AODA Era Part III: Information and Communication Standard

In the previous instalment of this series on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), we talked about the general and common requirements for the Information and Communication, Employment and Transportation Standards found in the Proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation (PIAR), which is slated to become law around July 2011 (not confirmed). In addition to these general requirements, there are specific requirements for each of the PIAR standards. We will review the specific proposed requirements for these standards in this and subsequent posts. This post will focus on the specific requirements under the AODA Information and Communication Standard.

The Information and Communications Standard (Part II of the PIAR) focuses on accessible information and communications relating to the provision of goods and services. The definition of “information and communication” is very broad and can include such things as websites, brochures, flyers, invoices, order forms, feedback forms, complaint forms, telephone calls, marketing materials, etc. The main goal of the standard is to promote inclusive design of information and communication platforms and to specify requirements to prevent and remove barriers to persons with disabilities when creating, conveying, distributing, procuring and receiving information and communication to and from your organization.

The Information and Communication Standard has several parts. To start, let’s first understand what is meant by information and communication.

  • Information includes data, facts and knowledge that exists in any format, including text, audio, digital or images and that conveys meaning
  • Communication includes the interaction between two or more persons or entities, or any combination of them, where information is provided, sent or received

Providing information and communication in an accessible format or communication support for persons with disabilities

The standard requires you to take into account a person’s disability so that when you do communicate with them, you use an accessible format and communication supports, which make them feel that you are communicating with them like you would any other customer. The point is to get rid of the feeling of being treated differently. This must be done in a timely manner and at a cost that is no more than the regular cost charged to other persons.

Although every obligated organization must notify the public about the availability of accessible formats and communication supports. The above requirement is triggered by the person with a disability making a request for information and communication in an accessible format or using a communication support. The obligated organization must consult with the person making the request in determining the suitability of an accessible format or communication support, but the final determination as to which accessible format or communication support to use rests with the organization.

Overall, it is important to keep in mind that it is the person’s choice whether to disclose a disability.

Obligated organizations must meet the above requirements in accordance with the following schedule:

  • For the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly, January 1, 2014
  • For large designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2015
  • For small designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2016
  • For large private sector organizations (50 or more employees), January 1, 2016
  • For small private sector organizations (at least one but fewer than 50 employees), January 1, 2017

So what does it mean to provide information and communication in an accessible format with communication support?

Accessible formats may include, but are not limited to, large print, recorded audio and electronic formats, braille and other formats usable by persons with disabilities. Communication supports include but are not limited to, captioning, alternative and augmentative communication supports, plain language, sign language and other supports that facilitate effective communications.

The right to accessibility extends to accessing electronic or other documents in formats that work correctly with assistive technologies (communication support such as special computer hardware and software designed to help those with accessibility challenges).

Note that the information and communications standard does not apply to the following:

  1. Products and product labels;
  2. Unconvertible information or communications;
  3. Information that the obligated organization does not control directly or indirectly through a contractual relationship, except as required under sections 15 and 18 of the regulation (Educational and training resources and materials and Libraries of educational and training institutions).

Information or communications are considered unconvertible if:

  • It is not technically feasible to convert the information or communications; or
  • The technology to convert the information or communications is not readily available.

If an obligated organization determines that information or communications are unconvertible, the organization must provide the person requesting the information or communication with:

  • An explanation as to why the information or communications are unconvertible; and
  • A summary of the unconvertible information or communications.

Feedback processes

In addition, the standard includes the specific requirement (adding to what is already covered in the customer service standard) that every obligated organization that has processes for receiving and responding to feedback must ensure that the processes are accessible to persons with disabilities by providing or arranging for the provision of accessible formats and communications supports, upon request.

Obligated organizations must meet this requirements in accordance with the following schedule:

  • For the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly, January 1, 2013
  • For large designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2014
  • For small designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2015
  • For large organizations, January 1, 2015
  • For small organizations, January 1, 2016

Emergency procedures or public safety information

Furthermore, if your organization prepares emergency procedures, plans or public safety information, and makes the information available to the public, the organization must provide that information in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports as soon as practicable upon request by January 1, 2012.

Accessible websites and web content

The PIAR imposes on the Ontario Government and Legislative Assembly, the public sector and large organizations in the private sector the obligation to make both Internet and intranet websites conform to the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 at Level AA. Small organizations that have at least one but fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the application of this requirement.

For new Internet and intranet websites and web content, the Government of Ontario, the Legislative Assembly and the public sector must conform to this requirement by January 1, 2012; and by January 1, 2020, for all Internet and intranet websites and web content.

Large organizations must conform for new Internet and intranet websites and web content by January 1, 2014; and by January 1, 2021, for all internet and intranet websites and web content.

