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New accessible buildings standards take effect in 2015

Since the passage of the Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, Ontario has been steadily advancing its accessibility project with new and amended standards and regulations. The goal is an “accessible Ontario” by 2025, supporting all Ontarians in accessing goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises. The Building Code (Ontario Regulation 332/12) will naturally play a significant role in producing the desired results.

The government has divided the built environment into two parts, public spaces and buildings. As of December 2013, the building standards are part of Ontario’s Building Code and will come into force in January 2015. Changes to the Building Code is being phased in to allow the building owners, building design industry and contractors, architectural, and ergonomic/accessible design consultants to plan for and adjust to new requirements.

Today, I’ll review the changes to the Building Code. Next week, I’ll look at new requirements for public spaces.

The extensive changes to the Building Code apply mainly to new buildings and those undergoing extensive renovations. They don’t impose obligations on building owners who are not planning extensive renovations or homeowners, except by requiring visual smoke alarms.

The buildings standards cover the following areas.

Barrier-free travel

The Building Code already requires new buildings or extensive renovations to offer a barrier-free path of travel, but the buildings standards expand the requirements:

  • Power door operators must be provided at the entrance door and entry vestibule of most buildings
  • Power door operators must be provided at the door to amenity rooms in multi-unit residential buildings (e.g., party or movie rooms for building residents)
  • Door width, hallway passing space and curb ramp dimensions are updated
  • Tactile walking surface indicators must be provided 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

Elevator access to all storeys of a building

Regardless of their ability, residents and their visitors should be able to travel their buildings. The standards will help manifest this ideal:

  • 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
  • Previously, floors without elevator access were exempt from full accessibility requirements; now those floors will have to be designed with basic accessibility features, such as 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

Persons with disabilities should also have access to housing where they can live and entertain comfortably. The amended Code requires that:

  • 15 percent of units (previously 10 percent) in multi-unit residential buildings include basic accessibility features, for instance a barrier-free path of travel and doorway into a bedroom, full bathroom, kitchen and living room
  • The accessible units be distributed throughout the building and represent the types and sizes of suites otherwise available in the building

Visual fire safety devices

Fire and smoke alarms with a visual component are intended to help persons with poor or no hearing. The new building standards call for the installation of visual alarms:

  • In the public corridors of all residential buildings, in all multi-unit residential suites and in all barrier-free and universal washrooms
  • On every floor and in every sleeping room of residential buildings, including houses


The Building Code already requires buildings to have barrier-free washrooms in public areas. The amendments add the following:

  • Power door operators must be provided 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

Accessible and adaptable seating spaces

Seating in public assembly buildings (those parts of buildings used for public gatherings “for civic, political, travel, religious, social, educational, recreational or similar purposes or for the consumption of food or drink”) should permit equitable and independent access to persons with disabilities. The amended Code requires:

  • Adaptable seating spaces suitable for a side transfer from a wheelchair
  • Storage spaces for wheelchairs and other mobility assistive devices
  • Accessible and adaptable seating spaces distributed throughout viewing areas
  • Adjacent companion seating for accessible seating spaces to enable people of all abilities to enjoy these opportunities together in an integrated fashion

Access to pools and spas

Pools and spas are increasingly common amenities in multi-unit residential buildings, and they must be made accessible as well. The amendments call for most of these facilities to allow barrier-free access by ramp, transfer wall or pool lift.


The Building Code currently calls for renovations of spaces larger than 300 square metres, on accessible levels and having other specific characteristics to include basic accessibility features. The amendments require all extensive renovations to include basic accessibility features, such as those mentioned above.


Clearly, these are big changes that will affect many organizations. Those planning new construction or extensive renovations in the near future must ensure they understand the new requirements, as they will apply soon. If your plans take you into next year, it will be especially important to know what your responsibilities are.

The building owners, architects, builders and contractors for the design and construction of new facilities or the modification of existing facilities must better understand these upcoming changes in order to know how to make premises accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, learning, developmental and mental health. Learning about these changes as they come into effect, and understanding their consequences will be a long and challenging process.

To help interested stakeholders, information on the accessibility requirement of the Building Code will be added sometime in 2014 in Accessibility Standards PolicyPro publish by First Reference.

You can read about the Accessible Standard for the Design of Public Spaces next week.

Accessibility Standards PolicyPro

Accessibility Standards PolicyPro

This PolicyPro is the only one of its kind offering all the resources you need to deal with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) standards. The manual goes beyond covering what is required by law. It provides practical advice, tools and resources to help you meet your compliance requirements on time and with confidence.

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Adam Gorley

Editor at First Reference
Adam Gorley, B.A. (Phil.), is a researcher, content provider and editor. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks and Internal Control blogs, HRinfodesk and other First Reference publications. His areas of focus include broad human resources issues, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and government policies, information technology and labour market trends.Read more
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