Blurred Lines: The AODA vs. The OBC

Author: Will Zver, B. Arch (Tech), LRI Engineering Inc.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) became law in Ontario on July 13, 2005, with the goal of:

“…developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025” (AODA Part I. 1.(a)).

To achieve this goal, accessibility standards were created to help remove barriers within five key areas: customer service, information and communication, transportation, employment and the design of public spaces. The focus of this article is on the application of the DOPS as it relates to the Ontario Building Code (OBC).

The scope of the DOPS covers the built environment requirements of:

  • Recreational trails;
  • Beach access routes;
  • Outdoor public use eating areas;
  • Outdoor play spaces;
  • Exterior paths of travel;
  • Accessible parking; and
  • Obtaining services (service counters, fixed queuing guides and waiting areas).

The Design of Public Spaces Standard (DOPS) is the only standard that has built environment requirements. However, the requirements have limited prescriptive dimensions, which would require a designer or building owner to defer to other design recommendations and best practice standards.

Since the introduction of the AODA, there have been two common misconceptions: the first is that the AODA would require all existing buildings and public spaces to be renovated to be accessible by the year 2025, and the second is that it would supersede the barrier-free design requirements within Section 3.8 of the OBC. However, neither of these are true.

The most important point to make is that both the OBC and the AODA are not retroactive. This means that they only apply to new construction and renovations. So, simply put, non compliant existing conditions are not subject to mandatory upgrading until renovations are proposed.

The built environment requirements of the AODA DOPS do not supersede the requirements of the OBC. In fact — with the exception of customer service-related elements (like service counters, reception desks, kiosks, bars, etc.), fixed queuing guides and waiting areas — the requirements have very little application within the interior of a building. For the most part, they apply to exterior public spaces for which the OBC does not regulate.

In addition, the application of the OBC is reviewed and inspected by municipalities through the permit process, while the AODA is enforced in a different way. The requirements of the AODA are not reviewed or permitted prior to being implemented into a project or an organization’s policies. The AODA relies on a complaint-based system to hold organizations accountable for understanding and complying with its requirements. Designers and building owners need to understand that building officials are not reviewing permit drawings for AODA compliance.

When our firm, LRI, is engaged for projects (especially those with multiple codes and standards), we work with the design team to establish the minimum requirements for the project as well as to set goals. This can include using best practices and the principles of universal design to help project teams develop an approach to accessibility that not only meets the OBC but achieves a higher level of equitable access for building occupants. It is important to establish the baseline requirements for a project as the intersection of multiple codes and standards can contribute to confusion and/or conflicts as to what is required by the standards.

As the OBC and various best practice standards are amended and updated at different times, there will most likely never be an alignment between them. As a result, project teams are often under the impression that if they follow the “best practice” they will be complying with the OBC, but they may find out during the permit process that they in fact are not. Project teams will need to constantly be aware of the specific requirements that pertain to their project so that they can meet their accessibility goals while also complying with the OBC.

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