The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. In the meantime, the Design of Public Spaces Standard and the Ontario Building Code both have rules that apply to educational institutions. These rules make school spaces more accessible for students, educators, parents, and visitors with disabilities. Accessible school spaces can include:
- Public and private schools
- School board offices
- School libraries
- Producers of educational or training materials, such as textbook publishers
Accessible School Spaces
Under the Design of Public Spaces Standards, educational institutions must make new and redeveloped public spaces accessible. For instance, all new or reconstructed schools and school boards must have accessible:
Moreover, all schools and school boards in the public sector, and all private-sector schools with fifty or more workers, must have accessible:
Similarly, under the Ontario Building Code, all new and redeveloped buildings open to the public, including schools, must follow accessibility standards. These standards include:
- Ramps, lifts or elevators whenever there are stairs
- Automatic doors
- Wide doorways at entrances to buildings and common areas
- Accessible public washrooms
- Barrier-free paths of travel into and through buildings
- Visual and audible fire alarms
- Accessible seating in auditoriums
- Assistive listening systems in classrooms, meeting rooms, and auditoriums designed to hold at least seventy-five people
More Accessible School Spaces are Needed
Currently, the Code and Standard do not have guidelines specifically for schools, universities, colleges, or other educational spaces. For example, there are no guidelines to help designers create accessible classrooms, gymnasiums, or outdoor sports facilities. A new section of the Code that addressed educational institutions could make new schools fully accessible for a growing number of students with disabilities.
In addition, the Code and Standard only mandate accessibility in buildings and spaces 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
- Have heart or lung conditions
- Have limited upper-body movement
Why do we Need Accessible School Spaces?
Educators may feel that they do not need to worry about making older spaces accessible because the standard does not require them to do so. They may also fear that installing accessible features will be costly, time-consuming, or inconvenient. However, some changes are easier and less costly to put in place. In addition, grants for structural accessibility may offset costs for larger-scale renovations.
While renovating for accessibility may take time and construction is inconvenient, inaccessibility is just as time-consuming and inconvenient for students, teachers, parents, and visitors with disabilities. For instance, students who use wheelchairs may never go to their neighbourhood schools with their siblings and friends. Similarly, some parents may not be able to volunteer at their child’s school or attend events there, like parent-teacher interviews. Therefore, the new education standard should include recommendations to start making older school buildings more accessible.
Furthermore, more and more students with disabilities are enrolling in higher education. These students can choose which university or college they want to attend. As a result, colleges and universities with accessible campuses can attract more students than inaccessible colleges and universities.
Many college and university students not only go to school on campus, but also live there. Our next article will explore accessibility in school residences.