA compliant.
- “Compliance-checkers” realistically only identify programming issues. NOTHING ELSE.
Pursuit of AODA
If you’re serious about becoming AODA compliant, (and you should be) strive to make your website MORE accessible to individuals with disabilities and the assistive technologies they sometimes rely on. The first, necessary, step is adhering to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The good news is that you should be doing this anyway. The Website Content Accessibility Guidelines are documented best-practices for websites, and AODA requires adherence to these practices in order to achieve compliance. AODA points to WCAG so they therefore share the exact same goals.
Central to the goals of AODA are the Four Principles of Accessibility, which are codified in the WCAG. Understanding and embracing these principles as an organization is the first and most appropriate first step in moving your website toward ACTUAL AODA compliance.
Starting with the Correct Mindset
Before we review the Principles of Accessibility, it’s important to establish a few things. These are rules to keep in mind as you engage the Principles of Accessibility and put them into practice with your website.
- Perfect accessibility doesn’t exist.
- Applying the Principles of Accessibility to a website means moving your site closer to perfect.
These two aren’t at odds. It’s important to recognize that despite never being able to achieve perfect accessibility, embracing an AODA mindset means constantly moving your website towards greater accessibility, knowing that there will always be opportunity to do so.
The Four Principles of Accessibility
Anyone who wants to use the Web must have content that is:
- Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can't be invisible to all of their senses).
- Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable. This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform).
- Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
- Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible).
Organizations that serve more AODA compliant websites embrace the Principles of Accessibility holistically; as part of their content strategy, design considerations, code creation, and ongoing maintenance. They care enough to write appropriately for their audiences, engage in a way the audience expects and requires, and in a way that empowers them to be productive online.
A Journey, Not a Destination
Lean into the AODA Mindset. Start thinking about AODA for every website change, tweak and project. The first step is embracing the Principles of Accessibility and asking, before every update, whether what’s being done is moving the site closer to, or farther away from more accessibility.
Remember, perfect accessibility doesn’t exist so anything that’s done to make a site more Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust will make the website more accessible. More, not perfect, accessibility is the stated goal of AODA. Perfect is pursued one keystroke at a time.
Write with the Principles top of mind. Design for all users. Code to standards. Every time a new landing page is conceived, or the Hours of Operation are adjusted, or a discount is offered, consider the Principles of Accessibility and Design Standards. Adhering to Web Standards should be of prime consideration for every important website anyway.
In the future, I’ll discuss examples of how different sites have moved closer to perfect, along with some technical and esoteric explanations that break down our rationale for solving a problem while embracing AODA, with examples from projects we’ve worked on.
At the time of this writing it’s early 2019. Most websites globally aren’t even close to perfectly accessible. In fact, most websites in Ontario aren’t anywhere close to perfectly accessible, despite AODA being around for as long as it has. Many sites that claim to be complaint aren’t even close to being perfect either.
This legislation has been around for 14 years and I firmly believe that we can do better.
I spend my days working for great clients who care about accessibility for all people and building a better Internet. Their enthusiasm is contagious. My plan is to keep writing about AODA and hopefully, if you’ve made it this far, some of my enthusiasm to engage all Internet users is, in some part, transferred to you. In subsequent posts here I’ll be digging deeper into AODA, WCAG and some finer more technical details involved in helping site move closer to perfect accessibility.
Source: Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, S.O. 2005, c. 11