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Submission to the Accessible Built Environment Standards Development Committee

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October 16, 2009

Ronald Meredith-Jones, Chair
Accessible Built Environment Standards Development Committee
C/O Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
777 Bay St, 6th Flr Suite 601
Toronto ON M7A 2J4

Dear Chair,

Please find attached, the Submission of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) regarding the Initial Proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) 2005.

The OHRC recognizes the significant amount of work that the Committee has undertaken in developing this very comprehensive initial proposed Standard. The Committee should be congratulated for its efforts.

The OHRC’s submission details a number of issues for consideration by the Committee and the Government as the Committee works to develop and submit a final proposed Standard.

As the OHRC has recommended in regards to other proposed standards, human rights principles should be set out to help organizations interpret the provisions of the Standard in accordance with existing human rights obligations. For example: while a Standard can and should identify priorities and set timelines for implementing accessibility requirements, the Standard should also recognize that:

  • Organizations still have an immediate and ongoing duty under the Ontario Human Rights Code to explore and accommodate individual requests as they arise, as much and as soon as possible, short of undue hardship, and
  • The duty to accommodate applies regardless of organizational size, and may require alternative or interim solutions depending on the circumstances.
  • While the proposed Standard recognizes a nexus between the Standard, the Building Code and the Human Rights Code, it is neither sufficiently developed nor clear. For example: there appears to be incongruence between the immediate applicability of standards under the Building Code with overlapping and time-delayed requirements under the Built Environment Standard. The OHRC recommends further public consultation on how best to harmonize applicable laws, including addressing elements governed by different bodies.
  • Government’s role in providing resources, education (including expert training such as for architects), administrating compliance (either directly or at arms length) and measuring impact, will be key to the Standard’s success.
  • The OHRC has serious concerns over proposed exemptions, particularly with the undue hardship exemption for new construction.
  • The OHRC agrees with the Committee that, despite the Government’s terms of reference, the first iteration of the Built Environment Standard should include at least some provisions for retrofit and single family housing accessibility. Irrespective of what the timeline and compliance requirements might be, inclusion of such provisions could, for example, begin to promote understanding, early voluntary compliance and eventual fulfilment of retrofit requirements in order to meet the goal of a fully accessible Ontario by 2025. At minimum, the Standard could require early progressive retrofit obligations for essential public facilities such as schools and hospitals, and barrier identification and retrofit planning for other types of occupancies as a prerequisite to future retrofit requirements.
  • The OHRC is questioning why the proposed Standard appears to require that both conditions of change in use and extensive renovations of a building element must be present rather than either one triggering accessibility requirements.
  • The OHRC has also raised concern in regards to other elements including: the broader benefit of universal washrooms; captioning and descriptive video requirements for movie theatres that fall below recent case settlements, and the lack of any retrofit requirements for restaurant facilities.

The OHRC’s submission also highlights a number of areas in the proposed Standard that are particularly important and helpful: air quality standards addressing the needs of individuals with environmental sensitivities, the principle of objective based accessibility and the possibility for alternative solutions; a flexible and balanced approach to retrofit offering both early compliance and undue hardship provisions; as well as “adaptable” and “visitable” standards for single family housing.

The OHRC looks forward to reviewing the final proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard. In the meantime, we would be pleased to meet with members of the Committee as well as with the Directorate and other groups to discuss these issues and provide any other assistance we can.

Yours truly,

Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Chief Commissioner

Copy Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
Tracy MacCharles, Chair, Accessibility Standards Advisory Council of Ontario
Charles Beer, AODA Review
David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance