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Improving Physical Accessibility in College and University

Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In contrast, the other committee has recommended guidelines for the university and college education system. In this article, we outline the Postsecondary Committee’s recommendations for improving physical accessibility in college and university.

Improving Physical Accessibility in College and University

The Committee recommends that the Ontario government should develop minimum standards for physical accessibility in colleges and universities. These standards should apply to all spaces on campus, including:

  • Learning areas, such as:
  • Residences
  • Common areas
  • Recreational areas
  • Health services

The standards should include technical requirements for buildings and spaces, such as the requirements within the:

In addition, the standards should meet the accessibility needs of students, staff, and visitors with:

People with lived experience of these disabilities should help the government design the standards. Moreover, once these standards are developed, the government should require colleges and universities to comply with them. Colleges and universities should use these standards when they build, redesign, or renovate spaces. For example, proposals for building or renovation should comply with the standards. Accessible design consultants should audit potential construction projects to confirm compliance, and report their findings.

Likewise, contracts should include the expectation of compliance with the standards. When colleges and universities hire contractors, venders, or independent agents, compliance with the standards should be part of:

  • Tender
  • Contracting
  • Project management
  • Feedback
  • Approvals
  • Performance assessments

Finally, the government should fund, and create financial incentives for donations to, building projects compliant with the standards.

Accessibility in Third-Party Buildings and Spaces

Similarly, any third-party space that a college or university uses or leases should also comply with the standards. In other words, if a school uses a building or space that another organization owns, manages, or operates, that organization must also comply. For example, organizations should host experiential learning placements in compliant locations. If a building or space is not compliant with the standards, a college or university should not use it. However, a college or university can work with a third-party organization to improve the accessibility of its buildings and spaces.

As a result, the government should create guidelines to support third-party organizations in improving their physical accessibility, so that colleges and universities can continue to use or lease these spaces. The government should work with Colleges Ontario, and the Council of Ontario Universities, to develop these guidelines. The guidelines should designate staff within third-party organizations who would be responsible for complying with the standards. Likewise, guidelines would help organizations to audit their current levels of accessibility and determine needed changes. Finally, guidelines should include ways of resolving any disputes within organizations, or between organizations and schools, about the accessibility of spaces.

Accommodations to Mitigate Physical Barriers

Colleges and universities should install signage that notifies people of all abilities about accessible ways to navigate campus. Likewise, guides giving campus tours should also point out these features to prospective students and other visitors. Similarly, colleges and universities should include accessibility features in all maps and other methods of wayfinding, including:

  • Outdoor and indoor maps
  • Online campus maps
  • Temporary or emergency signs

Colleges and universities should also notify the public of temporary service disruptions that involve physical barriers. Likewise, colleges and universities should identify any physical barriers that they cannot remove, due to legal limits, such as:

  • Heritage designations
  • Zoning restrictions

Colleges and universities should then find ways to accommodate students, staff, and visitors, to prevent these barriers. Moreover, colleges and universities should alert the public that they can arrange accommodations.

Training for Architects

Furthermore, all architects should have training on how to design structures and spaces that comply with the standards. For instance, professionals who should receive accessibility training include current and future graduates of the:

  • Ontario Association of Architects
  • Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
  • Ontario Association of Landscape Architects
  • Canadian Society of Landscape Architects

All these organizations should require students, and currently certified professionals, to use inclusive design principles. Moreover, architects should provide proof of completing this training before a college or university can hire them.