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Accessibility Ecosystem Model for Updating AODA Standards

The first review of the AODA’s Information and communications Standards became public in 2020. In this review, the AODA Information and Communications Standards Development Committee outlines improvements to make information and communications accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. The Committee recommends changes to the Information and Communications Standards, to identify, remove, and prevent accessibility barriers in information. In addition, the Committee recommends an alternative system for developing, updating, and enforcing AODA standards. This new system would affect the Information and Communications Standards, as well as other existing and future standards. This article will discuss the Committee’s recommended accessibility ecosystem model for updating AODA standards.

Recommended Accessibility Ecosystem Model for Updating AODA Standards

The Committee reports that the current method for creating and reviewing AODA standards will not achieve accessibility by 2025. For example, technology and guidelines governing it, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) change rapidly. In contrast, reviews of the Information and Communications Standards happen only every five (5) years. As a result, the Standards rarely reflect the latest accessibility best practices for organizations to follow.

Likewise, understanding about people’s accessibility needs, and ways to meet those needs, also change rapidly. For instance, the Third Review of the AODA points out that the Act makes no mention of accessibility for people with environmental sensitivities. Therefore, the Review recommended updating the Standards with specific provisions to remove barriers that people with this disability face. However, improved processes for reviewing the Standards would limit the need for new requirements to accommodate each newly-recognized disability. Instead, a different way to review the standards would be more responsive to changes in our understanding of accessibility and who it impacts.

In short, we regularly recognize new accessibility barriers, as well as new ways to remove and prevent them. However, the current review process includes no way to quickly publicize new barriers or solutions as they develop. Only one (1) committee can currently recommend changes to each set of AODA Standards. While each committee researches thoroughly and consults widely during its reviews, these reviews cannot publicize every suggestion they receive. In contrast, an improved process for recognizing barriers, and ways to remove them, would bring Ontario closer to its goal of full accessibility by 2025.

Increasing Community Involvement and Interest in Accessibility

Furthermore, between reviews, there is no infrastructure for people or organizations to suggest best practices, or for like-minded people and organizations to implement them. For example, technology developers may not be aware of the positive changes they could make by considering accessibility when they create new programs or apps. Instead, developers and other professionals may feel that accessibility is something they must comply with in specific, limited ways. These organizations may spend time searching for exemptions to accessibility rules, rather than recognizing accessibility as a reason for innovation. A new process for reviewing the Standards would support organizations as they realize the economic and social benefits of, and actively contribute to, accessibility.

In addition, a new model for updating AODA standards could provide community members with a forum for suggesting best practices in accessibility, influencing others, and receiving recognition for their positive impacts. Community members who might contribute to growing accessibility knowledge include:

  • Students
  • Researchers
  • Organizations already committed to accessibility
  • People with disabilities and their loved ones

Recognizing Progress Toward Accessibility

Moreover, the Standards do not include ways to recognize progress, or lack of it. Although the AODA has one (1) broad goal of accessibility by 2025, this goal is difficult to assess. While reviews of the AODA assess this goal every four (4) years, there is no other way for the province to recognize whether it is growing closer or farther from achieving this goal, until the next review.

Similarly, there is no way to assess the validity of services to train organizations in understanding or complying with AODA requirements. As standards increase and expand, services offering accessibility support have also grown. However, these services vary in quality. The new model for reviewing the AODA standards would include a trustworthy authority to indicate progress toward an accessible province. This authority would also provide or recommend high-quality accessibility training and support.

Components of the Accessibility Ecosystem Model for Updating AODA Standards

Therefore, the Committee recommends a new way to update AODA standards. The Committee calls this new structure an accessibility ecosystem model. The model has three (3) components that work together:

  • Responsive accessibility laws
  • A community platform to promote broader interest and innovation in accessibility
  • A trusted authority to constantly review the laws and oversee the community platform

Our next series of articles will outline each component of the accessibility ecosystem model, and how the whole model should encourage responsiveness to change, as well as participation and innovation in accessibility.