Ontario’s move toward accessibility

New regulations, innovative ideas transforming the province's built environment
Monday, July 15, 2013
By Jesse Klimitz & Susan Ruptash

The accessible design movement is gaining momentum throughout Ontario. New accessibility regulations and innovative ideas are transforming the province’s infrastructure. Innovative research facilities are advancing the design industry’s knowledge and discourse in the field, and a groundswell of interest and social awareness is sweeping through the general public.

There is an urgent need for fully accessible city planning, buildings and interior space. Ontario’s aging demographic is working longer than in the past and citizens with disabilities are participating in all aspects of society. Accessibility is no longer considered an ad hoc design requirement. It is now an integral aspect of socially responsible built environments.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is the first comprehensive provincial legislation in Canada to respond to the need for accessibility requirements in the key areas of daily life for people living with disabilities. The standard for the design of public spaces, now finalized under AODA, sets out accessibility requirements for new construction and extensive renovation. The standard covers paths of travel, ramps, stairs, accessible parking, customer service counters, fixed queuing guides and accessible maintenance procedures. In response to AODA, many public and private sector developments have now fully adopted the standard requirements into the design of facilities for health, recreation, work, education and housing. In addition, the barrier-free section of the Ontario Building Code is currently being amended to include changes to accessibility requirements. Incorporating accessibility features into new construction and renovation now avoids costly future retrofits and helps to prepare for changing market directions.

Facilities such as the Inclusive Design Institute at OCAD University and the iDAPT Centre for Rehabilitation Research have become generative hubs of applied research. Innovations related to responsive environments, interactive wayfinding and fall prevention will provide exciting possibilities to improve many lives. Awareness of accessible design is proliferating as non-profit organizations develop educational campaigns and resource materials for building and design professionals. Colleges and universities are also collaborating to offer annual design competitions funded through Ontario’s Enabling Change program. This program is empowering the next generation of designers and builders to think about the benefits of accessibility and develop creative solutions.

As advocates for accessibility, Quadrangle Architects Ltd. has gone beyond the threshold of minimum accessibility regulations to educate others and apply universal design principles to its work. In 2010, the firm joined forces with March of Dimes Canada to establish AccessAbilityAdvantage, a joint venture business whose purpose is to educate and support fellow designers, architects, builders and property managers on issues pertaining to accessibility. One of Quadrangle’s missions is to inspire clients and educate the public on the integration of accessibility features achieved through seamless universal design. The firm’s new studio space integrates numerous innovative accessible design features, including wider corridors, flexible workstations and meeting rooms, accessible millwork, educational wall graphics and creative vision strips. Quadrangle’s new studio promotes an accessible working environment and demonstrates how universal design can be seamlessly integrated into a creative and attractive environment.

The recent passing of accessibility legislation for the built environment and forthcoming accessibility amendments to the provincial building code are both catalysts for change. They have created the framework for what needs to be done. Concurrently, innovative research and awareness of the importance of accessible design is spreading. As a result, businesses have the potential to respond in creative ways.

Jesse Klimitz is an accessibility specialist at Quadrangle Architects Ltd. Susan Ruptash is a principal and an accessibility expert at the firm.

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