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. 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).
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?’
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.
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.
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.
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:
Scan 150 or 150,000 subpages at once for WCAG 2.0 contraventions.
Historical reporting to track a team's progress.
Users gained instructions on how best to remediate errors.
Websites could be scanned for broken links (404s).
Larger websites could be broken down into subsections.
Larger organizations could have two or fifty users access AODA Online at once.
Users could setup periodic scheduled scanning to ensure long-term compliance.
Companies could setup different permission level access.
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.
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.
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.