  • “Internet website” means a collection of related web pages, images, videos or other digital assets that are addressed relative to a common Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and accessible to the public
  • “Intranet website” means an organization’s internal website that is used to privately and securely share any part of the organization’s information or operational systems within the organization and includes extranet websites
  • “New Internet website” means either a website with a new domain name or a website with an existing domain name undergoing a significant refresh
  • “New intranet website” means either an intranet website with a new domain name or an intranet website with an existing domain name undergoing a significant refresh

Educational and training institutions

Educational and training institutions must upon request provide educational and training resources and materials, and provide student records and information on program requirements, availability and descriptions in an accessible format to persons with disabilities.

Providing educational/training resources/materials means procuring an accessible or conversion-ready electronic format where available or arranging for the provision of a comparable resource in an accessible or conversion-ready electronic format, if cannot be procured, obtained or converted into an accessible format.

In addition to the above requirements, obligated organizations that are school boards or educational or training institutions shall provide educators with accessibility awareness training related to accessible program or course delivery and instruction.

For the purposes of PIAR, an obligated organization is an educational or training institution if:

  • It is governed by the Education Act, the Post-Secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act or the Private Career Colleges Act, or is a designated public sector organization; or
  • It is a public or private organization that provides courses or programs or both that result in the acquisition by students of a diploma or certificate named by the minister of education under paragraph 1 of subsection 8 (1) of the Education Act.

“Educators” means employees who are involved in program or course design, delivery and instruction, including staff of school boards.

“School board” means a “board” as defined in subsection 1 (1) of the Education Act.

Obligated organizations to which this section applies must meet the requirements in accordance with the following schedule:

  • For large designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2013
  • For small designated public sector organizations, January 1, 2015
  • For large organizations, January 1, 2013
  • For small organizations, January 1, 2015

Producers of educational or training material and libraries

Producers of education or training material must make accessible or conversion-ready versions of textbooks available to educational and training institutions upon request by January 1, 2015. By January 1, 2020, they must make accessible or conversion-ready versions of printed materials (print-based educational or training supplementary learning resources for educational or training institutions) available to institutions upon request.

Subject to the above, and where available, the libraries of educational and training institutions that are obligated organizations must provide, procure or acquire by other means an accessible or conversion-ready format of print, digital or multimedia resources or materials for a person with a disability, upon request.

Special collections, archival materials, rare books and donations are exempt from the requirements.

By January 1, 2013, every obligated organization that is a public library must provide access to or arrange for the provision of access to accessible materials where they exist. Public libraries must make the information about the availability of accessible materials publicly available and shall provide the information in accessible format or with appropriate communication supports, upon request. Obligated organizations that are library boards may provide accessible formats for archival materials, special collections, rare books and donations.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Covered organizations under the AODA are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media or computerized media such as the Internet. Covered organizations that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.

Each organization will need to assess its information and communication platforms and see how these platforms can be barriers to persons with disabilities, and how you can prevent a person with a disability from communicating adequately with the organization or understanding your organization’s information. You will also need to understand the different types of disabilities and how people with disabilities experience your documents. Appreciate how a document can be inaccessible to some people because of a disability.

Important note: making something accessible in no way impacts the ability of persons without disabilities to obtain information or communication from your organization. The issue is not whether the person with the disability is merely provided access, but the issue is rather the extent to which the communication is actually as effective as that provided to others.

To some organizations, this will mean making information available in alternative formats such as braille, large print, audio or sign language. Others may also need to think of the accessibility of information services; for example, offering staff disability awareness training, allowing a support person to communicate on behalf of a disabled person. Some will need to make their documents (in Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF, etc.) and websites accessible.

Elevators and ATM machines may now have to feature braille instructions for people with vision disabilities. TTY terminals will now be added to telephone banks in building lobbies for people who are deaf or have speech disabilities. Public documents, invoices and financial statements will now be made accessible in alternative formats such as braille, large print and audio tape.

Students, customers, who have low-vision or colour-blindness may have difficulty reading your documents if the text colour does not strongly contrast with the background color. Realize that over five percent of men have partial colour-blindness (either having difficulty distinguishing red from green, or distinguishing blue from yellow), and choosing poor colour combinations can make reading a struggle. Also, readers with macular degeneration, glaucoma or other eye diseases may have great difficulty reading text that is small or that does not contrast strongly with the background.

