Monday, December 29, 2014

Ontario needs to stop exempting homes from barrier-free design standards and move forward with VisitAbility in a portion of new homes (15% to 20% to coincide with the aging population).

Ontario will be increasing requirements for barrier-free design features in 15% of apartments, condominiums, and a number of other multi-unit dwellings as of January 1, 2015 in buildings taller than three storeys or 600 meters square in footprint (Group C Major Occupancy in the Ontario Building Code, section  These multi-unit dwellings are the only type of housing that contain any type of barrier-free design consideration for the needs of individuals with mobility challenges; all homes continue to be exempt in our building code (see  The unfortunate consequence is that the majority of the housing industry continues to build homes that contain architectural barriers, which makes them completely impractical for a growing number of Ontarians.  It seems illogical to continue with building practices that exclude a portion of families, baby boomers and anyone else needing more practical homes.  One example of an innovative housing solution is called VisitAbility, which has three basic features: one zero-step entrance, wider doors and hallways, and a main floor powder room or bathroom that can be used by someone who requires a mobility aid/device.  This simple concept is already available in hundreds of homes in Winnipeg, which will increase to 1,100 homes once the Bridgwater neighbourhood is fully developed in 2021.
The brilliance of VisitAbility is that it’s simple to implement and cost-effective, due to the fact that it only requires minor design changes during the planning stage of a new build.  Although this term may not be familiar to most of you, VisitAbility has been extremely successful in certain parts of the United States since its beginning in 1987, as a result of the efforts of individuals like Eleanor Smith at  One community near Chicago (Bolingbrook, Illinois) mandated VisitAbility for all new homes in 2003 with their VisitAbility Ordinance and now boasts nearly 4,000 of these homes (at an additional cost of $500 to $800 per home for these basic features).  These are homes with full basements, not the slab on grade design that is found in the 22,000 VisitAble homes in Tucson and Pima County, Arizona.  Whether in Winnipeg, Bolingbrook or Tucson, these communities have proven that cost effective options already exist to address the housing needs of a growing number of Ontarians by simply moving forward with more modern techniques in new home design.  The most obvious benefit is that these homes can be occupied by 100% of prospective home buyers, regardless of age or level of ability.
The majority of the housing industry has not been supportive of barrier-free design in homes, possibly because homes are the last area of new construction that is not required to comply with barrier-free design requirements in Ontario.  The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as well as upcoming improvements to the Ontario Building Code, will inevitably change these current practices, albeit too slowly in my opinion.  We must stop building homes that exclude a growing number of Ontarians from entering or living in them, simply because we lack the initiative to replicate best practices from neighbourhoods like Bridgwater in Winnipeg.  Research has clearly proven that VisitAbility is cost effective and would offer housing options not currently available to far too many individuals.  When will we finally get the hint that change is urgently needed, and that VisitAbility is a reasonable solution to our changing housing needs as we age?
Please visit for more information about our national VisitAbility Project currently being promoted by six task forces nation-wide: Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Richmond and Victoria.  If you would like to learn more about VisitAbility in Ottawa, please join us for our monthly meetings of the Ottawa VisitAbility Task Force at 100 Constellation Crescent.

My background: I have twenty years of experience (and counting) in assisting adults with physical and developmental challenges in Ottawa.  I’m also the coordinator of the Ottawa VisitAbility Task Force, and I also consult on barrier-free design for homes as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (the first and only CAPS in Eastern Ontario).  I have a home in Greely that has a number of Universal Design features, as well as an attached in-law suite, so I practice what I promote.  Barrier-free design is a subject that I am extremely passionate about and I’m always willing to discuss with anyone who may have questions.  I also created a Facebook page entitled “Accessibility and Aging at Home” containing many albums, including many photos of beautiful universal design.  These photos dispel the myth that barrier-free design is ugly or institutional looking, which is very important to me.  An excellent example would be found on our promotional video at:

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ontario Human Rights Commission article, and comments

There is an interesting article from the Ontario Human Rights Commission that discusses their submission regarding the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and changes that are proposed to make the AODA more effective, and compliant to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Here is the link to this article:
This blog will discuss some quotes from this article.

