The Accessibility Standards for the Built-Environment under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) were originally to be enacted in one single regulation under the Act similar to the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service.
However, as we all know, this did not happen as intended.
On December 17, 2012, the Ontario government filed regulation O. Reg. 413/12 to introduce the new Built Environment Standard pertaining to the design of public spaces into the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (O. Reg. 191/11). This new standard covers a variety of public spaces such as exterior sidewalks and walkways, entrances to buildings, outdoor public eating areas and play spaces, accessible parking, waiting areas and service counters, effective January 1, 2013. The built environment standard for public spaces only applies to new construction and planned redevelopments. We previously wrote a Slaw post on the subject here.
In addition, on December 17, 2012, the government filed O. Reg. 419/12, which amends Regulation 581, the Accessible Parking for Persons with Disabilities made under the Highway Traffic Act. This new regulation adds the requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Standards to the specifications for parking spaces designated on Crown land or under municipal bylaw for use of persons with disabilities. This regulation also came into force on January 1, 2013.
So what about buildings (new and old) and inside spaces?
The Ontario government decided that enhancements to accessibility in buildings will happen at a later date through Ontario’s Building Code, which governs new construction and renovations in buildings.
To this end, the government, through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, is holding a two-month public consultation to develop updated accessibility requirements for the Building Code.
The ministry has prepared a consultation paper to help guide interested stakeholders (i.e., building and design sectors, community organizations, people with disabilities, municipalities, and the broader public sector, etc.) and the public, in providing useful input to help shape the accessibility standards under the Building Code. Moreover, the consultation paper describes Ontario’s Building Code, the Code development process, the AODA and the Final Proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard. It also provides a plain language description of potential changes to the requirements currently included in the Code and the rationale and considerations. The paper further provides information on how to participate in the public consultations. Stakeholders and the public have until March 1, 2013, to submit comments.
The consultation focuses on potential updates and changes to current Code requirements in a number of key areas, including:
- Barrier-free path of travel (common access and circulation)
- Vertical access (elevators)
- Visitable suites in multi-unit residential buildings
- Adaptable design and construction
- Visual fire alarms
- Use of educational materials and resources
A number of Other Technical and Administrative Changes (unrelated to accessibility) are also included in this public consultation. These address new industry standards proposed to be referenced in Ontario’s Building Code, and relate to items such as residential wood-burning appliances and exterior insulation and finish systems.
Since the Building Code isn’t due for a full update for another five years, it is expected that the government will make any potential changes to barrier-free requirements through an interim amendment to the 2012 Code (O.Reg. 332/12). Changes to the Building Code would be phased in to allow the building and design industry to plan for and adjust to new requirements.
Building owners, architects, builders and contractors for the design and construction of new facilities or the modification of existing facilities must understand the upcoming changes and know how to make premises accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, learning, developmental and mental health.
Learning these changes—as they come into effect—and understanding their consequences will be a long and challenging process for all involved. Moreover, in the current state of uncertainty, and anticipating a new legal framework, it can be hard for stakeholders to know what to do, particularly those that wish to address accessibility today. The consultation links above offer some insight into what the future changes might look like, and they are certainly worth reviewing. But while we await the final accessible built environment amendments to the Building Code, that remains the law. Nonetheless, owners, builders, contractors etc. that want to go above and beyond may do so at their own risk, provided they continue to meet the Code’s existing standards.