To help people with learning or vision disabilities, making written information accessible could include the following (already applied in US and European countries with accessiblity law and standards), and can be applied to all types of computer-produced information (including word processing, power point and other presentations, emails and websites):

  • Use clear plain language
  • Think of your intended audience and use terms they will understand; explain the meaning of technical terms, unavoidable jargon and acronyms
  • Use correct punctuation
  • Use a clear plain font; non-serif fonts like Arial are preferable
  • Avoid using a small font size; if using Arial font, use point 12 as a minimum, but point 14 is preferable; if using any other font, find a point size equal to Arial 12 or 14, for example Verdana point 11 or 13
  • Use left alignment for all text; justified and centred alignment should be avoided
  • Break text up using bullet points and white-space between paragraphs
  • Avoid italicizing words
  • Avoid blocks of text in italics, underlining or uppercase
  • Provide alternative text for all non-text elements such as pictures, graphs and charts
  • Ensure good contrast between text and background
  • Do not put text over pictures
  • Avoid animated or flashing/blinking text
  • Provide a text transcript for embedded sound files
  • Keep a plain-text version of documents for braille transcription and screen-readers
  • Print on a matte paper to avoid glare caused by some glossy papers
  • The text used for hyperlinks should be specific, for example “SAIF’s website” rather than “Click here”
  • Plain-text emails are more accessible to assistive technology

Accessibility features of a website may include colour contrast, text size control, skip links and headers and should adhere to WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

Websites that are perfectly accessible to fully abled people may be impossible for people with disabilities to access. For example, that new professional looking law firm website that your high-priced designer just created may be impossible for a person using screen-reading technology to navigate; particularly if the person is blind/low vision or has a specific learning disability. Those “frames” or neat drop-down Java menus on your site may be impossible to use via voice-command software. Your fancy “streaming audio” online courses or video conferencing events may be impossible for a deaf person to hear. And so on.

Do you have documents posted in PDF? Most screen readers cannot currently read PDF documents. If your site relies on PDF documents, you will need to make your PDFs accessible, or post both PDF and HTML versions of everything.

If you have streaming audio content at your site, have you thought to put in text transcripts for people who are deaf?

The accessibility issue for online forms is whether or not users with disabilities, especially those who are blind or visually impaired, can determine the purpose of a specific form control and interact with it. A screen reader user will be aware that a text entry field has focus, or a text area or check box, but may not know what information to type in the field or what is being agreed to with the check. Screen readers try to guess which text corresponds to the onscreen prompt for a given control. Often they guess correctly, but sometimes they are wrong. Being correct most of the time is not good enough for filling out forms on the web. When electronic forms are designed to be completed online, the form should allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues.

All photos, images and other graphics that convey information should have an embedded alternative text label. This allows users who cannot see the image to understand what they are missing from the document. It is important that each image have a unique caption in the alternative text label, even if the same image is used more than one location in a document. Without the alternative text, screen readers say “picture” for each image. If you have several images in a row, the screen reader says “picture, picture, picture, picture, picture …”, which can be frustrating (not knowing what information is missing).

Any complex images, charts, tables or other items should also have a text caption that follows the item and explains what ideas the item is meant to communicate. The descriptions should communicate the ideas rather than a spatial narrative (“in the upper-left corner there is a circle”).

Also, if you are allowing a support person to accompany and communicate on behalf of a disabled person during a meeting to discuss a legal matter, you may need to have that support person sign a confidentiality agreement.

Last words

Although most of what you can do to make information and communication accessible is just plain old common sense, there really are a lot of things to consider. So you’d better start working on it! Also remember, the next time you write anything, from brochures to legal opinions to annual reports, make it accessible from the start.

Resources (many come from the US and Europe who have had to comply with accessibility laws and standards for quite some time):
Adobe accessibility resource center
Database of Accessibility Resources
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0
Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers
Accessibility Resource Links
HCI Bibliography : HCI Webliography : Accessibility Resources


  1. Hello Yosie,

    Thank for your article.

    I undestand that everything related to Accessible websites and web content needs to be compliant with WCAG 2.0. AODA have not created their own principles and guidelines like the government of Canada did with CLF 2.0, 3.0 and the province Québec did with their SGQRI 008-01, 02 and 03.

    Working for CGI as a User Experience specialt, UI designer and accessibily (I am starting in that field), I and my team are wondering about videos we post on, etc. Do you know if these videos need to be compliant with the AODA WCAG 2.0?

    Do I understand that all video, images posted on and and will comply with AODA WCAG 2.0 – all american companies – in a near future?

    Is there any documentation out there that can help answering this kind of question? The site is not answering that kind of question very well.

  2. I would suggest you contact Suzanne Share at ‘Access (SCS) Consulting’ She would be the best person to answer your question or find the information for you. Thanks, Yosie

  3. Ok thanks a lot!

    Raymond Violette

  4. Raymond,

    By and large, if you’re following WCAG2.0 guidelines for Web video (and audio) level-AA, you’ll be compliant with the AODA Info&Comm requirements.

    It’s not, IMHO, addressed well enough that some video player controls are not accessible for all; one of the reasons we like to externalize the controls (e.g. play/pause) to the HTML – so that screen readers can get at them.

    Audio description of visual content has been exempted by AODA – leaving those with vision challenges in the dark. A shame, as online video is increasingly used by municipalities, in educational curriculum, …everywhere. However, captioning for video is necessary. Everyone will benefit from seeing them if they’re open-captioned (or always “on”.) If closed captioned (toggle-able), it gives choice.


    Rob Harvie