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Backgrounder - Restaurant accessibility and the Ontario Building Code

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The Ontario Human Rights Code creates a right to barrier-free restaurants, shops, hotels, movie theatres and other public places, and obliges businesses operating in Ontario to make their facilities accessible. A failure to provide equal access to a facility or equal treatment in a service constitutes a violation of the Human Rights Code.  The only available defence to such discrimination is showing that providing access or services would constitute undue hardship having regard to cost, outside sources of funding, or health and safety factors. 

In March 2001, the Commission launched its new Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate (the "Disability Policy").  The Commission indicated that it would be engaging in ongoing efforts to promote accessibility of services and facilities in Ontario.  Towards this end, the Commission has undertaken the following measures:

  • In May 2001, the Commission surveyed 29 major restaurant chains in Ontario to ascertain the degree of accessibility of their premises, what standards are used for accessibility, and what objectives are set for achieving accessibility in future. 
  • The Commission reviewed the responses received and determined that restaurant chains are setting their standards for accessibility based only on the Ontario Building Code that was in effect at the time of construction or renovation.  Neither the Human Rights Code nor the Disability Policy are considerations in setting standards for accessibility. 
  • The Commission will be initiating its own inquiry into the accessibility of restaurant chains pursuant to its mandate under section 29 of the Human Rights Code.  Over the summer an expert will be visiting locations of several restaurant chains across the province to conduct restaurant accessibility and service reviews.
  • In March 2002, the Commission presented an in-depth submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing outlining the need for reform to the barrier-free access requirements in the Ontario Building Code. The submission describes priorities for change as well as the human rights principles that should be reflected in a revisedBuilding Code

It is hoped that through measures such as these, in future, as our society continues to age and greater numbers of people exhibit varying degrees of ability, issues of accessibility will not have to continue to be dealt with one human rights complaint at a time.

For further information or copies of the Commission’s documents on disability and age discrimination, please visit our Web site at