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Removing Accessibility Barriers in Buildings and Public Spaces

In the Third Review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. One of these improvements is a renewal of government leadership to implement the AODA. Therefore, in response to the review, the Ontario government has implemented a framework to make the province more accessible. Through this framework, called Advancing Accessibility in Ontario, the government commits to making changes that will improve opportunities for citizens with disabilities. These changes will take place in four areas of the economy. In this article, we will focus on the area of removing accessibility barriers in buildings and public spaces.

Removing Accessibility Barriers in Buildings and Public Spaces

The framework outlines current and future projects that the government is engaging in to remove barriers in the built environment. Furthermore, these projects aim to achieve the AODA’s goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025. For instance, these plans include:

  • Aligning the Ontario Building Code with national instruction codes, which mandate higher standards for:
    • Ramps
    • Barrier-free and universal washrooms
  • Partnering with the Rick Hansen Foundation to create its Accessibility Certification Program, which assesses and promotes building accessibility
  • Improving accessibility training for architects and other building design professionals, including:
    • Training for members of the Ontario Building Officials Association, on recognizing accessibility barriers
    • A course at the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada, for both current students and practicing professionals, on the impact of accessible design
  • Creating practical guides on how to remove physical accessibility barriers in:
  • Creating resources to help retail stores and other businesses improve the accessibility of their:
  • Requiring that public transit vehicles bought with provincial funding must have accessibility features
  • Running the Home and Vehicle Modification Program, to retrofit dwellings and personal vehicles
  • Providing a free website for associations and employers in the building sector, with training and resources on improving physical accessibility
  • Creating a guide to support the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, as they develop plans to improve housing accessibility

Recommendations for More Government Leadership from the Third Review of the AODA

All these strategies are valuable steps that the government should take to make Ontario more accessible. However, the Third Review of the AODA recommends many more important actions to enhance the accessibility of buildings and public spaces. For example, the Review recommends that the government should:

  • Include deadlines for each of its accessibility goals
  • Implement a review process to regularly update the barrier-free design requirements of the Ontario Building Code (the Code)
  • Consult people with disabilities when updating the Code’s requirements
  • Align Code requirements with strong accessibility standards in Ontario cities and other provinces
  • Create a process to approve designs of public spaces, before building these designs
  • Implement rules and incentives for retrofitting buildings
  • Reforming the management of public infrastructure projects
  • Make accessibility training mandatory for building professionals
  • Require a variety of professionals to have accessibility training, including:
    • Urban planners
    • Landscapers
    • Interior designers
    • Engineers
  • Create an AODA standard, and implement tax incentives, for housing accessibility

In other words, the government’s current framework will not create enough improvement to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025. Moreover, some of the framework’s goals for the future involve laws that the government should already be following. For instance, under the Transportation Standards of the AODA, newly-bought public transit vehicles must have accessibility features. Therefore, the framework should not include this element as a current goal. Instead, all public transit companies should already be purchasing accessible vehicles when updating their fleets.