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 recommended trusted authority in an ecosystem model for updating AODA standards.
Trusted Authority in an Ecosystem Model for updating AODA Standards
The Committee reports that the current method for creating and reviewing AODA standards will not achieve accessibility by 2025. Therefore, the Committee recommends a new way to create and update AODA standards. The Committee calls this new structure an accessibility ecosystem model. Moreover, the model has three (3) components that work together:
- Accessibility laws
- A community platform to promote broader interest and innovation in accessibility
- A trusted authority to constantly review the laws and oversee the community platform
These three components should encourage responsiveness to change, as well as participation and innovation in accessibility.
The trusted authority would be an independent group of people who oversee the ecosystem model to ensure that it functions as intended. The group would include people with a variety of disabilities who also have other forms of expertise. All the group’s activities would be open for the public to observe.
The trusted authority would be accountable to the Legislative Assembly which maintained the accessibility laws, including the Functional Accessibility Requirements (FARs) that organizations would comply with under the ecosystem model. Moreover, the trusted authority would provide criteria and best practices for following the FARs, called qualifying methods.
Qualifying Methods for Complying with Functional Accessibility Requirements (FARs)
For example, the trusted authority would maintain an up-to-date list of qualifying methods, such as:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
- Electronic Publication (EPub)
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
Qualifying methods should be accessible, so that people with disabilities can implement them independently. Similarly, qualifying methods should primarily use widely-available tools and resources, rather than products or services developed specifically for people with disabilities. In this way, people with disabilities would not need to buy specialized technology. Instead, technology and resources targeted for the general public should be accessible to members of the public who have disabilities.
The trusted authority would remove qualifying methods from this list when they become out-of-date. Conversely, the trusted authority would also search for new qualifying methods to add to the list. For instance, the trusted authority would assess resources from the community platform to determine if any of them qualify. Furthermore, the trusted authority would recommend tools and resources that would help organizations use qualifying methods. Likewise, the trusted authority would assess whether any new qualifying methods are needed to fulfill the FARs. For example, the trusted authority would regularly research new accessibility barriers that people experience, including people:
- With various literacy levels
- In urban, rural, and remote areas
- With episodic or invisible disabilities
- At all income levels
- Who experience additional barriers through belonging to multiple marginalized communities
The trusted authority would then search for and recommend qualifying methods to remove or prevent these barriers.
In addition, the trusted authority would work closely with organizations to help them understand how the FARs applied to their businesses. Moreover, the trusted authority would connect organizations to resources in the community platform. Furthermore, the trusted authority would alert organizations to any changes in the accessibility laws that applied to them.
Likewise, the trusted authority would encourage accessibility innovation from people and organizations throughout the province. This innovation should remove and prevent a wide variety of accessibility barriers. Therefore, the trusted authority’s models for encouraging innovation should not be “contests” with one entrepreneur winning more support than others. Instead, the trusted authority should support many accessibility innovation endeavours. In addition, the trusted authority would support people with disabilities not only as consumers, but also in their efforts as:
Finally, the trusted authority would keep records about Ontario’s progress toward accessibility, and make these records available to the public. For example, the trusted authority could publicize the number of:
- Companies with accessibility officers
- Complaints received, and how they were resolved
- Employees who identify as having disabilities
- People with training in accessibility skills
The trusted authority’s oversight of the accessibility laws and community platform would promote public accountability on tangible progress toward reaching the AODA’s goal of an accessible province.