In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. One of these improvements is the need for stronger AODA standards mandating accessibility in buildings and public spaces. During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outline how weak building accessibility is today. Therefore, Onley’s review recommends stronger AODA standards governing buildings and public spaces.
Stronger AODA Standards Governing Buildings and Public Spaces are Needed
Onley’s review states that many new buildings in Ontario are not accessible. Instead, these buildings are full of physical and information barriers, including:
- Lack of elevators
- No ramps or railings
- Weak colour contrast
- Incorrect Braille on signs
For example, the review describes a new Student Learning Centre at Ryerson University in Toronto. According to Ryerson’s Vice-President of Equity, building designers constructed the centre “for style and less for accessibility”.
Onley’s review states that all new buildings in Ontario should be accessible for all people to enter and use. In other words, it should not be possible for a new Ontario building designer to create a building full of barriers. However, Onley’s review also states that the Ontario Building Code’s current barrier-free requirements do not prevent enough accessibility barriers. As a result, the review recommends changes to strengthen these requirements, as well as the AODA’s Design of Public Spaces Standards.
Strengthening the Ontario Building Code
Onley’s review points out that the AODA’s Design of Public Spaces Standards undergo a review process every five years. In this process, a standards development committee examines the current standard and decides whether it is achieving its goals. If the standard is not achieving its goals, the committee recommends changes to the standard. In other words, if the Design of Public Spaces Standards leave too many barriers in place, they are strengthened.
In contrast, the barrier-free design requirements of the Ontario Building Code do not undergo a review process. Therefore, the Code’s requirements continue to allow designers to create buildings full of barriers. For this reason, Onley’s review recommends that the Code’s barrier-free design requirements should undergo the AODA review process. Moreover, the previous review of the AODA, in 2014, made a similar recommendation. In other words, Ontarians with disabilities have waited at least six years for the government to implement this process.
Similarly, review attendees state that when the government created the Ontario Building Code’s barrier-free requirements, it did not consult people with disabilities. Therefore, attendees suggest that when the government revises these requirements, it must work with people who have disabilities. These people can help lawmakers understand the types of barriers that buildings can contain and how to prevent them. For example, lawmakers could learn about barriers that impact people who have:
- Mental health disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Sensory disabilities
Coordinating with Other Levels of Government
In addition, review attendees mention strong standards for buildings and public spaces that already exist in Ontario cities and around the world. For instance, Toronto, Brantford, and London have all developed municipal guidelines for accessible building features and public spaces, 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
- Traffic islands
Consequently, Ontario could work with these and other cities to develop stronger AODA standards governing buildings and public spaces. Likewise, Ontario could also work with the federal and other provincial governments to coordinate new accessibility laws for buildings. If cities, provinces, and the country have the same strong standards, all designers would know how to create buildings that all people can use. Alternatively, Ontario could begin developing its own strong standards that other governments could learn from.
Strengthening the AODA’s Design of Public Spaces Standards
Finally, review attendees mention another difference between the Ontario Building Code and the Design of Public Spaces Standards. While the Code requires designs to be approved before construction begins, the Standards do not. As a result, it is easy for barriers designed in a public space to become part of the built space. Therefore, Onley’s review recommends that the government should consider creating a process to approve designs of public spaces to remove accessibility barriers before building. This recommendation also appeared in the previous review of the AODA, six years ago.