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Accessible Buildings a Balancing Act

Public has until Oct. 16 to comment on built environment standards

Sep 01, 2009 – 04:30 AM
By Jillian Follert

OSHAWA — The rubber wheels on Scott Pigden’s scooter bump up against the step outside a vacant downtown Oshawa store, as he demonstrates how even little things can be big barriers.

The step up to the door is just a few inches high, but it’s enough to block those using wheelchairs and scooters from entering, and to pose a serious safety hazard for the visually impaired.

“If you’re open for one, you have to be open for all,” said the local accessibility activist, gesturing along Simcoe Street South, where most stores feature step-up entrances, a lack of power assist doors, narrow aisles and other barriers to those with disabilities.

Soon, that will start to change.

If a new accessibility standard becomes law, all new and newly renovated buildings in Ontario will have to meet strict accessibility standards. And, existing buildings may eventually have to make the changes too.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act became law in 2005, with an eye to achieving total accessibility in Ontario by 2025.

Committees were struck to examine specific areas, such as transportation and customer service, and come up with standards that businesses and organizations will have to follow.

As each draft standard is completed, the public has an opportunity to provide feedback, before it is submitted to the government for consideration.

The committee looking at “built environment,” which includes building features such as doorways, stairs and washrooms, recently finished writing its set of draft standards.

Mr. Pigden is one of 44 people chosen to sit on the committee and said he is generally pleased with the outcome. However, he would like to see some stricter deadlines in place.

While the government doesn’t want to say if or when existing buildings will have to make accessibility retrofits, the built standards committee wants to give them between five and 13 years to comply, depending on how heavily the buildings are used by the public.

Cyndie Sproul, chairwoman of the Oshawa Accessibility Advisory Committee, said it’s a tough balancing act.

“Do I want accessibility? Of course,” she said. “But we also have to make sure this isn’t too costly for privately owned, small businesses. I’d like to see some funding made available to them and some proper time frames, so this doesn’t hurt them.”

Some businesses are already well ahead of the curve.

While much of downtown Oshawa is a minefield for those with disabilities, some store owners have taken the plunge.

Avanti Trattoria on King Street East boasts a smooth sloped entryway, wide double doors with power assist buttons and fully accessible washrooms.

“This is what we’re looking for, it’s things that a lot of people take for granted,” said Oshawa Councillor April Cullen, as she and Mr. Pigden visited the restaurant one recent afternoon. “Can you imagine going out for dinner and not being able to get in the door? Or go to the washroom?”

Coun. Cullen noted that businesses in downtown Oshawa can use the City’s Facade Improvement Loan Program to get up to $15,000 per address and $45,000 per property owner, towards upgrades, which can include accessibility.

The public has until Oct. 16 to comment on the draft built environment standards. The draft standards can be found online at
and comments can be e-mailed to

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