While in school for communications, I learned plenty of skills that I actually would go on to use in the real world—but I didn’t always realize right away how useful they’d be. Exhibit A: SWOT analyses. Who knew these would be so useful?
During classes, my instructors would often refer to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA), reminding us to ensure our assignments were compliant. I realized I underestimated its significance when I went to my first internship interview where the interviewer asked me to speak on it. I apparently didn’t do quite well enough, since I didn’t get the position.
Since many of us have our own blogs and websites, I figured I’d impart my advice on what I’ve learned about AODA compliance. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Become well-versed in this subject and you’ll be an aware and ethical communications professional.
What is the AODA?
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is an Ontario law mandating that organizations follow certain standards to become more accessible to people with disabilities. It came into effect in 2005 to regulate accessibility standards that organizations (public, private and non-profit sectors alike) must comply with.
Why is the AODA important for me to know?
As a communicator, your job is defined by the ability to share information effectively, and so much of communicating these days is done online. If people aren’t able to access or consume your content, the beautiful website you’ve worked to design isn’t fulfilling its purpose. Think of this as the foundation on which your online content relies. In fact, the second standard of the AODA is exclusive to information and communication.
According to the Act, if you have more than 50 employees or are a public sector organization, you must have an AODA compliant website. But, even if it’s your own personal blog, being compliant is still important! It will 1) show employers you know your stuff, 2) ensures everyone can enjoy your content, and 3) gets you valuable experience implementing the AODA.
How can I make sure that I’m an AODA compliant communications professional?
The AODA is detailed and extensive, so much so that organizations are implementing AODA-specific training. According to Section 14 (web accessibility), there are 4 criteria that must be followed: perceivability, operability, understandability and robustness. It’s a lot of info and you’re not expected to know it all. Here’s a short list of things you can easily tweak on your blog/website to make it more accessible:
- Don’t make your font too small. Some fonts require a larger size to be readable, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid making fonts smaller than 12 point;
- Avoid any visual elements that flash rapidly;
- Design your site so that the colours are sufficiently contrasting so as to ensure readability (i.e. don’t put light yellow text on a white background). As a guideline, make sure there’s at least a 70% difference in colour value;
- If you have sound on your website make sure visitors can easily adjust the volume or mute it;
- Titles and subheadings should be self-explanatory;
- That beautiful info-graphic you’ve created on Canva? Make sure you’re including a text alternative;
- Ensure that the meaning of your content is not dependent on the ability to perceive colours, sounds, size of objects, etc.
What if I don’t have a blog or website?
Even if you don’t create a ton of online content, you should be aware of the AODA since its laws apply to print design as well. As a PR practitioner, you’re likely writing press releases, designing media kits or creating presentations. Here are some guidelines you should also be aware of:
- Keep the structure among pages consistent so that readers can identify content quickly and easily;
- When printing, avoid glossy paper or other materials that create a lot of glare;
- Use a legible font of well-balanced proportions (so stay away from ultra-bold or ultra-fine fonts);
- Ensure large blocks of text are left-aligned;
- Use formatting (like italicization and underlining) sparingly.
Whether you’ve got a personal blog, online portfolio or profession-based site, making sure your content is accessible will show prospective employers that you’ve got your finger on the pulse. More importantly, you’re making your content accessible to more people. Sure, you may not need to comply at this stage in your career, but knowing the AODA and making small changes accordingly indicates your dedication to the field.