Canada: NFP Q&A: Understanding Ontario’s Accessible Websites And Web Content Requirements – Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series.

Organizations with employees in Ontario need to be aware of the accessible websites requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 ("Act").  They are set out in Section 14 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards regulation under the Act ("IAS Regulation").  I recently asked the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to clarify a few general scenarios to help guide organizations.  

Before getting to the Q&A, organizations should note that the requirements are different depending on what type of organization you are. 

For those who have 50 or more employees in Ontario ("Large Organizations"), you will need to know that any websites that are newly created on or after January 1, 2014 will need to conform with the "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0".  This requirement also applies if your organization significantly refreshes your website anytime on or after January 1, 2014.  Although the legislation does not define what a "significant refresh" is, Appendix A of the Ontario government's publication "Information and Communications Standard: Making your website more accessible" sets out guidelines on what a significant refresh typically means.  An example is where you are creating, rewriting or reorganizing more than 50% of the site's content.  Even if a Large Organization has no intention of creating a new website or doing a significant refresh in the next several years, by January 1, 2021, all their internet websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA (subject to limited exceptions).

The requirements described above also apply to designated public sector organizations.  That means every municipality and every person or organization listed in Column 1 of Table 1 of Ontario Regulation 146/10 (Public Bodies and Commission Public Bodies — Definitions) made under the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 or described in Schedule 1 to this Regulation ("Designated Public Sector Organizations").  Schedule 1 (Broader Public Sector) includes certain educational institutions and hospitals.

Organizations with at least one but fewer than 50 employees in Ontario ("Small Organizations") do not need to be concerned with the requirements described above.  However, they should note the accessible formats and communication supports requirement mentioned in this post.

Note that the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly, as those terms are defined in IAS Regulation, have different requirements from those stated in this post.

Now, the Q&A:

Question: If a Large Organization or Designated Public Sector Organization significantly refreshes its website in 2014, and there is web content that was published before January 1, 2012, and web content that was published in 2013, what portion of the website will need to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A?

Answer: Designated public sector organizations and large private and not-for-profit organizations (with 50 or more employees in Ontario) that create a new internet website or significantly refresh their existing website on or after January 1, 2014 are required to make that website and web content on that new or significantly refreshed site conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A.  

Any content published on that new or significantly refreshed website after January 1, 2012 is required to be compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level A.  This includes web content that was published in 2013.

Any web content published on that new or significantly refreshed website before January 1, 2012 is not required to comply with WCAG 2.0.  

Although content published on a website before January 1, 2012 is not required to be compliant with WCAG 2.0, people with disabilities can request that this content be provided in an accessible format under Section 12 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation – Accessible Formats and Communication Supports. Section 12 requirements come into effect on January 1, 2015 for designated public sector organizations with 50 or more employees, and on January 1, 2016 for designated public sector organizations with 1-49 employees and large private/not-for-profit organizations.

A "new" website means: a site with a new domain name (i.e., a brand new website address, and not a new page or link on the existing site); or a site with an existing domain name undergoing a significant refresh. A significant refresh may include, but is not limited to, a new look and feel, changes to how the site is navigated, or the majority of content being updated or changed. 

Question: Do mobile apps have to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A?

Answer: Designated public sector organizations and large private/not-for-profit sector organizations would have to meet accessibility requirements for any mobile applications that are internet-based. Mobile applications that are not internet-based would not have to conform with accessibility requirements under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. Organizations will need to assess their mobile application to determine whether it is internet-based or not.

Next week we will post Part 2 of this series which involves micro-sites.

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