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Helping make Ontario accessible.

In early 2013, we received a request for proposal (RFP) from an Ontario law firm for the development of a new website. One of their scope items was ‘AODA compliant’. We had never seen the acronym before, so we went to Google and searched, ‘What is AODA?’

Little did we know, that initial Google search was the first step in a long journey, one that included a software build, the formation of a new company, and our team participating in the Province of Ontario’s goal of making Ontario accessible.

“AODA stands for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, a law in the Province of Ontario that requires organizations to become accessible for people with physical disabilities.”

AODA stands for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, a law in the Province of Ontario that requires organizations to become accessible for people with physical disabilities. One of its regulations, the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation (IASR), requires certain organizations (organizations with over 50 employees and public sector of any size) to make amendments over time to their website properties to ensure they’re adhering to a universal set of development standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

An opportunity within a problem.

A few months before we thought of building an accessibility software, a mid-sized manufacturing company engaged us to make their website adhere to WCAG 2.0.

When making a website accessible, there are two obstacles a development team needs to overcome in order to ensure that a website is accessible: the large learning curve to learn WCAG 2.0 fully and human error tendencies.

Problem 1: High learning curve.

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines encompass over 100 check points required to ensure each page fully meets WCAG 2.0. Because of the breadth of check points and most post-secondary institutions not historically making it a part of their curriculum, there’s an abrasive learning curve for most web teams when they approach making their websites accessible.

Problem 2: Human error.

To help with web accessibility, a free software was built years ago that scans one page at a time to assess whether or not the page adheres to the WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines. Our original plan was to use this software to assist us with the manufacturer’s website. Our thinking was, many others are using the software, so ‘Why not us too?’

Melissa brought up an interesting point: “How do we know if the software is accurate?”

One day, when we were starting the manufacturer’s WCAG 2.0 project, Melissa brought up an interesting point: “How do we know if the software is accurate?” Her reasoning was two-fold: there were no third-party certifications that ensured accuracy, and because the software was free, Melissa questioned whether the founding body had the resources to maintain it.

Melissa’s question illuminated a third problem.

Problem 3: Who’s to say the main software in the industry is accurate?

To test this question, we built a simple demo website that would purposefully fail all 25 WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines and tested our demo website using the free software. A few weeks later, the results came in: the software missed 5 of the 25 WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines.

WCAG 2.0 Test Website

So we set out to build our own software, one that would not only test for adherence to the WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines, but would be more robust and practical for companies to match their day to day needs around web accessibility. For example, large universities often have hundreds of thousands of subpages (in some instances, several million). Scanning one page at a time is exhaustive and resource intensive.  To complete a large job, you need a tool that is robust enough to scan many pages and flexible enough to segment your scan into chunks for better scanning and project management.

“If we were having this problem, wouldn’t other companies be having it too? Why don’t we build a software that we can use and provide it to others to help them build accessible websites?”

For the rest of the 2013 calendar year, any spare development time our team had was used to build a software that would solve the three problems above.

AODA Online

The birth of AODA Online.

From this development, AODA Online came to be. It improved on a lot of the features that the free software had begun and added elements that were missing. Some of AODA Online’s core features were:

  • Scaled Capacity

    Scan 150 or 150,000 subpages at once for WCAG 2.0 contraventions.

  • Reporting

    Historical reporting to track a team's progress.

  • Education

    Users gained instructions on how best to remediate errors.

  • Broken Links

    Websites could be scanned for broken links (404s).

  • URL Segmentation

    Larger websites could be broken down into subsections.

  • Multiple Users

    Larger organizations could have two or fifty users access AODA Online at once.

  • Scheduling

    Users could setup periodic scheduled scanning to ensure long-term compliance.

  • Permission Levels

    Companies could setup different permission level access.

To better understand what it does so well, here are three scenarios:

Scenario 1

AODA Report

Detailed, sectional pages show how many errors there are on each subpage and suggests where to remediate.

Scenario 2

AODA Report

On a selected subpage, AODA Online identifies known WCAG 2.0 errors, provides instructions on what the WCAG 2.0 error means, and gives users access to an educational portal that provides remediation tips.

Scenario 3

AODA Scheduled Report

Larger websites can be broken down into segments. A user can also setup customized, scheduled scanning and reporting for each section.

The First Customer

Being a London, Ontario company, we called up our friends at Goodlife Fitness (Canada’s largest fitness club chain), who are also based in London. They were excited about having a software to help with their development practices – not just for new web builds but for maintaining accessibility on their web assets.

In October 2013, Goodlife Fitness became AODA Online’s first customer.

Over the next 2 years, AODA Online would go on to become Canada’s most popular commercial web accessibility software with the following groups having used AODA Online.

AODA Online Homepage

We also went on to be hired by large brands and their agencies to work on the accessibility of some of Canada’s largest websites:

It’s not over…

Making the web accessible is a complex task because there are many different types of disabilities and many different types of technologies being created each year. For example, AODA Online doesn’t scan PDFs yet, but this is something we’d like to add in the future.

As of 2014, large brands and public sector organizations across Ontario needed to adhere to legal requirements when creating new websites. This created a lot of stress for development teams, and we think AODA Online did a good job of providing a place where development teams could turn to for automated software support. AODA Online offers consulting services for organizations to have their questions answered and to ensure their websites adhere to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

AODA Online

What we learned

  • Andre LeFort, tbk

    I learned that accessibility reaches far beyond what folks typically think of in the disability realm. Accessibility is about good design, attention to detail, and usability. It's about considering that visitors arrive to your website with different abilities, and each visitor needs access to the same information, content, and are provided the tools to contribute equally.

  • Andrew Schiestel, tbk

    AODA Online was especially meaningful to me because tbk started from a social cause (a former school fundraising concept called Tagged By Kindness). For quite some time, we've desired to launch another social type cause in the world but we had to wait for the right concept to present itself. To see AODA Online go live in 2013 and to go on to be used by so many groups in Ontario brings me a lot of joy to see.

  • Scott Blinch, tbk

    We make a lot of assumptions and take a lot of things for granted regarding the abilities of everyone around us based on what we ourselves are able to do. My work on ensuring websites are WCAG 2.0 / AODA compliant has forced me to take a step back and realize that website development isn't just about making a great looking website, it's also about taking charge of my responsibility to ensure that everyone of all abilities are able to use the website.

  • Jonelle Carroll-Bérubé, tbk

    As a developer, I knew that there was a need for accessibility on websites, however, I presumed that the websites we were making were meeting the accessibility standards. It wasn't until learning more about AODA and WCAG 2.0 that I really understood the need and difficulties a user could face while navigating a website. Our team didn’t have the means of testing how accessible and compliant our websites were, and from there AODA Online was created. Now, we can feel confident that we build websites that meet universal accessibility standards.