Ready for Accessibility?

AODA clock ticking started on Jan. 1, 2015

The holidays are a distant memory now.

Now I am in the thick of my “work mode” after surviving the holidays;  having too much of everything – food, gifts, and the infamous annual new year’s resolutions which “keep” getting updated.  However, there was one constant topic that was kept popping up at the work since December last year:  AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) implementation starting on the first day of this year.  I had been getting a few different phone calls from my  past, as well as potential clients with this particular question and its implication to their projects:  What is AODA?  Of course, the question always follows with “do I need to consider this AODA thing for my project?”  

“Value” conversation

One particular phone call I received from a potential client (medical doctor) who wanted to  upgrade his existing office space stood out.   He learned of the AODA requirements from his colleagues, and he wanted to make sure that he met the requirements for the renovation of his office space.  I suspect the prominent January 1, 2015 date pushed him to start planning for the project in more concrete ways, including making phone calls to architects.  It was a great moment to advise him on the “value” of an architecture service,  and how hiring an architect for the project not only provides  a unique design, but also to meet the absolute must regulations such as building code which encompass the accessibility requirements.

Ontario Building Code and AODA

The older version of AODA, 2005 contains requirements for businesses in Ontario to follow the accessibility guidelines. The Act applied only to “large” businesses (50+ employees), however the new January 1, 2015 version requires all businesses including small businesses(1-49 employees)  to develop accessibility policies to their office space.

AODA is like the Ontario Building Code, which all of us in construction industry to follow, but with the focus on the accessibility components. For example, it will require that new or substantially renovated building structures to include features such as visual fire alarms.  The one difference to new changes in 2015 is that the Act is enforced more stringently then the previous one.

Recently, there were also updates to Ontario Building Code, and it is the only logical step in updating the AODA with more stringent requirements reflecting the building code updates.   The one thing to note from the new building code amendments is that it still does not require  buildings to be “fully” accessible, and do not apply  to buildings where no major renovations are underway.  For instance, the  amended code includes the number of measures to improve access such as  power door operators at entrances, barrier-free washrooms, and common rooms in multiunit residential buildings.  Another example could be more accessible/ adoptable seating spaces in public assembly buildings like theatres, lecture halls, and churches.  New public pools and spas would need to be also barrier-free.

However, the same accessibility requirements do not apply to single family houses, except minor instances such as adding the visual components to smoke alarms for the hearing impaired.

Accessible Province by 2015

One added benefit to AODA  and its updates not only helps with communities with various disabilities, but it also  prepares for aging population in Ontario, which is critical issue for the society as a whole as more people live longer.  Greater accessibility benefits ALL Ontarians, strengthening our communities as well as our economy; increased accessibility in employment, retail and public spaces can help create significant economic benefits for Ontario.

After the lengthy conversation about the AODA with my potential client, and advising him on the proposed designs for the project, it was evident that the client was satisfied in the design directives I proposed.  However, he was not so “satisfied” once we started talking about the fee I quoted for the architecture design services.  So much for the “value” conversation I had earlier….

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