"Disability is consistently the most frequent ground of discrimination cited in over 50% of applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario."  This first quote should hopefully draw attention to the fact that we need to be doing far better at meeting the needs of our citizens with disabilities.   Whether it be the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the AODA, the Human Rights Commission, or other obligations that pertain to our nation, we need to start taking all of this more seriously if we claim to be a country that values the basic rights of every citizen.

"In its 2009 submission on the first AODA legislative review, the OHRC called for better harmonization between the AODA and the Ontario Human Rights Code as well as other laws including the Ontario Building Code Regulation.[2] The first AODA review report released in 2010,[3] and the government’s response,[4] both recognize the need to look at options for harmonizing legislation."  This second quote clearly shows that there is a lack of action.  The first submission was five years ago yet harmonization of legislation is still very slow to conform.  This clearly shows the level of commitment by our elected officials, which is very little.

"As stated in past submissions,[9] the OHRC also recommends that AODA regulations should adopt the following accessibility-related human rights principles to help guide overall interpretation of the standards:
  • Design universally / inclusively
  • Create no new barriers
  • Identify and remove existing barriers
  • Favour integration over segregation
  • Provide interim or next best measures where ideal or full accommodation is not (yet) feasible
  • Achieve results progressively to the maximum of available resources, and at the same time
  • Consider and accommodate individual needs short of undue hardship by exploring solutions through a cooperative process that maximizes confidentiality and respect." Create no new barriers...our National Building Code still exempts houses from barrier-free design requirements in section so we are still creating barriers by continuing with our outdated construction techniques.  VisitAbility in new housing would offer a cost-effective solution to this goal of not creating new barriers in homes, where we spend the greatest portion of each day.  It would also decrease the number of deaths and serious injuries that happen nation wide because of the poor design of our homes.  Here's a brief video which introduces VisitAbility, as well as its benefits to all individuals, regardless of age or ability.

"The weakest aspect of the regulated standards to date is that very few require removal of existing barriers. The standards mostly focus on preventing new barriers going forward, which is necessary, but also inadequate to make Ontario accessible by 2025." With homes being exempt from barrier-free requirements, removing barriers in homes is also not deemed to be a priority, even with our significant challenges surrounding our aging population.  How can we support their right to age in their own homes, safely, if we continue to ignore the danger in some of these homes?  We don't even regulate our renovation sector, so even if an individual chooses to be proactive and look into barrier-free features, what training or oversight is there in place for the bad apples in the renovation sector?  Some renovation companies are very capable and offer best practices, even though homes are exempt from barrier-free requirements, but this is not a standard requirement in this sector.

"The OHRC recommends that the government find more ways to give the AODA broader public profile and support including through promotion, education and training, including with professional and trade schools, accreditation institutions and associations."  Yes, please do so as soon as possible.  Media exposure would be great.  If the general public is not aware, then they won't know that current obligations exist.  This education program should also extend to Home Builder Associations nation wide, and discussions on barrier removal in the housing industry should be a priority item.

"The OHRC recommends that the government begin seeking public input on other priority areas for new regulated standards under the AODA.
In no particular order of priority, new regulated standards might be considered for areas such as:
  • Air quality standards of the type proposed by the former Built Environment Standards Development Committee in 2009 to address the needs of persons with environmental disabilities[21]
  • Captioning and descriptive video standards for movie theatres and movie distributors operating in Ontario
  • Accessibility standards for the education system, health care services and residential housing (as recommended by the AODA Alliance)
  • Accessibility standards to facilitate participation in sporting and leisure activities
  • Standards for accessible elections including: accessible constituency offices and meeting rooms and polling stations and returning offices; internet and telephone voting; accessible all candidate debates[22]
  • Standards for psychological health and safety in the workplace[23]
  • Other elements for potential standards proposed by the former Built Environment Standards Development Committee such as building maintenance, contrast, colour, glare, acoustics, lighting, furniture placement, workplace offices, cafeterias, libraries, courtrooms, stages, balconies, terraces, porches, mailboxes, amusement parks, fitness rooms, etc." I strongly agree with new standards for residential housing.  I have made suggestions to the AODA reviewer to consider VisitAbility as a minimum barrier-free design standard for new housing. Ample research proves that it is cost-effective and easy to implement if done properly during the planning stage of a new build. 
"The development of new standards should always be mindful to avoid creating new barriers or falling below minimum gains already achieved. New standards should make clear significant progress over the status quo. Standards should represent the current best-known practices and specifications, which inevitably will evolve, improve and need to be revisited and revised on a regular basis. This on the other hand should not become an excuse to avoid developing new standards into regulation in the first place."  Well said.

