Overview

The law

The Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), created under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA), has accessibility standards that businesses and organizations in Ontario need to follow.

The accessibility standards include the Information and Communications Standards which have requirements for accessible websites and web content.

As of January 1, 2021, you are required to make all public websites accessible if you are either a:

Business or non-profit organizations with fewer than 50 employees are not required under the IASR to follow these website accessibility requirements, but are encouraged to do so.

What to do

There may be instances when accessible web compliance may not be feasible under the IASR.

First, check with your web team to see if the information can be made accessible to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A/AA requirements.

If the answer is ‘yes,’ then do it! Accessibility is always the goal.

If the answer is ‘no,’ there are six general categories when an organization may not have to make a website accessible, including situations where it may not be feasible to do so. These categories are:

You are not required to notify us if you determine that any of these categories apply to your website, but you may be asked to explain why it is not feasible to make your public website or web content accessible as part of a compliance audit.

Seek legal advice where necessary and appropriate.

Best practices

If despite best efforts, any aspect of your organization’s website, web application or web content does not meet WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA standards, follow these best practices:

  • provide a solution for any issues that can be fixed, where feasible
  • develop a remediation plan for any remaining issues that cannot be fixed and document the issues with clear timelines
  • ensure processes are in place for receiving and responding to feedback
  • offer accessible formats and communication supports upon request and in a timely manner that takes into account a person’s accessibility needs due to their disability
  • if the information cannot be converted into an accessible format because it is not technologically possible or feasible to do so, provide a summary of the inaccessible information or communications
  • explain to anyone requesting information or communications why it cannot conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA
  • conduct regular reviews of existing and new technology that would help to remediate the website, application or content that cannot conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA

This will help your organization to promote maximum accessibility, transparency and continuous improvement.

Live captions and pre-recorded audio descriptions

Public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012, must meet WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA success criteria except for:

Removing all barriers to accessibility is always the goal, but this is the minimum standard for accessibility compliance reporting.

Learn more about the requirements and how to make your website accessible.

Live captions example

A large entertainment company is planning a live event that will be streamed online. The company is not required to provide live captions for the live event.

If the video is recorded and posted online for the public at a later time, then the company is required to include captions for the posted video, as it will then be considered pre-recorded content.

Pre-recorded audio descriptions example

Audio descriptions are intended to enhance the audio portion of a presentation with the necessary information when the video portion is not available (for example, during existing pauses in dialogue).

In the example of a large entertainment company posting a video of a livestreamed event, the company would not be required to provide audio descriptions.

Intranets and extranets

Since both intranets and extranets are not public-facing, your intranet and extranet websites are not required to meet WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA success criteria.

However, if an individual asks you to make content available to them in an alternate accessible format (such as large print or braille), you must work with the individual to meet their needs.

You are encouraged to seek legal advice to determine if your organization’s website can be considered an intranet or extranet.

Intranet example

A large financial institution in Ontario maintains an employee portal where all employees can log in and access internal information such as training, orientation, vacation credits, as well as pay and benefits. This type of website may be considered an intranet.

Extranet example

A university in Ontario has an online learning management system. University students must log in with a password to their secure accounts and access learning resources, course content, and submit assignments. Students can access the internal website from outside the physical network with a username and password. This could be considered an extranet.

Pre-2012 content

Under subsection 14(5) of the IASR, the WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA requirements do not apply to web content published on a website before January 1, 2012.

A document is considered published when it is finalized and distributed to its intended audience. The following can be used to establish the publication date:

  • year published on a document
  • copyright statement
  • contextual information from an organization’s website
  • accompanying materials, such as news releases

Note: Changing a website address or revising a copyright statement, but not meaningfully changing format or content, does not impact the original date of publication.

Questions to consider

  • When was the content published? When was it last updated?
  • Is the content still useful and accurate?
  • Is there a compelling business reason to keep the old content posted?
  • Is there a legal or historical reason to keep the information in its original form?
  • Has there been a genuine and documented effort to mitigate the barriers to people with disabilities? (For example, by offering alternative formats upon request and creating a remediation plan to update the content over time.)

