The AODA Customer Service Standard & Ontario's Public Sector Websites



October 13, 2009

A lot has changed since our initial posting about the AODA in 2009. For folks looking for general information (particularly pertaining to the web), I would suggest reading our more recent articles. If you're particularly interested in enforcement of this law I would suggest looking towards posts by Blakes(March 2011), Weirfoulds (July 2011) and FirstReference (August 2011).

Ontario implemented the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005 and in January 2010 it will begin to enhance the level of services that people in this province can expect from their governments. 

Organizations Needing to Comply

The public sector organizations that now must meet the Customer Service Standard include Ontario government ministries, municipalities, school boards, community colleges, universities, public hospitals, public transportation organizations as well as some other agencies. All other organizations with over a year will have another two years before they need to conform to this standard.

The web has become a huge part of how people communicate and this act will significantly affect how organizations think about their online presence in the months to come. It is anticipated that websites by the organizations above will be required to reach compliance levels A of WCAG 2.0 (W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0). This will be a significant accomplishment as millions of web pages will need to be changed and evaluated. 


Problems Meeting Basic Compliance

Doing a simple survey of the Government of Ontario web pages (those with the extension that fall under the Act, Google lists over 2 million pages. Of the top 10 sites listed here I did a quick accessibility snapshot using the Worldspace tool provided by Deque, none of the pages sampled met level A levels.

Examples of errors of these sites included were:

  • missing text alternatives for images and multimedia files
  • pages do not appear and operate in predictable ways
  • insufficient tools to help users find content and determine where they are
  • no mechanism to bypass navigation links is absent
  • content not readable and understandable
  • unclear purpose for links
  • HTML ID attribute value not unique
  • use of non-empty alt tags as place holders
  • all functionality available not available for a keyboard only user
  • no summary for layout tables
  • page does not have enough headings marked up
  • primary language of document not set
  • text entry field does not have an explicit HTML label
  • information conveyed by color alone
  • use of deprecated HTML elements

Organizations have to ensure that all new content meets these guidelines. Existing content will have to be provided in an accessible format when requested. By 2013 all existing websites will need to be to be compliant. There will also be fines if sites aren't perceivable, operable, understandable & sufficiently robust to meet these minimum standards (up to $100,000 fine per day).

Learning From the Feds

It's interesting to note that the Government of Canada implemented a standard for the Common Look & Feel (CLF) 2.0 which has a large accessibility component last year. Although many see the CLF as a branding exercise, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on upgrading federal sites to the latest version.

Websites will always need to be upgraded, but so many government pages are still using static pages and so changes like this often need to be applied to each page. This isn't a big deal if you've just got a few pages to update every now and again, but with over 2 million pages it can be very expensive to keep up with ever improving standards.

A Cost Effective Solution

OpenConcept has been actively pursuing enhanced accessibility within Drupal because we are confident that this is a platform that can meet the needs of many organizations like those faced with this accessibility deadline. We know how to make an organizations website be interactive, usable, standards compliant and accessible. If your organization needs to comply with the AODA we would like to talk with you about migrating your content over to a Content Management System so that your site can be:

  • systematically evaluated for compliance
  • new content can be properly filtered before it is published
  • upgrades to standards can be applied when they are introduced
  • new interactive elements also meet the requirements

Meeting this legislation's requirement's is manageable, but only if it is dealt with properly. For more information on the Act see the Ministry of Community and Social Services and Access Ontario.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.