My experience in advocating for change is that very few developers and home builders care about VisitAbility or any other form of accessibility features for homes, and some actively resist them.  Part of it stems from fear that it is expensive or ugly, but my Facebook page shows a number of albums with photos and documents that suggest otherwise.

We need to move toward a more inclusive design approach in new housing, which will require a cultural shift in existing biases and myths.  Education is key.  Here is the website for the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies, and their national VisitAbility Project, if anyone would like to learn more.  I'm the coordinator for the Ottawa VisitAbility Task Force so please don't hesitate to forward any questions. I would be happy to forward information if your are interested.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Let's be honest

My previous two posts have probably given you the hint that I'm pretty passionate about accessibility, especially when it comes to accessibility into homes.  But let's be honest about a few things:

1) At the international level, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities does mention the need for accessibility in housing, as part of the CRPD.  The World Health Organization has identified over 1 billion individuals facing the challenges of a disability internationally.  And, the challenges of aging populations are an international concern, not isolated to certain countries.

2) At the federal level, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010; we are a signatory country of this convention.  Statistics Canada identified nearly 3 million Canadians with mobility disabilities in their Participation and Activity Limitation survey, which formed part of the 2006 Census.  Statistics Canada has already identified that there are 9.6 million baby boomers according to the 2011 Census, which started becoming seniors in 2011 and will continue until 2031, at a rate of over 1,100 per day (nation wide) for those twenty years.  Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in their five-part series entitled "Housing for Older Canadians", identified that over 80% of the 55+ demographic wishes to age at home.

3) At the provincial level, Ontario created the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, with the primary goal of a fully accessible Ontario by January 1, 2025.  Anyone who has been following the AODA sees that standards have been slow to be created and have brought forward many questions pertaining to interpretation of these standards; enforcement of these standards has also been questionable.  Most concerning to me is the exemption of houses from accessibility legislation.  In section 3.8 of the Ontario Building Code, section exempts most houses from the need to comply to these barrier-free requirements. The only section that offers some barrier-free features in a private dwelling is found in section, which deals with buildings taller than three storeys, or larger than 600m2.  Although we live in a province that has a twenty year goal of a fully accessible province, and a province that spends hundreds of millions of dollars yearly on aging at home services, we offer next to nothing in barrier-free housing options, even though the majority of our aging population wishes to age at home, and will need these features as they age.

4) At the municipal level, the City of Ottawa was granted the certification of an age-friendly city by the World Health Organization in 2013.  Ottawa also has an Older Adult Plan, which it hopes will respond to the needs of our aging population.  And Ottawa does offer a portion of it's Affordable Housing inventory with either VisitAble or Barrier-Free units.  So, some things are happening at the municipal level, but much more needs to be done.

As it stands, homes that contain some type of barrier-free features (whether it be VisitAbility, Universal Design, or full accessibility) are isolated mainly to the following areas:
-CoOperative Housing has been offering some of their inventory with barrier-free features for decades (they deserve some praise as being the pioneers when it comes to offering barrier-free options in housing).
-Some provincially funded group homes and other facilities have barrier-free features; this typically handles the "public" aspect of barrier-free requirements.
-Some units in private high-rises and private seniors' facilities have barrier-free features.
-Habitat for Humanity is getting more involved in barrier-free house plans, as part of their projects, especially on an international level.
-Some City of Ottawa affordable housing has VisitAble or barrier-free units in their inventory.
-Some custom homes have been built with barrier-free features (which includes my home in Greely).

So it's not all bad.  I don't want to sound "doom and gloom" but we most certainly can do better for our individuals who need the features now, and the many more who will as our population ages. It's time for consumers to start asking for these features when purchasing new homes, or when renovating your current home, in order to meet your current and future needs.  Not being proactive in your housing options could be problematic.  I highly recommend that you start your research now to avoid being caught off-guard if a crisis comes for yourself, or for someone you love.

