Accessibility and the Importance of Exceeding the Ontario Building Code

Accessibility and the Importance of Exceeding the Ontario Building Code

Ontario continues to develop baseline accessibility standards within the Ontario Building Code (OBC). At the start of 2020, updates to the Ontario Building Code included added clarity and additional requirements as it relates to:

  1. Access to building controls
  2. Additional application of opaque contrast strips on glazing
  3. Barrier-free washroom enclosures, also known as single occupancy barrier-free washrooms
  4. Location of power door operators
  5. Washroom clear floor spaces, hardware, and accessories
  6. Shower clear floor spaces, hardware, and accessories

These changes build upon the momentum of changes that came into affect 1 January 2015. For more on what constitutes functional dimensions for persons using different types of mobility devices, you can check out the research project completed by the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center) detailed in this BDP Quadrangle blog post.

The 2020 changes move Ontario in the right direction to achieving the goal of becoming an accessible province by 2025. There remains much to push for, and as placemakers we should strive to create a fully accessible built environment that exceeds the minimum accessibility standards within the OBC. The goal should be to create a built environment that is accessible and usable by all people with disabilities.

An important update that came into effect on 1 January 2020 was the addition of a 1,500 mm diameter turning circle in front of a barrier-free stall. This clearance supplements the existing requirement of a 1,500 mm diameter turning circle within a barrier-free stall. This small change makes multi-stall washrooms more usable by providing a minimum turning circle for persons using small-sized mobility devices to maneuver when opening the stall door, while also providing the clearance to turn around if the barrier-free stall is occupied.

This is a step in the right direction, but it is still important to understand how people with disabilities use the space around them. From the same space described above, a person using a scooter, which requires a larger area to complete a full 360-degree turn, will most likely not be able to access the barrier-free stall. Consideration for providing larger turning circles or providing a universal washroom in proximity to multi-stall washrooms will allow for greater access and a more inclusive facility for people using different mobility devices, and for individuals with attendant care.

The OBC provides the minimum standards of compliance, but these minimum standards may still exclude some people from accessing a space.

Historically, the barrier-free requirements of the OBC have focused on people using a mobility device. However, there are a range of different disabilities and user experiences. Placemakers need to champion more design that goes beyond the minimum OBC compliance in order to provide a holistic design approach that truly promotes equity, wellbeing and participation for all people.

diagram with measurements of three accessible water closet stalls, one meeting the OBC 2015 amendments, one meeting the OBC 2020 amendments and one demonstrating better practice measurements