Ontario Human Rights Commission Submission Regarding
Ministry of Community and Social Services
Proposed regulation amending Ontario Regulation 191/11 (Integrated Accessibility Standards)
under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005
October 1, 2012
The Ontario Government is proposing amendments to the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) that would introduce new built environment standards for design of outdoor public spaces (recreational trails, beach access routes, exterior paths, stairs, curb ramps and depressed curbs, pedestrian signals, play spaces, parking, service counters, seating, eating and waiting areas, queue lines and maintenance). The Government is also proposing some amendments to existing standards under the IASR. The Government intends to propose new built environment standards for buildings and their interiors at a later date.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) welcomes the introduction of new accessibility standards for outdoor space including the requirement for organizations to consult with persons with disabilities. The OHRC, however, has a number of concerns and recommendations:
- Standards focus only on prevention of new barriers going forward with no requirements to remove existing barriers
- Amendments lack human rights principles to guide interpretation
- Small organizations are exempt from many standards
- Lengthy deadlines would permit new barriers in the interim
- Exemption for “maintenance” activities appears too broad
- No direct requirement to keep accessibility features in good working order
- Where a change in elevation causes a barrier, no requirement for ensuring access, where feasible, to at least some portion or significant feature of a recreational trail, or beach with no constructed surface route
- Beach access routes connected directly to roads and other non-prescribed amenities are exempt
- Accessible signage requirements are vague
- Play space requirements lack specific technical standards
- No direct requirement to provide curb cuts and depressed curbs
- Exterior paths of travel without a “functional” purpose are exempt
- Employee and other speciality parking are exempt
- Tenant and condo parking appear exempt
- Parking lots unconnected to barrier-free paths of travel are exempt
- Exemptions for heritage, endangered species and existing constraints are too broad and lack the proper legal tests for bona fide and reasonable requirements short of undue hardship as well as alternative accessibility requirements
- Organizations not residing at the same location could now submit one accessibility plan jointly
- Current audible call stop requirement for subway and commuter rail trains would be eliminated
- Requests for accessible education and training library resources would now be restricted to students only
Other outdoor space elements previously proposed by the Standards Development Committee are not addressed such as street furniture, amusement parks and exterior pedestrian lighting.
The AODA Alliance is raising similar concerns in their draft submission dated September 20, 2012. The OHRC generally shares the AODA Alliance’s other concerns which include technical and other recommendations for snow removal, accessible roundabouts, tactile walking surface indicators in major high-traffic public spaces, islands in the middle of street crossings and construction in the area of public paths and sidewalks.
Proposed new standards for outdoor space
As the OHRC has recommended in previous submissions, the amendments should set out the following key human rights principles to guide overall interpretation of the IASR including the new proposed standards:
- Designing inclusively
- Refraining from creating new barriers
- Identifying and removing existing ones
- Implementing ideal solutions, or phasing in if necessary by providing interim or next best measures
- Favouring integration over segregation
- Considering and accommodating individual requests short of undue hardship
- Involving persons with disabilities in exploring solutions through a cooperative process that maximizes confidentiality, dignity and respect.
Without these guiding principles, obligated organizations might apply the standards in a way that is inconsistent with Ontario’s Human Rights Code (Code) and related court decisions, potentially putting them at risk for complaints.
The proposed standards would only apply to “new” and “redeveloped” public spaces. This is not in keeping with section 6(6) of the AODA, which states that standards are also to include requirements for the removal of existing barriers.
Under the Human Rights Code, organizations must accommodate individual requests to remove existing barriers unless they can show it would cause undue hardship. A failure to remove existing barriers puts organizations at risk of human rights complaints. Tribunals’ and courts’ decisions recognize the need to address existing barriers.
While the proposed amendments have no requirements to retrofit or remove existing barriers, the current IASR does require organizations to develop plans including strategies for barrier removal and this would apply to the proposed standards for outdoor spaces as well.
The proposed standards would apply to government, non-government and private organizations in varying degrees and timelines. The Government again proposes to exempt small organizations with between 1 and 49 employees from many of the proposed standards except those dealing with parking facilities, service counters, fixed queuing guides and seating and waiting areas.
Small organizations are not exempt from the duty to accommodate disability under the Human Rights Code unless they can show undue hardship. All AODA standards should apply to small organizations as well, though they may be given more time to implement them or an exemption if compliance would cause undue hardship.
The Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly would have to meet the proposed public space standards by January 2015, designated public sector organizations by January 2016, large organizations by January 2017, and small organizations for only select standards by January 2018. These blanket timelines are too long. Many, if not all, of the requirements should begin much sooner so that no new barriers are created.
The Government should amend the IASR to make the current barrier removal planning and accessible procurement requirements apply sooner, and to large and small organizations as well. That way, all organizations would at least take steps sooner to examine how they might address existing barriers, avoid new ones and apply the standards when planning and acquiring goods and services to develop or change their outdoor spaces.
The proposed amendments would exempt maintenance activities meant to restore spaces or elements to their original condition. While it makes sense to exempt things like minor repairs and painting, the defence for maintenance should be more specific and narrow so that accessibility standards still apply if resources to restore spaces and elements would otherwise be “significant or substantial”. The amendments should define these terms clearly. Regulatory requirements and incentives should, as much as possible, direct resources towards removing, not maintaining, existing barriers.
The proposed amendments require only “planning” for maintenance of accessible features. The standards should also set out a direct obligation to maintain accessibility features in working order as well as provide information on disruptions.
Recreational trails and beach access routes
The proposed amendments require accessible standards for width, height, openings, surface and edge protection for new or redeveloped recreational trails and beach access routes. However, there are no requirements to provide accessible slopes and ramps for change in elevation (though obligated organizations must consult on the slope of a recreational trail). Where a new or redeveloped trail or beach access route is to be equipped with a ramp or a boardwalk, or where the beach access route surface is “constructed” and not natural, the ramp, boardwalk or constructed surface must meet the accessible standards for slopes and ramps.
The proposed amendments should require that obligated organizations provide persons with disabilities who use mobility aids access to at least some portion or significant feature of a beach or recreational trail, where feasible, that would otherwise be inaccessible because of a change in elevation. Obligated organizations should be required to consult on what portion or significant feature of a trail or beach that shall be.
Standards for beach access routes should, but do not, apply if a new or redeveloped route were connected directly to a road, for example, rather than connected to only one of the elements prescribed: “off-street parking facilities, recreational trails, exterior paths of travel and amenities.”
The proposed standards set out requirements to have signage with access information at the start of new or redeveloped trails. The signs must also have high colour-contrast text and solid character appearance.
In addition to these requirements, accessible sign features should include elements similar to those prescribed for transit at section 58 of the current IASR: consistent shape, colour, position and location for signs providing the same type of information; glare-free surface; positioned to avoid shadow and glare as much as possible. There should also be standards for font size and font type and signs should be placed in a location and at a height where persons with low vision can approach them.
Accessible signage features should also apply to any other signs along recreation trails, beach access routes and beaches, and exterior paths of travel as well as along trails that are otherwise exempt from other standards including cross country skiing, mountain biking trails, backcountry, portage trails, etc. Accessible signage requirements should also apply to electronic signs and whenever new signs are put up or old ones replaced, not just when the trails, routes and paths themselves are newly developed or redeveloped.
The proposed amendments require obligated organizations to “consult” and “incorporate” accessibility features for children and caregivers into new or redeveloped play spaces, including equipment and features. The current IASR’s accessible procurement requirements would also apply. However, there are no specific technical standards proposed for play spaces and structures.
The proposed amendments should set out any best practice standards known to date. Requirements can always be amended in the future whenever standards and practices advance and change. Alternatively, the proposed amendments could give legal force to existing third party voluntary standards, like the Canadian Standards Association’s Children’s Playspaces and Equipment Standard, which are reviewed and updated regularly.
Exterior paths of travel
The proposed standards define “exterior paths of travel” to mean sidewalks and walkways for pedestrians that serve a functional rather than a recreational purpose. New and redeveloped exterior paths of travel must meet accessible standards for width, height, openings, surfaces, rails and edge protection as well as have accessible slopes and ramps for changes in elevation.
The proposed standards should apply regardless of whether sidewalks and walkways serve a functional or recreational purpose. Both types of paths are equally important to persons with disabilities and would apply equally under the Human Rights Code.
The proposed amendments should be clear and understood to mean that where stairs are used for a change in elevation along a path of travel, an accessible slope or ramp, as defined in the proposed standards, shall also be provided.
The proposed amendments prescribe technical standards for curb cuts and depressed curbs only when they are provided. There should also be a direct requirement to provide curb cuts and depressed curbs where appropriate.
