Standards help build a barrier-free Canada

by arslan_ahmed | February 22, 2023 10:00 am

Photo courtesy iStock

More than six million Canadians live with a disability.¹ In everyday life, they may have fewer options when accessing transportation services, communicating with others, or interacting with aspects of the built environment. Incorporating the principles of accessibility helps ensure  people with disabilities can have the same experience as any other person, whether in a public venue or at home. Removing barriers and enabling universal access can create a safe and comfortable place for everybody.

Accessibility is generally recognized as an important element of architectural design practice.² Over the past two decades, municipalities, provinces, and territories across the country developed various policies, guidelines, and codes aiming to improve accessibility of public buildings and spaces, as well as dwellings. While there is still a lot of work to do, things like automatic doors, ramps, wider corridors to accommodate wheeled mobility devices, and universal washrooms are now common. CSA Group standards can assist stakeholders seeking to support accessibility efforts and help people with disabilities participate in their communities and live to their full potential.

Accessibility and inclusivity of the built environment

The first edition of the CSA Group standard CSA B651 was published under the title, Barrier-free Design, in 1990 (now published as CSA/ASC B651, Accessible Design for the Built Environment) and brought requirements that may seem basic today but were dramatic at the time. Installing ramps at the main entrances, widening doors, adding contrasting nosings to stairs, handrail extensions, or expanding washroom stalls were just a few features that helped improve overall access to public and private spaces for people with disabilities.

CSA B651 impacts not only how buildings are designed and built but also how various products are manufactured, so they can be used inside accessible buildings. Since its first edition, the standard has evolved significantly. For example, later updates aimed to provide better guidance on elements serving the spatial requirements of people with hearing, vision, or other communication disabilities.

New requirements and recommendations for buildings

Many requirements of the CSA B651 standard resulted from consultations with people living with disabilities, their perspectives, and experiences. These were also the case in the development of the 2023 edition of the standard, CSA/ASC B651:23. With the participation of people with disabilities and collaboration with the Accessibility Standards Canada (ASC), volunteer members of the CSA Group Technical Committee on Accessibility developed and updated numerous technical requirements and recommendations to make buildings and the exterior built environment accessible and safe for those with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. CSA/ASC B651:23 supports universal design principles (i.e. designing environments so all people can access, understand, and use them to the greatest extent possible, regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability).

Among the important changes introduced in the 2023 edition of the standard are updates of various dimensions based on current anthropometric research. The standard’s informative annex provides more details on the anthropometrics of mobility aid users, including reach ranges for a person in a wheeled mobility device, walkway width for people using crutches, walkers, or being accompanied by a service animal. The annex also provides detection space for people using a long white cane and dimensions of wheeled manual and powered mobility devices and their turning areas.

The new edition of the standard also provides a detailed explanation of luminance (colour) contrast and provides guidance on minimum contrast for general surfaces, glossy or shiny surfaces such as brushed stainless steel.

Further, CSA/ASC B651:23 updates guidance on functional and cognitive barriers, recommending designing spaces with simple and logical layouts with consistent features; for example, the same location of washrooms on each floor. Designers should also consider measures to avoid excessive noise interferences and implementation of improved lighting inside buildings and in the exterior environment.

Find more information about the new and updated requirements and recommendations of CSA/ASC B651:23 on the CSA Store[2].

Photo courtesy iStock

A new standard for accessible homes

People living with disabilities need easy access to food, hygiene, and rest areas in their homes. However, current design and construction guidelines and codes for accessible dwellings vary by jurisdiction across Canada, and their requirements tend to be limited, which can make it difficult for people with disabilities to find a home meeting their specific needs. In addition, most traditional homes were not designed with accessibility in mind, making alterations to existing homes challenging.

Policymakers and consumers have identified a need to provide more housing stock that is accessible, affordable, and adaptable for older adults and people with disabilities. The new CSA Group standard CSA/ASC B652:23, Accessible Dwellings, is intended to assist in the design, construction, or alteration of homes so they can accommodate the needs of their residents. The standard provides guidance for a variety of dwellings—from detached houses and duplexes, townhouses, and row houses, to apartments and condominiums. Its provisions are also suitable for short-term and visitable dwellings, such as hotels, dormitories, or care facilities.

The first edition of the standard leans on industry experts and people with lived experiences of disability to provide evidence-informed guidance and best practices for the design of various elements of accessible homes, including ramps, landscaping, parking, garages, and other exterior elements.

The standard specifies area allowances for rooms and spaces in houses to accommodate a person using an assistive mobility device, as well as knee and toe clearances and addresses accessibility features of different rooms. It also provides best practices for home operating controls, such as door handles and locks, light switches, buttons for appliances, faucets, etc. These best practices cover the position of controls, their operability, and functionality.

CSA/ASC B652 also provides requirements for floors and ground surfaces, with additional considerations for people with different disabilities, for example, people with limited vision, environmental intolerances, or those using assistive mobility devices.

A separate clause of the standard is dedicated to the illumination of accessible dwellings and addresses general (ambient) illumination and task lighting.

Find more information about the new requirements and recommendations of CSA/ASC B652:23 on the CSA Store[4].

Helping designers and builders apply the standard for accessible dwellings

To help home builders, contractors, and accessibility consultants apply the requirements and recommendations of CSA/ASC B652:23, CSA Group is developing a new interactive PDF tool. This tool will help assess the needs of individuals with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities and optimize the design of private homes when building, renovating, or retrofitting them.

Focusing on specific areas of the home, the tool will highlight specific requirements, recommendations, and considerations that may impact and improve its accessibility. Stay tuned for more updates on the tool. Subscribe to the CSA Group newsletter[5].

Research identifies future standardization opportunities

Accessibility standards will continue to play an important and necessary role in building a barrier-free Canada. A report from CSA Group, A Canadian Roadmap for Accessibility Standards, reviewed the current standardization landscape and identified areas where new standards and harmonization of accessibility provisions across Canada would help remove existing barriers to accessibility. For example, CSA Group’s research recommended the development of a comprehensive national standard for accessible indoor and outdoor recreational and green spaces that would address the visual, physical, sensory, and cognitive needs of their users. Standards for wayfinding and navigation systems, especially in complex environments within transportation facilities, health care settings, and public pedestrian spaces, can also help remove barriers created by unclear signage and lack of continuous paths of travel.

To learn more about CSA Group accessibility standards, visit our website[6].


¹ Canadian Survey on Disability Report[7], Statistics Canada, 2018

² Zallio, M., Clarkson, P.J., Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice, Building and Environment[8], Vol.206, 2021

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