AODA Compliance Deadline Tips for the Non-Compliant

Soup spoon with alphabet soup spelling "AODA"

The old adage states that hindsight is 20/20. And as 2020 comes to a close, we’re seeing increasing numbers of businesses embracing that statement -- staring down the barrel of a 2021 AODA deadline for website compliance and realizing, in hindsight, that maybe they should have started a whole lot earlier. 

Many businesses, organizations, and even individuals have taken steps to ensure that they’ve met the WCAG 2.0 AA framework upon which AODA’s web compliance metrics are based. They’ve invested time, resources, and money to update their web presence.

But the others? Time’s quickly running out.

So what, realistically, is going to happen if your website is not compliant by Jan. 1, 2021? I’m not going to be like some other companies who have engaged in “Chicken Little” marketing and suggest that the sky is going to fall around you. The official word is that the deadline is the deadline, as we posted in October. That said, AODA is still complaints-based and has largely been a toothless mandate, with little to no money allocated to enforcement.

But that can all change. All it takes is for Ontario’s government to turn its eyes towards enforcement and allocate resources to that effect. 

So I’m not going to advise you against being fully compliant. However, I’m also going to be realistic and say that if you haven’t started down that path by now, chances are it’s too late to think you’re going to be 100 per cent compliant in three weeks. Knowing that, you need to understand how you got where you are and plan out how you’ll get to where you need to be. 

Understand the Benefits

I mean, we’ve talked about this for over 100 posts, dozens of presentations, and countless other interactions over the past seven years… But one more time. With feeling. 

Accessibility is for all. Committing to universal accessibility offers you benefits that positively impact:

  • Search engine optimization
  • Mobile and responsive development
  • Supporting the needs of an aging population
  • Supporting the needs of an increasingly diverse population, for whom English may not be their first language
  • Adhering to best practices in comprehension, clarity, and intuitive design
  • Improvements in user experience and user interface.

And we haven’t even touched the benefits to those who require adaptive technology to access content. 

Simply put, while accessibility may have been implemented for people with disabilities, the reality is that like real-life accessibility measures (think on-screen captions, curb cuts, and access buttons for doors), the measures used to make content more accessible can benefit everyone.

It’s also not about “special.” It’s not about “more.” It’s about ensuring that all members of a community -- virtual or not -- have equitable access to participate in that community. 

Do Your Best

Your legal team may be breathing down your neck because they’ve just realized there’s an actual risk here. You may have stakeholders demanding that this be done RIGHT NOW! 

The reality is that if you’re just starting now, chances are that you’re not going to be fully compliant -- especially if you have a website with any large volume of content. Your non-compliant PDFs alone are likely a huge issue that’s going to take time and resources to fix.

Do what you can. If 50 per cent compliant is all you can do, that’s a start. If you’re just getting started and have done nothing with accessibility, you’re not going to be fully compliant by Jan. 1, 2021. 

Scan your site, or hire someone to do it for you, and fix what you can. Many of the issues will likely be minor fixes (or non-issues -- like no alt-tags on logos), but will seem overwhelming as they’ll appear on every page. Other issues may seem minor, but actually could be quite complex.

Have a Plan

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to fix everything. But if you can develop a remediation plan that shows how you’re going to resolve the issues -- and with dedicated timeframes to do so -- that will be a positive. 

You may be at the end of life of your website, so investing a bunch of money into fixing issues may not be appealing. You’ll have to balance that with a timeframe for a new web design. Is it in the next few months? Then that could be part of your remediation plan. But if a new website is two years down the road, you’re going to have to look at ways to bring your current site up to code. Documenting your efforts and having concrete plans, budget allocations, and deadlines in place may be beneficial should you face an AODA complaint.

Be Honest

It’s one thing to say, “This is what we’re going to do.” But you may want to have an answer as to why you haven’t done anything yet. It’s not like AODA snuck up on any of us. It came into effect in 2005. The first series of web standards deadlines appeared in 2014. The question you may be asked is not “How are you going to fix this?” but rather, “How come you haven’t fixed it yet?”

We’ve been talking about that for years. Our first post was back in March 2013. And we even gave a head’s up almost one year ago

Since day one, AODA has not been intended to be punitive but to focus on the collaborative. How do we know? We asked. Early on, there were companies that were trying to scare their clients with horror stories of upcoming five-digit fines (per day!). We abhor that approach and have tried to be calm, measured, and focused on facts. And if we have a question, we ask.

Those same messages are coming back. Those same “Chicken Little” scare tactics are being employed with the AODA deadline fast approaching. And we’re getting calls from companies that are really and truly worried.

I can’t sit here and say with 100 per cent certainty that you won’t be fined. I can say that I’ve been involved enough to know that the goal is to create an inclusive Ontario by 2025 and this is a major step. 

Deadlines are there for a reason. Collaboration is great, but when the spirit of collaboration is abused, then harsher measures may be employed. And with all the benefits that accessible web design brings to you, your customers, and your content, I can’t think of one good reason why you wouldn’t want your site to be 100 per cent accessible.

In the end, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and ask. We’re here to help and give you the best service and/or advice possible. We’re all in this together for a better Ontario and a more inclusive environment that allows all of us to participate equitably -- and fully.



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