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Accessible Exterior Paths of Travel

Under the Design of Public Spaces Standard of the AODA, cities and other organizations building or reconstructing exterior paths of travel, such as sidewalks and walkways, must make those paths accessible to travellers with disabilities. Rules for accessible exterior paths of travel apply to private organizations with 50 or more workers and all public sector organizations.

Accessible Exterior Paths: What You Need to Know

Before Building

Before building, organizations must consult the public and people with disabilities about the need for rest areas. Rest areas are locations where travellers can step out of the flow of traffic for a short time. Cities that have municipal accessibility advisory committees must also consult their committees about rest areas before building or redeveloping paths.

Minimum Requirements

The Standard lists minimum requirements for many aspects of exterior paths. Entrances must have clear openings of at least 850 mm. Moreover, paths must have minimum clear widths of 1,500 mm. This width allows room for mobility devices or service animals going both ways along a path. However, parts of a path that connect to a curb ramp can be 1,200 mm wide. In addition, paths must have minimum head room clearances of 2,100 mm. This height ensures that paths are free of obstacles overhead that white canes cannot detect, like signs or tree branches. If part of a path does not have this clearance, that section should have a cane-detectable railing or barrier around it.

Paths must have firm, stable, and slip-resistant surfaces that canes, crutches, or the wheels of mobility devices will not sink into. Likewise, if there are openings in a path’s surface, they must be smaller than 20 mm. This size  prevents mobility devices from getting stuck in the openings. Long, narrow openings should be at right angles to the direction of travel. Finally, Any change in the level of a path must have a slope or ramp. Similarly, sidewalks with steep or depressed curbs must have curb ramps. All slopes and curb ramps must comply with the requirements for them listed in the Design of Public Spaces Standard.

Pedestrian Signals

Accessible pedestrian signals provide audio or tactile information about whether it is safe to cross at intersections or crosswalks. Signals must have locator tones to help travellers find them. These tones must be different from the walk indicator tones that tell travellers when it is safe to cross. In addition to the audible walk indicator tones, signals must vibrate so that travellers who are deafblind will know when they should cross.

Moreover, signals must be no more than 1,500 mm away from curbs. The push-buttons on the signals must be no higher than 1,100 mm off the ground. The arrow-shaped buttons must be tactile and point in the direction that travellers should cross. Furthermore, signals should function both manually, when someone presses the button, and automatically. Two signals on one corner should be at least 3,000 mm apart. When there is not enough room on a corner and the two signals must be on the same post, verbal announcements must clearly state which street is safe to cross.

Ramps and Stairs

Many of the minimum requirements for flat paths also apply to ramps. The Design of Public Spaces Standard provides additional detailed technical requirements for the construction of ramps, handrails, and landings.

The Standard also gives detailed technical requirements for stairs. Stairs can never be the only way of changing levels on a path because some travellers always use ramps. However, many other travellers with disabilities need or prefer to use stairs. When stairs are included on an exterior path, they must be slip-resistant and have closed risers. Furthermore, stairs in the same flight must be the same size. Additionally, they must have good colour contrast all the way along the edge of every step. Good contrast ensures that travellers with low vision can see where each step is. Likewise, there should be a tactile change in a path’s surface at the top of each flight. Tactile surfaces indicate to travellers who are blind that the flight is approaching.

Why do we need Accessible Exterior Paths of Travel?

Sidewalks, walkways, and other paths are everywhere in Ontario. Accessible exterior paths of travel ensure that everyone in the province has basic freedom of movement: across the street to visit a neighbour, around the corner to the local convenience store, or a few blocks away to catch the bus.