If your organization determines that the content was published before January 1, 2012, then you are not required to meet the WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA requirements.

Content can’t be converted

Under paragraph 9(2)2  of the IASR, the Information and Communications Standards in the IASR do not apply to unconvertible information or communications. This could include communications through websites and web applications.

Information is unconvertible if:

  • it is not technically feasible to convert the information
  • the technology to convert the information is not readily available; for example, supply is limited or the technology is highly specialized.

Note: Organizations must be prepared to respond to someone requesting an accessible format of the unconvertible information or communications with:

  • the reason(s) why it can’t be converted
  • a summary of the unconvertible information or communications.

Questions to consider

  • Has there been a genuine and documented effort to confirm that it is not technically feasible to convert the information/communications or that the technology to convert is not readily available?
  • Is market analysis done on a regular basis to keep up with evolving technology?
  • Is there a compelling business reason to keep the unconvertible information posted online?
  • Has there been a genuine and documented effort to mitigate the barrier to people with disabilities? (For example, by offering alternative formats upon request and creating a remediation plan to replace the unconvertible content over time.)

If your organization determines that the information or communications can’t be converted, then the WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA requirements do not apply.

Outside your organization’s control

Subsection 14(5) of the IASR effectively says that your organization’s website accessibility obligations do not include websites and web content (including web-based applications) that your organization does not control either:

  • directly
  • through a contractual relationship

Products that the organization does not control may have been supplied by a partner organization or third-party vendor. This is why it’s so important to use procurement practices that ensure you are procuring accessible solutions from vendors.

Questions to consider

  • Does your organization own or otherwise directly control the website or content?
  • Does any relevant contract or agreement provide your organization with enough control to make the product conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA?
  • Did the procurement/contract process include criteria for selecting an accessible product?
  • If not, is there a plan in place to ensure future procurement/contract processes include criteria for selecting an accessible product that conforms to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA?
  • What steps have been or can be taken to require the vendor to make the product accessible?

If you determine that your organization does not have direct control over the website or a contract that allows for modification, then your organization’s website accessibility requirements under the IASR do not extend to that website.

No commercial software

Under subsections 14(5) and 14(6) of the IASR your organization may consider the availability of commercial software and/or tools in determining whether meeting the IASR’s accessible websites and web content requirements is feasible.

If no commercial software or tools exist to make a website, web application or web content conform to the requirements, then the website is not required to meet the WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements under paragraph 14(6)(a) of the IASR.

Note: When requested, your organization must still provide an alternative accessible format of the website or a summary of the unconvertible information or communications.

Questions to consider

  • Has there been a genuine and documented effort to confirm that no commercial software is available to make the website conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA?
  • Has a full survey of available software products and accessible digital service providers been done, along with an accessibility evaluation of each?
  • Is market analysis done on a regular basis to keep up with evolving technology?
  • Is commercial off-the-shelf software the only viable solution that will meet business requirements?
  • Is there documentation supporting the decision that no internally developed accessible solution would meet business requirements?
  • Did the procurement/contract process include criteria for creating an accessible product?
  • If no, is there a plan in place to ensure future procurement/contract processes include criteria for creating an accessible product?

Only after you’ve tried your best to achieve the web accessibility standards and you’ve determined that no commercial software or tools exist to make your organization’s website conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA, you may determine the requirements under paragraph 14(6)(a) of the IASR do not apply.

Pre-2012 implementation timeline

If it can be shown that making the website conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA would have a significant impact on an implementation timeline that was planned or initiated before January 1, 2012, it may be appropriate to claim that is not practicable to make the website accessible under paragraph 14(6)(b) of the IASR.

Questions to consider

  • Is there documented pre-2012 evidence of the planning or creation of this website, and an implementation schedule that continues to the current time or beyond?
  • Has there been a genuine and documented effort to confirm that it is not feasible to make the website conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA without significant impact on an implementation timeline that was planned or initiated before January 1, 2012?
  • What efforts have been made to mitigate the barriers to people with disabilities? (For example, seeking alternate accessible solutions, offering alternative formats or creating a remediation plan that explores ways to improve accessibility.)