The proposed amendments set accessibility standards for new and redeveloped off-street parking including number and type of spaces, aisles, markings, location, and user convenience.
The proposed amendments exempt employee parking facilities and other speciality vehicle parking from the standards. This is not in keeping with the principle of creating no new barriers and instead inappropriately shifts the onus to employees with mobility related disabilities to make piecemeal accommodation requests after the fact.
User convenience factors for location of accessible parking spaces appear to apply only to multiple lot facilities but should apply to single lot facilities as well.
The proposed amendments define “off-street parking facilities” as “intended for the temporary parking of vehicles to which the public has access….” Given this definition, accessible parking standards appear not to, but should, apply to tenant and condo owner parking as well.
The proposed amendments for accessible parking lots do not apply if there is no barrier free path of travel from a building to a lot. Building code regulations requires a barrier free path of travel to a lot only if it is connected to a new or redeveloped building with an accessible entrance.
Accessibility regulations must be developed in harmony with other existing laws including building code regulations. The proposed accessibility standards for parking lots should apply regardless of whether the lot is connected to a barrier free path of travel; otherwise, new barriers will be created and this will not be in keeping with the stated purpose of the AODA and human rights principles.
The proposed amendments would require designated public sector organizations and municipalities to consult on the need, location and design of accessible on-street parking spaces. There is no requirement to actually provide accessible on-street parking. The proposed amendments should include technical specifications. And similar to the play space requirements, at minimum, there should be a requirement to “incorporate” accessibility features into new and redeveloped on-street parking following the obligation to consult.
Exemptions from technical standards
The Government is proposing exemptions for obligated organizations that can demonstrate applying a particular standard would “erode” legislated protections for cultural heritage and endangered species.
The exemption is too broad and vague. It should apply human rights legal tests and only allow exemptions where obligated organizations can demonstrate it is not appropriate to proceed with the standards in the circumstances because of a bona fide and reasonable reason; there is no viable alternative; or, undue hardship would result because of cost or health and safety factors. The exemption should still require obligated organizations to provide a next best degree of accessibility that is appropriate in the circumstances and does not result in undue hardship.
The proposed amendments set out other “where not practicable” exemptions because of “existing” physical or site constraints like adjacent roadways, underground utilities and parking meters. A blanket exemption for existing constraints appears inappropriate given that the proposed standards are to apply to “new” and “redeveloped” outdoor spaces.
Existing constraints should be dealt with up front when designing new or redeveloped spaces so that the accessibility standards can be applied as much as possible. Again, the proposed amendments should only allow exemptions where the obligated organization can demonstrate a bona fide and reasonable reason in the circumstances; there is no viable alternative; or, undue hardship would result. The exemption should then require the next best degree of accessibility.
As initially recommended by the Built Environment Standards Development Committee, the proposed amendments could adopt the principle of objective-based accessibility from the Building Code that would permit the possibility of adapting an accessibility requirement to unique circumstances in order to achieve the same objective with alternative solutions. This should only apply where it can be shown that the relevant requirement would otherwise not be appropriate in the circumstances or result in undue hardship.
Proposed amendments to existing standards
The proposed amendments would permit public sector organizations to create “joint” accessibility plans. This should be limited to organizations situated at the same site location.
The proposed amendments would, but should not, eliminate the current requirement for transit stops to be called out audibly for subways and other commuter rail trains. This goes against decisions and settlements reached on complaints heard by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
The proposed amendments would, but should not, limit requests for accessible education and training library resources to only those made by students. Anyone authorized to use library resources, such as professors or members of the public, has a right to request accommodation and should not be excluded.
 See OHRC Submission Regarding the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Legislative Review, October 2009 and other OHRC submissions on AODA standards / http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/ontario-human-rights-commission-submission-regarding-accessibility-ontarians-disabilities-act
 The Fourth Edition of the CSA’s standard includes an annex to help designers make playspaces more inclusive for children with disabilities / http://www.csa.ca/cm/ca/en/search/article/childrens-playspaces-and-equipment-standard-fourth-edition
 The OHRC’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate states that there can be no “general exemption” from these types of elements. The Policy does provide, however, that the “test of altering the essential nature or substantially affecting the viability of an enterprise allows the preservation of the defining features of a heritage property to be taken into account as a justifiable factor in assessing undue hardship.” The Policy does recognize that “the cost of making the proposed accommodation may be increased by the necessity to preserve defining historic design features. However, aesthetic features… that are not historic design features, are not to be included in the assessment.”