By Lynn Smith, President, Convey Communications Inc.
On March 23, IABC/Calgary’s Employee Communications and Meetup groups gained valuable insights from communicators Kathy Daeninck, Kathleen Bell, ABC and Barbara Warburton on The Accessibility for Ontarians for Disabilities Act (AODA) and its impact on communications. They also provided examples of how to apply AODA from their own work as consultants and facilitated a discussion with IABC/Calgary members on possible changes coming to Alberta and the potential impact on communications for organizations.
Encompassing more than just communications, the AODA includes regulations and guidelines on accessible information and applies to both internal and external communications channels and formats. It was put into place in 2005 to regulate and provide guidelines for communications to ensure that persons with disabilities can access information. Ontario was the first province to do this and while the deadline for most requirements has already passed, full compliance (particularly for websites) will be required by 2025. A brief summary of the act can be found here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/about-accessibility-laws#section-2 and at https://accessontario.com/aoda/
The presenters shared that while the law allows for some flexibility, companies are expected to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities when requested to do so. The accommodation must be in a form that meets the specific needs of the individual, but should not cause undue stress or hardship to the company.
The law and guidelines do not apply to small organizations with less than 20 employees. However, those with more than 50 people are required be compliant both internally and externally. An example of compliance is: if a company provides training videos for employees, it would have to ensure that the videos had closed captions on them.
The key areas that are important for communicators to be aware of include:
- Information and Communications – Any information and communication that is created for interaction with others (i.e., for public consumption) must be compliant. Examples include: websites, presentations, surveys, and collateral. This does not mean each channel or piece of information must be adjusted when it is distributed or created. However, the organization must be prepared to respond and make that piece of information or channel available for a disabled person to access, if they request it.
For example, if an organization provided a pamphlet for a person who cannot see well, it may need to provide it in a PDF format online so that the individual can enlarge it on a computer screen and thus be better able to read it. Alternatively, a designated individual in the organization may need to verbally read the information to the disabled person.
Other adjustments to the information may be required, depending on the needs of the disabled persons having to access the information.
- Employment – Employers are to provide all employment-related information in accessible formats such as applications forms, employee orientation materials and other information. If requested for it, employers must provide the information in an accessible format so the employee can perform his or her job.
- Reporting – Ontario organizations also are required to report on their compliance via a checklist every three years.
What does this mean to communicators in Alberta?
Although the AODA is only enforceable in Ontario, Kathy, Kathleen and Barbara suggested that Alberta communicators who aren’t already part of a national organization with offices in Ontario become familiar with the guidelines as it’s only a matter of time before they will be implemented across Canada. In fact, Manitoba has similar regulations in place.
But there is still much work to be done, especially around external communications.
Alberta-based web developers may not necessarily be up to standard on AODA guidelines. A compliant website would be a responsive one, where everything is in text format, fits all screens, has no PDFS and everything can be readable with an assisted reading device (a mechanism used by those with disabilities related to reading). Content for websites could be adapted through the keyboard (made larger, for example) or through a device. Tags describing visuals should be in place on the site as well.
There are resources available to evaluate websites and confirm if they are compliant: https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-make-websites-accessible (Good examples of compliant websites include both CTV’s website or Global News where reader views are available.)
The presenters provided some quick tips for printed materials. For example:
- Fonts – Use san serif, upper and lower case, no All CAPS, bold instead of underlines or italics.
- Layout – Chunk information; use clear writing and short sentences; align test left; use wide margins and space between lines.
- Colour and contract – Use black text on white or yellow; do not use colour alone to convey meaning (highlighting); do not use any patterned backgrounds or glossy materials.
Additional Messaging and Support
The Canadian Marketing Association provides an excellent guide focused on marketing practices (not HR) but it can be useful for communicators. https://www.the-cma.org/regulatory/accessibility-for-ontarians-with-disabilities-act-resources
For more details on employment, see http://mindfieldgroup.com/2016/01/how-the-accessibility-for-ontarians-with-disability-act-affects-your-recruitment-process/
Williams HR Law also provides a good overview of the employment standards under AODA, available on its website at http://www.williamshrlaw.com/2013/06/24/overview-of-the-employment-standard-under-aoda/
Presenters Kathy, Kathleen and Barbara confirmed that most Ontario organizations are ahead of the game. For us here in Alberta, though, we need to start preparing as change is coming.
To learn more, contact the presenters or author:
Kathy Daeninck, Co-Director Career Services, IABC/Calgary
Barbara Warburton, Principal, Warburton & Associates
Kathleen Bell, BA ABC, Past Chair – IABC Canada West Region, Consultant, kbell Communications
Lynn Smith, President, Convey Communications Inc.