Under the AODA, private or non-profit businesses with twenty to forty-nine (20-49) workers, or fifty (50) or more workers, must complete accessibility reports every three years. As a result, businesses regularly assess their compliance with the five AODA standards:
- The Information and Communications Standards
- The Employment Standards
- The Transportation Standards
- The Design of Public Spaces Standards
- The Customer Service Standards
The Ontario government has extended the upcoming deadline for businesses to assess and report on AODA compliance. However, the government also recommends that businesses use this time to improve the accessibility of spaces and services. When businesses provide a higher level of accessibility than the AODA requires, they can welcome and work with a wider clientele.
In addition, businesses should also assess how well they follow the accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code (the Code). Businesses are not required to assess their compliance with the Code. Nonetheless, businesses can benefit from finding out how accessible their buildings are. Moreover, they can use this knowledge to plan improvements that would allow more people to access their spaces and services.
Improving Building Accessibility
Currently, the Code does not have guidelines for several aspects of structures. For instance, the Code does not offer guidance on how to make signage accessible. Businesses can ensure that their messages for the public are most informative by creating signage that:
- Includes detailed information for people with hearing disabilities
- Uses clear language or pictures for people with intellectual disabilities
- Is at eye level for people at wheelchair and standing heights
- Has large print and good colour contrast for people with visual impairments
- Includes Braille for people who are blind
Furthermore, many cities, such as Toronto, Brantford, and London, have developed municipal guidelines for accessible building features including:
- Places of worship
- Swimming pools
- Balconies, porches, and terraces
Toronto and Brantford outline more accessibility guidelines for places like:
- Residential kitchens
Toronto’s guidelines include additional provisions for accessible:
- Snow removal
- Mail boxes
Businesses could follow many of these guidelines to ensure that more people can enter and move through their premises.
More Accessible Public Spaces Needed
In addition, the Code only mandates accessibility in buildings that are new or redeveloped. These legal limitations mean that older buildings and spaces are closed or unwelcoming to people with certain disabilities, including people who:
- Use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or scooters
- Have invisible disabilities, such as heart or lung conditions
Business owners or managers may feel that they do not need to worry about making older spaces accessible because the standards do not require them to do so. They may also fear that installing accessible features will be costly, time-consuming, or inconvenient. However, grants for structural accessibility may offset costs. In addition, some changes are less costly and easier to put in place. While renovating for accessibility may take time and construction is inconvenient, inaccessibility is just as time-consuming and inconvenient for people with disabilities.
Finally, there are important reasons for improving building accessibility.
Fifteen percent (15%) of people in Ontario have disabilities. This number will rise as people age. More and more people will soon want to live and do business in accessible locations. If building owners make those spaces as accessible as they can, their actions may later help someone they know. Moreover, accessibility also affects non-disabled family, friends, and colleagues. Groups travelling on family trips, friendly outings, or company social events will include people with disabilities. These potential clients will choose to go to accessible places.
Small Steps toward Accessibility
If building owners cannot make large changes, they can still make small ones. Even if a building cannot immediately follow every best practice, they can still choose to implement some. For instance, ramps and elevators are both important items that help people with mobility disabilities access buildings. If a building owner cannot install an elevator but can install a ramp, this effort will make part of the building accessible.
Access Helps Everyone
Businesses that make as many accessibility improvements as they can will show that they welcome tenants, customers, and workers who have disabilities. Moreover, accessible buildings are also helpful for other groups of people. Ramps and elevators are useful for families with babies in strollers. Wide hallways benefit families with small children who can hold hands while they travel. Automatic doors are useful for people with their hands full of groceries or supplies.
Not all accessibility is mandatory under the Ontario Building Code. Some of it can be costly or need careful planning. However, some accessible features are easier to put in place than others. Building owners can make one change at a time. Many of these changes will make the world more welcoming to people of all abilities and at every stage of their lives.