Please have a look at my Facebook page entitled "Accessibility and Aging at Home", which I feel will offer information and options for those of you who are interested in this topic.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Are Ontario developers/builders in compliance of OBC for barrier-free features?

ONTARIO REGULATION 332/12, section of the ontario Building code

(4)  In a Group C major occupancy apartment building, not less than 10% of all residential suites shall be provided with a barrier-free path of travel from the suite entrance door to,
(a) the doorway to at least one bedroom at the same level, and
(b) the doorway to at least one bathroom,
(i) having an area not less than 4.5 m2 at the same level, and
(ii) conforming to Sentence

As of January 1, 2015: Ontario Regulation 368/13, Section

(5)  In a Group C major occupancy apartment building, not less than 15% of all suites of residential occupancy shall be provided with a barrier-free path of travel from the suite entrance door into the following rooms and spaces that shall be located at the same level as the barrier-free path of travel:
(a) at least one bedroom,
(b) at least one bathroom conforming to Sentence (6),
(c) a kitchen or kitchen space, and
(d) a living room or space.
(6)  Bathrooms required by Clause (5)(b) shall,
(a) contain a lavatory,
(b) contain a water closet,
(c) contain a bathtub or a shower,
(d) have wall reinforcement installed in conformance with Sentence, and
(e) be designed to permit a wheelchair to turn in an open space not less than 1 500 mm in diameter.

(7)  The number of suites described in Sentence (5) having 1, 2 or 3 or more bedrooms shall be in proportion to the number of suites of residential occupancy having 1, 2 or 3 or more bedrooms in the remainder of the building.
(8)  The suites described in Sentence (5) shall be distributed among storeys that are required by Article to have a barrier-free path of travel, having regard to the height of the suite above grade.

What is meant by barrier-free path of travel:  Barrier-Free Path of Travel
(1)  Except as required in Sentence (4) and except as permitted in Subsection 3.8.3., every barrier-free path of travel shall provide an unobstructed width of at least 1 100 mm for the passage of wheelchairs.
(2)  Interior and exterior walking surfaces that are within a barrier-free path of travel shall,
(a) have no opening that will permit the passage of a sphere more than 13 mm in diam,
(b) have any elongated openings oriented approximately perpendicular to the direction of travel,
(c) be stable, firm and slip-resistant,
(d) be bevelled at a maximum slope of 1 in 2 at changes in level not more than 13 mm, and
(e) be provided with sloped floors or ramps at changes in level more than 13 mm.
(3)  A barrier-free path of travel is permitted to include ramps, passenger elevators or other platform equipped passenger elevating devices to overcome a difference in level.
(4)  Every barrier-free path of travel less than 1 600 mm in width shall be provided with an unobstructed space not less than 1 600 mm in width and 1 600 mm in length located not more than 30 m apart.
(5)  Where the headroom of an area in a barrier-free path of travel is reduced to less than 1 980 mm, a guardrail or other barrier with its leading edge at or below 680 mm from the floor shall be provided.
What are the classifications:

(a) used for major occupancies classified as,
(i) Group A, assembly occupancies,
(ii) Group B, care or detention occupancies,
(iii) Group F, Division 1, high hazard industrial occupancies, or
(b) exceeding 600 m2 in building area or exceeding three storeys in building height and used for major occupancies classified as,
(i) Group C, residential occupancies,
(ii) Group D, business and personal services occupancies,
(iii) Group E, mercantile occupancies, or
(iv) Group F, Divisions 2 and 3, medium hazard industrial occupancies and low hazard industrial occupancies.

Smith, Nancy P. (MAH)
to me
Good morning Mr. Gervais;

You are correct that Group C Buildings are residential however the term condominium is not used in the Building Code for the simple reason that ‘condominium’ is not a type of building.  It is a form of tenure, notwithstanding that the term condominium is used widely by the general public to describe residential apartment buildings that are owned by the residents.  In fact many different building types may be condominiums including single detached houses (think gated communities), townhouses, retail malls and industrial malls.   

In the Building Code apartment building is the term used for all multi-unit residential buildings.  The Building Code barrier-free design requirements apply equally to all new multi-unit buildings whether the tenure is rental or condominium ownership.   The Building Code sets minimum construction standards for all buildings.  It does not have one set of standards for rental buildings and another for condominium buildings.  The differences that building users may see between the types of building designs are established by developers who can and frequently build to higher than minimum standards depending on who they are targeting to live in the building.