Organizations should:

  • seek legal advice where necessary (particularly about how present actions could interfere with timelines from 2012 or earlier)
  • appropriately and carefully document their decision-making and any related risks

Other reasons

Under subsection 14(6) of the IASR, there may be other things to consider when determining whether meeting the accessible websites and web content requirements is “not practicable” in a particular situation.

These things could include extremely high costs, lack of available resources or something else.

The Human Rights Code

It is important to understand that “not practicable” under the IASR is different than the “duty to accommodate” to the point of “undue hardship” under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code). The accessibility standards under the IASR are meant to complement existing obligations under the Code, not replace them.

However, the Code’s “duty to accommodate” may inform the reasonableness of claiming that it is not practicable to meet accessible website and web content requirements.

The Code says that:

  • reliance on cost as a rationale for not providing accommodation should be supported by quantifiable evidence
  • a mere statement, without supporting evidence, that the cost is too high based on speculation or stereotypes is not enough

For an undue hardship argument to be successful on the basis of cost, the costs must meet all of the following criteria:

  • quantifiable
  • related to the accommodation
  • either so substantial that they would alter the essential nature of the enterprise, or significant enough to substantially affect its viability

Determining that it is “not-practicable” to make a website or web content accessible for any reason other than cost should also be supported by compelling and quantifiable evidence.

Questions to consider

  • Has there been a genuine and documented effort to allocate the needed resources to make the website conform to WCAG 2.0 Levels A/AA by either remediating existing inaccessible websites or developing new ones?
  • Is the lack of resources delaying accessibility or preventing it entirely?
  • How many people will be affected by the delay and how long will it last?
  • Can the delay be shortened?
  • Can remediation be prioritized so external websites and websites with the highest amount of traffic are remediated more quickly?

Organizations should:

  • seek legal advice where necessary (with particular attention to how the IASR may be affected by the Code)
  • appropriately and carefully document their decision-making and any related risks.

If your organization determines in good faith that cost, lack of available resources or any other reasons justify leaving your website and or web content inaccessible, your organization may determine it is “not practicable” to make your website and or content accessible under Subsection 14(6) of the IASR.

However, there may also be cases where you may not be able to apply Subsection 14(6) of the IASR.

Re-evaluate when websites are inaccessible

Remember that accessibility is always the goal.

You should re-evaluate any cases where your organization has determined that it is not feasible to make your website or web content accessible as part of your accessibility compliance process. This is so you can assess whether circumstances have changed (for example, new technology is available) to allow you to meet website accessibility requirements.

All future developments, configurations or changes should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if the reason for not meeting accessibility still exists or applies.

Multi-year planning and accessibility compliance reports

Designated public sector organizations as well as business and non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees are required to complete and update a multi-year plan.

Re-evaluating the reasons why your organization cannot meet its accessibility requirements as part of your multi-year planning will help you be prepared to explain why you cannot meet a requirement should you be asked when it is time to file your accessibility compliance report or during a compliance audit.

Designated public sector organizations are required to file an accessibility compliance report every two years.

Business or non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees are required to file an accessibility compliance report every three years.

Disclaimer

The aim and purpose of this webpage is to help individuals and businesses with information related to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and its associated regulation O. Reg. 191/11. While we aim to provide relevant and timely information, no guarantee can be given as to the accuracy or completeness of any information provided. This guidance is not intended to nor does it provide legal advice and should not be relied upon or treated as legal advice. Those seeking legal advice should consult with a qualified legal professional.

In case of discrepancy between website content and relevant Ontario legislation and regulations, the official version of Ontario Acts and Regulations as published by the Queen's Printer for Ontario will prevail.

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility and the Government of Ontario do not endorse or recommend any accessibility consultant(s), their advice, opinions or recommendations.