Code changes for functionality and accessibility

Changes were made to NBC 2015 so there are now explicit requirements for drinking fountains.
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Doors are often a barrier for people with disabilities because they can be heavy and awkward to open. Sometimes, they are not necessarily obvious to people with limited vision. For example, doors with large portions of glazing may be difficult to identify for people with limited vision. Additionally, NBC did not specifically address features for the use of sliding doors. This has been rectified as the accessibility requirements for doors and doorways now also apply to sliding doors.

Another challenge for some building users was power door operators. Previous editions of NBC did not mandate location of activation devices for power-assisted doors and minimal safety requirements for these doors. A person would sometimes have to manoeuvre around an open door to enter the building. Additionally, a person with limited vision could collide with a door that was automatically opened. NBC now provides guidance on where a power-door activator has to be located. Other minimal safety requirements are also specified, including:

  • cane-detectable guards; and
  • force of 65 N (14.6 lbf) to stop the door’s movement.

The type of door hardware can also create significant barriers to individuals with disabilities. Round door knobs, for example, are difficult to use for people who are unable to grasp or employ a twisting motion. Previous requirements on opening devices for doors in an accessible path of travel as well as other doors intended for public use did not include all the criteria that would make them operable by people with dexterity limitations. NBC 2015 now requires all door hardware be usable by all people (e.g. lever-type door handles) and door-opening devices are to be installed at a specific height.

An accessible path of travel is important to a person with a disability when negotiating through a building and using ramps to overcome changes in levels.

Prior to the 2015 edition, NBC was silent on many essential criteria for ramp design. There are now minimum requirements for ramps including acceptable types of surfaces. For example, thick carpets with soft underpads are not permitted as wheelchair users need significant strength to navigate this surface. Edge protection requirements have also been added. The changes appear minor but enhance a ramp’s usability and safety for everyone.

Wheel-in shower requirements have been updated to enhance their accessibility.
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Common design requirements
Individuals with disabilities are often hindered by the inability to reach and use controls like light switches, thermostats, and fire alarm manual stations effectively. Prior to NBC 2015, common control criteria were stated in many provisions and differed in wording with no apparent reason. Further, there was no requirement prohibiting the installation of a control in a confined location such as in a corner inaccessible to a person in a wheelchair. Changes were introduced in NBC to group common criteria on controls (i.e. operable by a closed fist and with a limited force). NBC clarified these requirements also apply to faucets and door hardware. This ensures different types of controls are graspable and usable by the majority of people. The use of automatic controls (e.g. automatic faucets) is now also explicitly permitted by NBC as these types of controls were deemed to provide acceptable performance.

Grab bars
Prior to NBC 2015, a number of criteria for grab bars were not clearly stated and difficult to find. It now provides additional guidance to Code users and sets clear dimensional requirements for grab bars. The clarifications appear to be minor, but their application provides an enhanced level of safety and use.

Drinking fountains
Using a public drinking fountain for a person in a wheelchair could be very challenging as, in many cases, the fountain itself is too high, or when it is at an adequate height, the water flow is unreachable.

Previously, drinking fountain design criteria were vague and NBC was silent on several features resulting in challenges when it came to enforcing the requirements. Changes such as ensuring a clear floor and knee space, spout and water flow height, and others were introduced in NBC 2015.

Water closet stalls
People with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, often ask two questions when considering accessibility:

  • can I get into the building; and
  • is there an accessible washroom?

The requirements for accessible washrooms were lacking many key elements that could greatly improve their use by people with various disabilities. NBC now requires:

  • grab bars on the side and back walls around the toilet;
  • an 850-mm (33 15⁄32-in.) opening at the door; and
  • a transfer space next to the toilet aligning with the door opening.

In the eyes of builders, these are minor changes, but they are significant for people who use wheelchairs and scooters.

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