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Overview of Updated Accessibility Requirements

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On December 27, 2013, Ontario Regulation 368/13 was filed to amend the new 2012 Building Code, O.Reg. 332/12.

The effective date of the amendment is January 1, 2015. 

The amended requirements will substantially enhance accessibility in newly constructed buildings and existing buildings that are to be extensively renovated. They maintain Ontario’s leadership role in requirements for barrier-free design.

In 2005, the government committed to the development of five accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.  These amendments to the Building Code work together with the Design of Public Spaces standard, introduced in 2012, to finalize the government’s commitment to an accessibility standard for the built environment.

Five accessibility standards are already in regulation under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act: Customer Service, Information and Communications, Employment, Transportation, and Design of Public Spaces. For more information on Accessibility Standards, please visit www.ontario.ca/AccessOn.

Requirements apply to most new construction and extensive renovations. Existing buildings, where no work is planned, are not affected by these new requirements. Houses, including semi-detached houses, townhouses, and duplexes, are not affected by most accessibility requirements, with the exception of smoke alarm requirements. 

Barrier-Free Path of Travel

Ontario’s Building Code requires a barrier-free path of travel throughout most occupancies and building types.  The Building Code also sets a number of requirements related to common access and circulation throughout buildings. These include requirements related to building entrances, minimum doorway and corridor widths, ramp dimensions, passing and rest spaces, and turning spaces.

New amendments update these requirements in a number of ways.  Key changes include:

  • Requirements for power door operators to be provided at the entrance door and entry vestibule of most buildings
  • Requirements for power door operators at the door to amenity rooms – such as party rooms or movie rooms for building residents – in multi-unit residential buildings
  • Updated door width, hallway passing space and curb ramp dimensions
  • New requirements for tactile walking surface indicators at the top of stairs and at platform edges, which help alert pedestrians with low vision that they are entering an area of potential hazard.

Access to All Storeys Within a Building - Elevators

Providing elevator access to all floors in a building allows visitors and occupants to travel throughout the building with ease, regardless of ability.  A key change introduced with these amendments will make that a reality for many buildings across the province.  Most new buildings will be required to provide barrier-free access between all floors, including assembly buildings (such as theatres, community centres, and places of worship), care buildings (such as long-term care homes), and commercial/retail buildings (such as supermarkets and shops).  The same requirement will apply to residential and office buildings over three storeys in height or over 600 square metres in building area.  This approach provides flexibility for small infill buildings, consistent with Ontario’s goal of urban intensification and mainstreet redevelopment. 

Some exemptions will apply.  For example, some small group homes with under 10 occupants are already exempt from elevator requirements.  This exemption will continue.  In addition, restaurants will not be required to provide access to upper floors if the same amenities are provided on all floors – for example, if a bar or restaurant has a second or third storey with additional seating, access would not be required.

Finally, floors without elevator access have previously been exempt from full accessibility requirements.  With these new amendments, those floors will have to be designed with basic accessibility features.  Examples of these basic accessibility features are lever door handles, barrier-free doorways and ambulatory washroom stalls equipped with parallel grab bars and suitable for individuals with limited balance or who use assistive devices such as a cane or walker. 

Visitable Suites in Apartment Buildings

New amendments increase from 10 per cent to 15 per cent the minimum number of suites within a multi-unit residential building that must be designed with basic accessibility features.  These accessible features have also been updated, and will provide a barrier-free path of travel and doorway into a bedroom, full bathroom, kitchen and living room.  These suites must be distributed throughout the building and must represent the types and sizes of suites otherwise available in the building.

Visual Fire Safety Devices

Approximately 10 per cent of Canadians report having a significant hearing problem.  Visual fire alarms and smoke alarms equipped with a visual component are an important part of enhancing the safety and security of all Ontarians.  New amendments expand the range of areas where visual fire alarms will be required, including in public corridors of all residential buildings, in all multi-unit residential suites, and in all barrier-free and universal washrooms. 

Smoke alarms are required by the Building Code to be provided on every floor and in every sleeping room of residential buildings, including all houses.  As of January 1, 2015, all smoke alarms will be required to include a visual component conforming to National Fire Protection Association standards.

Washrooms

The Building Code requires barrier-free washrooms to be provided in public areas of most buildings.  These washrooms must be situated on a barrier-free path of travel and are subject to a number of requirements addressing turning space, doorway widths, grab bars, counter heights and signage, among others.  The Building Code also sets requirements related to barrier-free showers and bathtubs.

New amendments update these requirements in a number of ways.  Key changes include:

  • Requirements for power door operators at the entrance door to all barrier-free and universal washrooms
  • Amended mounting height and location requirements for washroom accessories such as towel dispensers and hand dryers
  • New fold-down grab bar design options to allow for transfer space on both sides of the water closet
  • Requiring an L-shaped grab bar in all cases and removing the option to provide a diagonal grab bar
  • Increased minimum clear floor area in barrier-free washroom stalls required to allow for turning space

At least one universal toilet room would also be required in all buildings, and, for multi-storey buildings, at least one for every three floors.  Space for an adult change table will have to be provided in all universal toilet rooms except in buildings under 300 square metres in building area.

Access to Pools and Spas

Pools and spas provide important recreational and exercise opportunities for many Ontarians of all ages and abilities.  New amendments require barrier-free access to and around all public pools and some public spas, via ramps, transfer walls or pool lifts.

Accessible and Adaptable Seating Spaces

New amendments update requirements for accessible seating spaces provided in public assembly buildings, enabling people with disabilities to equitably and independently access educational and worship opportunities.  In addition, new requirements address adaptable seating spaces suitable for a side transfer from a wheelchair, as well as storage spaces for wheelchairs and other mobility assistive devices.  Accessible and adaptable seating spaces will be required to be distributed throughout the viewing area.  Requirements for adjacent companion seating for accessible seating spaces will enable people of all abilities to enjoy these opportunities together in an integrated fashion. 

Renovations

Renovation projects provide opportunities for enhanced accessibility in existing buildings.  Currently, however, accessibility requirements in Ontario’s Building Code only apply to extensive renovations undertaken in suites over 300 square metres in building area and located on an accessible floor level – i.e., on the main floor of a building or on a floor with elevator access.  New amendments set out basic accessibility features that must be included in extensive renovations undertaken in smaller suites or suites located on a floor level that is not fully accessible.  Examples of these basic accessibility features are lever door handles, barrier-free doorways and ambulatory washroom stalls equipped with parallel grab bars and suitable for individuals with limited balance or who use assistive devices such as a cane or walker. 

Extensive renovations in larger suites and on an accessible floor level will continue to be subject to all accessibility requirements set out in the Building Code.

About Ontario’s Building Code

Ontario’s Building Code establishes the minimum standards for the construction of the buildings in which all Ontarians live, work and play.  By providing clear and consistent standards, Ontario’s Building Code helps keep Ontarians safe, facilitates the work of builders and developers, and supports key government priorities.  One of those key priorities is an accessible Ontario.

Barrier-free design requirements have been part of Ontario’s Building Code since 1975.  As part of achieving Ontario’s goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025, Ontario is working to create a Building Code that demonstrates leadership in barrier-free design and is responsive to the needs and concerns of all its stakeholders.

About the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) became law on June 13, 2005.  The purpose of the AODA is to benefit all Ontarians by developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards.  The goal is to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises by January 1, 2025.