The Group C Residential category also includes hotels, motels, student residences/dormitories, convents, monasteries, residential schools, homeless shelters, shelters for women, open and semi-secure youth detention facilities and hostels.  All of these, depending on the size and design of the building, are subject to the Code’s barrier-free design requirements.  That category might also include adult apartment buildings such as a senior’s retirement apartment building but if it is a long-term care facility, that would be a Group B which also must meet barrier-free requirements. 

Group F, Division 1 Buildings are high hazard industrial buildings where barrier-free requirements do not apply to the industrial component of the building.  But if a Group F, Div. 1 building includes an office component, that portion of the building would be considered a Group D and barrier-free design requirements

I hope this helps.


Nancy P. Smith, OAA
Coordinator, Code Development
Building and Development Branch
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
777 Bay Street, 2nd Floor
Toronto, Ontario   M5G 2E5

Thursday, May 01, 2014

It's time for more options

I'll skip the boring bio and introduction, and I'll jump right into some information about VisitAbility in Canada.  VisitAbility is the basics of accessibility into homes (not full universal design, not full barrier-free design) which includes: one zero-step entrance, wider doors and hallways, and one bathroom on this same level.  The Canadian Centre on Disability Studies (Winnipeg, MB) currently has a VisitAbility Project (2013-2016), with six task forces nation wide.  The goal of the project is to educate the public and developers/builders about this inclusive design option that allows homes to be sold to 100% of buyers, regardless of age or ability.  The first community in Canada that already has hundreds of VisitAble homes built, with plans for 1,100, is found in Winnipeg's Bridgwater development.  The success of this development will be presented at the International Summit on Accessibility, which is being held at the Ottawa Congress Centre, July 12-15, 2014.

If anyone is interested to know more about the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies, here is their website:  You can also visit their Facebook page at:

As a resident of Ontario, I would like to share my concerns about our government's continued exemption of houses from any form of accessibility regulation.  The Ontario Building Code has a section that deals with barrier-free design (section 3.8) but it begins this section by identifying which areas are exempt, which includes homes.  The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which has the goal of an accessible Ontario by January 1, 2025, also exempts houses because they are focusing the legislation on the Design of Public Spaces.  Whether it be the Ontario Building Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the public needs to realize that there already is a significant shortage of housing options for individuals with mobility challenges, and this will only get a worse as we deal with the aging of our baby boomers (between 2011 and 2031), which number in the millions (9.6 million in Canada according to Statistics Canada).  I think it's time that we all realize that current construction techniques create barriers instead of removing them, and this needs to change. VisitAbility is one of those options which would offer an inclusive approach to the design and building of new homes, and it would also fulfill our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada signed in 2010.  It would also support Ontario's promotion of aging at home, which is being funded with hundreds of millions of dollars per year (330 million in 2010).

I don't want to imply that there are no options, because there are.  The CoOperative Housing sector has been offering barrier-free apartments and townhomes for decades; some affordable housing is either VisitAble or barrier-free (Ottawa is an example); some custom homes have these features; and since 2006, new apartment buildings in Ontario have been required to offer some VisitAble and barrier-free units.  But more needs to be done.  And this is why I'm promoting VisitAbility in new housing, as a minimum, in order to address our current housing concerns.  Ample research has been done to prove the merit and cost-effectiveness of VisitAbility, and it's quite popular in States like Illinois, Georgia, Arizona and Texas and it's now gaining momentum in Winnipeg.  My hope is that developers and builders catch up with what's already happening in order to offer more options than currently exist.  There needs to be a cultural shift away from thinking that universal design and/or barrier-free design are only for people with disabilities and move toward thinking that realizes that it benefits everyone: parents with young children, moving and delivery companies, emergency services, and our ability to welcome anyone into our homes, as examples.

If anyone is interested in the topic of aging in place, please have a look at my Facebook page, which I feel should offer information:  I could talk about this topic for hours so I'll direct you to my Facebook page as an introduction to this topic that I'm very passionate about; there are a number of albums that will substantiate my statements in this blog.