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Disability Barriers in Public Spaces

In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outlined many barriers that people with disabilities face. More improvements to the AODA would help to remove existing barriers and prevent future ones. Therefore, in addition to direct recommendations, Onley’s review also includes suggestions from attendees about how to remove these barriers. This article will explore disability barriers in public spaces and ways to remove them.

Disability Barriers in Public Spaces

Under the Design of Public Spaces Standards, organizations must make new and redeveloped public spaces accessible. Accessible public spaces include:

The Standards include technical requirements to help urban planners and other professionals design spaces accessibly. However, attendees report that many cities are building spaces that fulfill these requirements but are still not accessible. For example, one city plans to build sidewalks that include bricks. There is no rule in the Standards forbidding brick. However, sidewalks built with bricks would not be accessible.

Similarly, attendees describe a town that has recently renovated its main street. These renovations include:

  • Large planters in front of buildings
  • Removing a crosswalk

There are no rules in the standards about planters or about removing crosswalks. Nonetheless, these changes make the street less accessible. In both these cases, more technical requirements in the standards may help designers avoid mistakes like these.

Disobeying Standards

However, new rules and technical requirements in the Standards may not prevent barriers. Attendees report that some organizations are not obeying rules that already exist in the Standards. For instance, the Standards mandate that designers of new or redeveloped parking spaces must consult people with disabilities before building. This mandate should ensure that constructors of new or changed spaces will find out:

  • How many spaces their organization needs
  • Where spaces should be located

However, attendees report that many organizations create parking areas that do not include enough spaces. Moreover, organizations also place spaces too far from buildings. Therefore, these organizations may not be consulting with people who have disabilities, as the Standards require.

Likewise, the Standards state that organizations building or renovating outdoor play spaces must also consult people with disabilities at the design stage. This mandate allows creators of play spaces to find out:

  • How much accessible equipment to include, and how to arrange it
  • What types of surfaces will be “firm and stable” while also reducing injuries from impact

However, attendees report that many cities and other organizations create play spaces with:

  • Not enough accessible equipment for the population
  • Wood chip surfaces that may reduce injury, but are not firm and stable

Therefore, these cities or organizations may not be obeying the Standards’ mandate to consult people who have disabilities before building.

In all these cases, designers of public spaces seem not to care about accessibility. While some designers disobey the Standards outright, others obey existing rules but make spaces inaccessible in other ways. This pattern indicates the need for the cultural change Onley’s review recommends. This change would allow more non-disabled people to learn why accessibility matters.