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Built Environment Forum Event Summary - March 19, 2018

Built Environment Forum Event Summary - March 19, 2018

Published: 2018-04-26, OBOA Original Article

Purpose of the event:

On March 19th, 2018 the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, with its partners at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Ministry of Housing hosted a full day forum to engage with people with disabilities and sector experts on issues related to accessibility and the built environment.

With broad representation of persons with disabilities, key experts, obligated sector representatives and other accessibility stakeholders, there were rich and meaningful discussions. Participants heard about successes and challenges across communities of all sizes, and about leading practices in creating interactive design for users of all abilities.

The following is a summary of the key messages and themes identified by participants.

  1.     Accessibility must be at the forefront of planning

Participants identified that accessibility planning and consultation, including consultation with municipal accessibility advisory committees, occurs too late in the planning process. This can result in confusion about needs and expectations as well as result in unintended barriers.

Working with design teams very early on in the process to help translate the needs of persons with disabilities into building plans is crucial to accessible built environments.  

Participants suggested engaging early and often on accessibility helps to manage costs associated with any changes in design and helps ensure design guidance and advice is properly interpreted into building plans.

  1.     Holistic and comprehensive policy guidance  

Participants from businesses and municipalities identified that they are struggling to identify and locate clear guidance for their projects. Legislative requirements are sometimes vague and lack the interpretation of best practice guidelines to support a clear understanding of obligations and how to apply them across various projects.

In addition, the many layers of standards and regulations, including but not limited to, the Ontario Building Code, Canadian Standards Association B651, the AODA’s Design of Public Spaces Standard, the Planning Act, etc and the numerous municipal accessibility guidelines result in confusion and overlap of guidance. It is not always clear why guidance varies or what guidance provides the highest level of accessibility.  While the Ontario Human Rights Code sets a high standard for accessibility it is not always clear exactly what that means for building and design specifications.

Participants from municipalities noted that they often respond to these gaps and overlap often by creating their own resources and design guidance. There was a strong desire from all participants for a repository of information and guidance that is publicly available. This could be used to support both formal and informal learning for businesses, municipalities, accessibility advisory committees and the public at large.

  1.     Education for designers, planners, and implementers

Participants identified that the various design professionals and planners critical to the design and construction of buildings are often neither educated nor informed on accessible or universal design.

New graduates are entering the field keen to understand accessibility but have not been provided formal education to develop these skills. Participants noted that a strong understanding of accessibility in the built environment should be an integrated part of educational curricula for design professionals. Some participants argued this education should be mandatory for graduating or licensing.

In absence of this expertise for both established and new professionals errors are often made even with the best of intentions. There is a strong community of industry leaders who are working to teach one another but more resources are needed. Participants noted that these resources and supports should be available to both students and existing professionals.

  1.     Change needs greater enforcement 

Participants noted that enforcement is key to ensuring compliance with accessibility in the built environment. Enforcement activities should also include education and awareness activities.  This can be further supported by incentivizing activities wherein best practices are recognized and encouraged for their successes.

Participants noted that accessibility should be better accounted for in licensing and permitting processes.

  1.     Retrofits

Participants also discussed how retrofits must be a part of reducing barriers. Existing buildings, including public, commercial and housing lack accessibility features key to navigating the built environment. Participants discussed potential solutions to this issue such as regulatory change and incentive programs.

  1.     Remain focused on the goal for a barrier free Ontario 

While there are many challenges on the road ahead participants noted that government must stay focussed on the goal of a barrier-free Ontario. This includes continuing to improve standards under the AODA to remove barriers as well as working to ensure new barriers are not created.

This requires government at all levels and communities across Ontario to work together. While there have been many successes in the accessibility of the built environment with leading edge facilities all over Ontario, there continue to be ongoing challenges. Projects sometimes occur in silos and there remains much work to be done to link infrastructure and surrounding communities to create a fully accessible network for Ontarians to visit and experience in their daily lives.

How these findings may be used:

The event provided a valuable opportunity for government to hear about the accessibility issues faced by both community members and implementers in the built environment. The findings from this event will inform government’s understanding of the issues on accessibility across the built environment from an all of government perspective.

This information will support pre-consultation work for the Design of Public Spaces review which is scheduled, as per the AODA, to be reviewed in 2018.   

This information will be provided to the Third Legislative Reviewer. Ontario has appointed the Honourable David C. Onley to conduct the third review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Ministry of Housing would like to thank all of the participants in this engaging and valuable day.

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Built Environment Forum Event Summary Final.pdf