Among the most important issues which organizations face under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA”) is the requirement to change websites.

The new AODA requirements for websites kicked-in for government entities in 2012, but for large (50 employees or more) private organizations (including not-for-profit organizations), the obligations started on January 1, 2014. What are those duties?

  • If an organization starts a new website (with a new domain name) it must be compliant with AODA from Day One;
  • If an organization gives its existing website a “significant refresh” after January 1, 2014 it must be compliant with AODA.   Any content on that website dated from January 1, 2012 or after must be accessible.
  • Every large organization website in the Province has to be compliant by January 1, 2021. 

The practical questions for organizations are: “just what does it mean to be compliant?”  And “what’s a significant refresh?”

A compliant website is one which satisfies an international standard called the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. This means providing text alternatives for any non-text content to facilitate conversions into different formats such as Braille, creating high contrast visuals that enable persons with sight limitations to use the website, and like changes. The WCAG 2.0 sets out three levels of accessibility standards (A, AA & AAA).  Large organizations must conform with the Level A requirements after January 1, 2014, and with the Level AA requirements (subject to certain exceptions) after January 1, 2021.

Existing websites are immune from the requirement until they undergo the so-called “significant refresh.” Guidance materials provided by the Government of Ontario clarify that a “significant refresh” means changing more than 50% of the content, design or technology (e.g., web publishing platform/model) of the website.

Equally practical is this consideration: by 2021, every large organization website has to be compliant with AODA, in respect of any content dated January 1, 2012 or later. This means websites will be getting a “significant refresh” by the end of 2020 at the latest.  If companies are considering any substantial changes to their websites before then, they might consider adding the accessibility tools now, rather than paying to re-build the website again in a few years.