Adam Spencer discusses compliance under the AODA during a webinar with the RGD – 2020

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Adam Spencer
on december 8, 2020 from Oakville, Ontario

Last week, Adam Spencer, President, AbleDocs, conducted a webinar with RDG (Registered Graphic Designers) to discuss compliance under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). You can find a summary of Adam’s advice from Marc Lauriault at RGD here: https://www.rgd.ca/news/index/news_post/6016.php


The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was past 15 years ago. It requires businesses and non-profits to follow accessibility standards developed by the government for any content being created and distributed to the public or clients.

The whole goal of the AODA is to ensure that a document is accessible at the time of distribution, this includes anything that is emailed as a pdf, a document loaded to a website, or anything that is communicated to the public or your organization – that content must be accessible.



  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is built as a series of recommendations for a given piece of content.
  • WCAG 2.1 was recently updated and implemented in 2020 to make sure that the accessibility guidelines adapt to the latest web technologies.


  • PDF/UA is an ISO standard 14289-1/2
  • There are over 1 billion PDF’s loaded to the internet annually.
  • Universal Accessibility (UA) is a normative technical standard. As an additive specification for ISO 32000-1, UA provides consistent guidance for achieving accessibility within a PDF context.

The AODA has re-enforced that PDF is a completely valid format for accessibility and distribution of content within the province, so we need to ensure it is accessible. PDF has built upon a platform of trust, so we know that the content is identical. When a document is created, we know five years later it will still be the same content.

Investing a little now could save you a great deal before the AODA deadline.

Accessibility may be a step that could cost a little more in the beginning, but do not go for your cheapest option because you are not going to get what you really need.

  • You either make your content accessible or not, but that does not mean you have to do it.
  • There are techniques for making every single piece of content on a page fully accessible, but recognizing the limitations could be challenging, so there is no shame in asking for help.
  • The two best free checkers are PAC a PDF accessibility checker, which is completely PDF/UA compliant. CommonLook PDF checker is another free tool for testing and validating documents. Choose the tool that your comfortable with.
  • If you are paying for a tool to validate and remediate some your more challenging documents, then axesPDF is the tool to easily identify and fix those accessibility issues in a single click.

Accessibility is very much like language translation, instead of translating to French we are translating it for someone who cannot visually consume content. Language accessibility provides a new opportunity for us to reshape how content is provided, distributed and consumed by everyone.

Your content needs to be conveyed to every user in an equal manner and that does not mean the same way, but in an equal way

We need to convey the exact same content or experience to a user who has a loss of sight, a visual impairment, a cognitive disability or any challenges with visually consuming content. This is achievable if we:

  • Ensure the headings make sense.
  • Images should include Alt-Text. Ensure the description is concise and accurate as to what is conveyed in the content.
  • Ensuring everything on the page, such as the heading structures, tables, lists, links and all the elements on the page that have meaning are accessible and machine readable.

Consider these tips when setting up files or working on projects that needs to be AODA compliant

  • Who is consuming this and how is it being distributed?
  • How are you planning on creating this content?
  • Are you going to try and create as much of an accessible document as possible or are you planning on using a service after the fact and is this a sustainable approach for you?
  • What tools do you have and do those tools do what you think they do?
  • How often will that document be updated and what volume is that document being created in. Will it be just a one-off or used multiple times?

It is important to remember that there is not one solution for every document type, so you need to make sure they are structured correctly when you are creating things in InDesign or creating a comprehensive reading order, creating articles or creating consistency with your heading structures. A lot of it is recognizing how content will be consumed.

By making Accessibility a top priority, you are creating an inclusive environment

You cannot ignore the fact that as we get older and as things change with our visual abilities, we are going to look at consuming content differently, so design great documents from the beginning. The extra attention to bigger font sizes or color contrast can end up having a significant impact for the end user.

  • Ten per cent of the population (over three million Canadians with disabilities) are accessing your content differently.
  • Accessible content has better search results, increased audience traffic and less maintenance.

There is a lot of consideration that can go into your design, so just be creative with it and know how to overcome the potential limitations. Creating fully accessible content from the start will save you time, effort and money from fixing issues down the road.

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