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December 02, 2008

ThisAbility #7: Not all Buildings are Created Equal

Posted by Aaron Broverman at 02:09 PM ET

As a follow-up to last week's entry called Riddle Me This I got in touch with Michael Swan, the man in Toronto City Hall who can answer all your pressing Ontario Building Code questions. I had more than a few. Most of my questions pertained to buildings that feature some accessibility features like automatic door buttons, but have other barriers to access like stairs in the same location. The Econo Lodge at 335 Jarvis St. was used as an example last week (look carefully at the photos on that website and you'll see the problem), but there are plenty of buildings that seem accessible on the outside, but are obviously inaccessible without the power of levitation or divine intervention.

The reason, at least in Ontario, is that buildings cannot be forced to conform to the current building code accessibility regulations. The only time a building needs to conform to the building code is at the time it is awarded its permit. The Econo Lodge has existed as a hotel of one kind or another since it received its permit in 1971, well before accessibility requirements were first established in 1983, so it doesn't have to be an accessible building and any accessibility improvements it does make, like the automatic door button, are up to them.

From 1983-2006, the accessibility portion of the building code was upgraded six times. Only buildings created from 2006 onward must meet the most stringent accessibility requirements. Buildings with permits dated before then, only have to be accessible enough to meet the standard from the year they were erected and don't have to meet the current standards, which means many Toronto buildings will remain only partially accessible for as long as they stand.

Sure Ontario has goals to become fully accessible by 2025, when the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act becomes legally enforceable, but by then I will be 40 years old and there is no guarantee that I'll even live long enough to see it in action. Even Michael Swan says that based on current building code laws, the idea that every building in Ontario will be forced to be completely accessible is, "Wishful thinking."

Plus by 2025, Ontario will be decades behind other provinces in Canada. British Columbia will be fully accessible by 2009 with the arrival of the Winter Olympics. In Ontario the permit is the least expensive part of making your building accessible, the renovations recommended by Toronto's own accessibility guidelines — and that's all they are, guidelines — could run up a hefty bill.

Obviously, in Ontario at least, "equality" is just a buzz word meant to stroke the ego of politicians. As long as the bureaucrats sit on their hands while flapping their gums, accessibility begins and ends with the common man. Next time you run into a person with a disability do the following: hold a door open, pass up elevators in favor of the stairs and above all, ask what it is you can do to bridge the gap between getting in and staying out.

broverman_a.jpgAaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he's the last able-bodied person on earth — and he's being hunted.

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