The first review of the AODA’s Information and communications Standards became public in 2020. In this review, the AODA Information and Communications Standards Development Committee outlines improvements to make information and communications accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. The Committee recommends changes to the Information and Communications Standards, to identify, remove, and prevent accessibility barriers in information. In addition, the Committee recommends an alternative system for developing, updating, and enforcing AODA standards. This new system would affect the Information and Communications Standards, as well as other existing and future standards. This article will discuss the Committee’s recommendations for providing accessible formats and communication supports.
Providing Accessible Formats and Communication Supports
Under the Information and Communications Standards, organizations must provide or arrange accessible formats and communication supports when providing information to people with disabilities, upon request.
Accessible formats, sometimes called alternate formats, are ways of presenting printed, written, or visual material so that people with print disabilities can access it. For instance, accessible formats include:
- Large print
- Accessible digital files, such as:
- Microsoft Word
- Text transcripts of visual or audio information
Communication supports are ways for people to access audio information visually. For instance, communication supports include:
- Sign language interpretation
- Writing, email, or texting
- Audio description
- Assistive listening systems
- Augmentative or alternative communication devices, including:
- Letter, word, or picture boards
- Devices that convert text to speech
- Reading aloud
- Rephrasing in clear language
Similarly, the Customer Service Standards require organizations with twenty (20) or more workers to provide accessible formats and communication supports. For example, customers can request accessible-format copies of certain documents, such as an organization’s policies governing:
- Accessible customer service in general
- Welcome for service animals and support persons
- Notification of temporary service disruptions
- Accessible customer service feedback processes
- AODA customer service training
The Committee reports that these two (2) separate requirements for accessible information confuse staff of organizations trying to comply with them. Therefore, the Committee recommends that all requirements in the AODA Standards about providing accessible formats and communication supports should appear together in one place. For instance, all requirements could appear in the General Requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR). As a result, organizations could easily reference all related requirements and establish which components they need to comply with.
Suitable and Timely Provision of Accessible Formats and Communication Supports
The Standards require organizations to consult with the person requesting a format or support, to choose the most suitable one. However, the Standards allow the organization to make the final decision about which format or support to provide. As a result, organizations sometimes choose to provide information using formats or supports that do not meet people’s needs. Therefore, the Committee recommends an update to the Information and Communications Standards. This update would require organizations to gain the agreement of the requester that their chosen format or support is suitable. In other words, this updated requirement would prohibit organizations from providing accessible formats and communication supports that do not meet people’s needs.
Moreover, the current Standards require organizations to provide accessible formats and communication supports in a “timely manner”. However, the Committee reports that people and organizations often disagree about what “timely” might mean. Therefore, the Committee recommends another update to the Standards, encouraging organizations and requesters of information to arrange specific timing. For example, a person and an organization can set a deadline for the organization to prepare a requested format or support.
The Committee notes that people requesting information and organizations may continue to disagree about the suitability or timeliness of a format or support. As a result, the Committee recommends a mechanism to resolve these and other disagreements between organizations and people who request information from them. The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council should consider creating a mechanism to resolve disagreements about provision of accessible information, and other mandates under the AODA.