Online Accessibility Requirements Approaching for Large Ontario Employers

Employers in Ontario are required to make their workplaces accessible. As of January 1, 2021, accessibility standards will extend to the internet websites and web content controlled by “large organizations” with 50 or more employees.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA”) establishes accessibility standards in Ontario. The AODA imposes accessibility deadlines based on the size and nature of the organization. For example, organizations with 20+ employees will be required to file an Accessibility Compliance Report by June 30, 2021.

There are objective standards for what accessible online content entails, specifically the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (“WCAG”), Level AA (the intermediate standard). The Government of Ontario has also provided a useful summary of AODA and WCAG requirements here. Note that the pending accessibility deadline does not apply to intranets. Moreover, two of the more costly and complex criteria to satisfy – Captions (success criteria 1.2.4) and Audio Description (success criteria 1.2.5) – are not required.

Satisfying a particular WCAG requirement is not mandatory if it is “not practicable” to do so. However, organizations should make good faith efforts to satisfy WCAG requirements and document the precise issue which prevented compliance.

Although compliance with the AODA is critical, it does not provide a complete answer to accommodating employees with disabilities. The Ontario Human Rights Code also requires employers to accommodate an employee’s disability up to the point of “undue hardship”, which is a highly fact specific analysis.

At this time, organizations in Ontario should do the following without delay:

  1. Engage web developers and direct them to revise the organization’s websites and web content (but not the intranet) in order to comply with WCAG standards, Level AA.
  2. Document all attempts to satisfy the WCAG standards which the organization could not achieve due to the requirement not being practicable.
  3. Review the Accessibility Compliance Report to ensure the organization is working towards accessibility compliance.

If you have any questions regarding the AODA, WCAG or accommodation requests, please contact a member of the Aird & Berlis Workplace Law Group.