Canada's accessibility laws: Will you be AODA-ready by January 1st?

15 Jul 2020
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Posted by Crownpeak

Question: Can you name a wealthy North American nation which, despite being highly advanced when it comes to technology and digital commerce, still lacks a strong unifying national regulation for private sector web accessibility that supersedes all regional or local ones – the kind of national edict that would make compliance much simpler for digital marketers?

If you answered, “the U.S.A.,” congratulations! But if you said “Canada,” you also deserve kudos. Just like state legislators in the United States, provincial lawmakers in Canada have implemented, or are proposing to implement, web accessibility regulations on a province-by-province basis, most of which can (or will) impact private enterprises.

To keep you on top of the proliferation of regional requirements and key deadlines, we’ve put together an overview of current and proposed legislation:

A national standard for public sector accessibility

There’s one Canadian federal accessibility law to be cognizant of: The Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada (ACA). The law was enacted in 2019 as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mission to ensures greater inclusion of Canadians with disabilities. It’s a nationwide act that applies to the federal public sector, Crown Corporations, and any and all federally regulated organizations. Those include railways, airlines, inter-provincial buses, banks, mining companies, trucking, and television and radio.

One of the intents of the bill is to prevent accessibility barriers in information and communication technologies, including digital content and the technologies used to access it. Its Policy on Service and Digital went into effect on April 1, 2020, giving the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Canada the power to set information and data standards for accessibility for all the enterprises covered by the ACA. Organizations that fall under its remit are required to comply or face a fine of up to CAD $250,000 per violation.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA): Important deadline

One of the most significant provincial laws affecting private sector companies is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) . The law was established in 2005, with a phased rollout of compliance deadlines:

  • Since January 1, 2014: all new public websites, significantly refreshed websites, and any web content that was posted after January 1, 2012 must meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A
  • As of January 1, 2021: all public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012 must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA (excluding live captioning and audio descriptions).

Since Ontario is the biggest provincial economy in Canada, generating 37% of national GDP, it’s a law global digital marketers should get familiar with. What are some of its compliance directives?

  • Even if your firm is headquartered elsewhere, having an office with at least one staffer in Ontario means you must be compliant; if you’re only represented by a distributor, reseller, billing firm or other third party, you’re still responsible for meeting AODA obligations.
  • The law applies to all private enterprises with 50 or more employees (including businesses, nonprofits, and private educational institutions). Some of the changes AODA mandates for new or existing business, public, and school sites by 2025? Creating accessible training and educational materials; creating accessible video with captions for the hearing impaired and descriptions for visually impaired students and staff; making school library materials accessible; providing accessible feedback mechanisms and forms; and creating accessible emergency materials upon request.

The financial penalties for failing to comply with AODA can be tough, depending on the organization’s violation history and the severity of the impact to users. An individual or unincorporated organization can be fined up to CAD $50,000 a day for each day an AODA violation continues. A corporation can be hit with $100,000 per day in fines, and its directors and officers could be nicked for up to $50,000 a day.

That’s a lot of loonies.

Nova Scotia Accessibility Act

Looking to the far east of the country, Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act , also known as Bill 59, went into law in 2017. Its accessibility standards are still being developed, but websites and information technology will be addressed under a set of six standards intended to make the province fully accessible by 2030.

That plan includes the development of a government website that meets WCAG 2.0 AA requirements, and it’s expected that other public and private sector organizations will have to meet similar requirements. Failing to meet the Act’s guidelines could ring up a fine of up to CA $250,000.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA)

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) went into law in 2013, part of an effort by the government to make the province more inclusive by 2023. The law is intended to remove barriers not just for citizens with disabilities – who make up 22% of the national populace – but for everyone. Its five accessibility standards encompass key areas of daily living, with the Information and Communications standard applying to websites and digital touchpoints.

Some of the barriers it mentions? Small print, low contrast between text and backgrounds, and unclear language. Like AODA, it’s expected the AMA’s requirements will continue to be refined to closely follow WCAG standards.

The British Columbia Accessibility Act

One proposed provincial law is the British Columbia Accessibility Act, also known as Bill M 219. It would enact accessibility standards aimed at achieving an accessible British Columbia by 2024, following through on the Government’s 2014 Accessibility 2024 plan, which outlines web accessibility based on WCAG 2.0 Level AA. The goal? To make B.C. “the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024.”

The bill had its first reading in 2018, and the province has been conducting outreach to capture public feedback in hopes of putting the bill into law during 2020.

What’s ahead for web accessibility in Canada?

Since Canadians pride themselves on inclusiveness and progressivism, there’s been a steady push to broaden accessibility in all walks of life. Following the Accessible Canada Act, more provinces and territories, including Saskatchewan and Yukon, have seen disability advocates pushing for new legislation.

So it’s fair to assume there will be more Canadian web accessibility regulation to contend with in the years ahead, whether on a national or province-by-province basis.

More complex compliance demands smarter solutions

As regulations multiply, and as any law’s stipulations are amended over time, it becomes harder and more costly for a digital marketer who’s operating in multiple regions to keep pace with those requirements, especially across multiple, dynamic digital touchpoints.

It’s why a digital solution, like Crownpeak DQM, that’s capable of automatically scanning those touchpoints to ensure they’re meeting accessibility standards is the best option for a digital marketer with multiple sites, or even just one or a few sites holding an appreciable amount of content. Attempting compliance by relying on manual review and remediation processes alone isn’t just a labor- and cost-intensive slog that’s prone to human error; it’s an approach that can leave you exposed to regulatory risk and substantial penalties. And as we’ve already said, in Canada that can amount to a lot of loonies.