Policy Paper: Accessibility in Buildings

Please note that the views expressed in the following policy paper are those of the Canadian Commission on Buildings and Fire Codes.

Alternate format: Policy Paper: Accessibility in Buildings (PDF, 1.73 MB)

Acronyms or abbreviations

Americans with Disabilities Act
Alterations to Existing Buildings
Accessibility for Manitobans Act
American National Standards Institute
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Employment and Social Development Canada
Gross Domestic Product
International Organization for Standardization
Joint Task Group
Joint Task Group on Alterations to Existing Buildings
National Building Code of Canada
National Research Council of Canada
Objective on Accessibility

CCBFC Policy Position Paper on Accessibility in Buildings

Executive summary

This document explores accessibility in Canada and the various federal, provincial and territorial initiatives to improve accessibility for all people. It outlines key policy considerations for the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) to discuss, with the goal to set a national direction for accessible design requirements in building codes.

The term "accessibility" encompasses many features that improve the ease of use of spaces and facilities as well as safety and comfort of people. Accessibility aims to enable people of all ages and abilities to live and participate fully in all aspects of life.

With an aging population and an increase in Canadians reporting limitations to their daily activities due to disabilities, accessibility is becoming an increasingly important topic. The federal government, as well as provinces, territories and municipalities, are developing initiatives to improve current levels of accessibility in the built environment. However, different policy goals among regions are leading to disharmony, creating inconsistency and confusion across Canada amongst industry, regulators and the general public.

Canada has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Convention), which aims to promote, protect and ensure the equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities. The Convention shifts the definition of disability away from focusing on the person and instead focuses on the environment that fails to accommodate the participation of different people in society. The Government of Canada has also enacted the Accessible Canada Act in 2019, which seeks to enhance the full and equal participation of all persons in society by identifying, removing and preventing barriers to accessibility in several priority areas: employment; the built environment (buildings and public spaces); information and communication technologies; communication other than information and communication technologies; the procurement of goods, services and facilities; the design and delivery of programs and services; and transportation.

One of the objectives in the National Building Code of Canada (NBC) is to "limit the probability that, as a result of the design or construction of the building, a person with a physical or sensory limitation will be unacceptably impeded from accessing or using the building or its facilities". This objective is limited in scope and does not apply to all buildings. The NBC requirements are developed as minimum acceptable measures required to achieve the objectives in the Code. The CCBFC is considering the future role of the national model codes in setting new acceptable minimum requirements for accessibility, adaptability, egressibility, and visitability of buildings for a diverse set of people.

There are many considerations to take into account in creating effective regulations in the short and long term, such as the diverse nature of disability as well as cost-effectiveness of proposed solutions. Effectiveness is not limited to financial concerns but must also take a comprehensive approach that considers aspects such as social inclusion, mental health, human dignity, human rights, and the needs of vulnerable populations. The CCBFC will continue efforts to better reflect, in the impact analysis method, the benefit of future accessibility changes.

The CCBFC also recognizes the need from provinces and territories for flexibility in developing technical and application requirements for accessibility. It is proposing to create modules of accessibility where provinces, territories and municipalities can select the timing of adoption for the modules. Once applied, the modules will be consistent across regions.

1.0 Purpose

This document's purpose is to clarify the continuum of features that encompasses the concept of accessibility and the scope and direction of accessibility requirements within the national model codes developed through the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC). This paper identifies and examines policy issues related to access to and use of buildings by people of all ages with physical, mental and sensory abilities. The document is in response to a request from the provinces and territories for input and direction in this area in the context of harmonizing common policy goals on accessibility across provinces and territories.

The objective is to review the scope of the National Building Code (NBC) Objective on Accessibility (Appendix 1) in light of an increasingly fragmented and contested policy area and an evolving domestic and international landscape as it relates to accessibility and to provide policy options with respect to national model codes.

This paper is presented in 2 parts:

  1. The first part provides background information about the concept of accessibility, the social model of disability, accessibility regulation, and Canada's international human rights obligations, and provides an overview of provincial, territorial and federal legislation, initiatives and commitments.
  2. The second part identifies and analyses key policy issues and sets out the opportunities and challenges related to each. Tentative policy positions are suggested for CCBFC discussion — and eventually — approval.

As government policies are established and new information and technologies developed, it is expected that this document and the CCBFC's position may be adjusted to reflect appropriate and relevant policy directions.

1.1 Terms and definitions

A logical first step in providing clarity to an increasingly fragmented policy area and in developing a possible path forward for the provinces and territories is coming to a consensus on its associated terms and definitions. The terms described in Table 1.1 below are intended to provide a common understanding of key terms used in this document. It is noted that different organizations and agencies may have different definitions for these terms.

Table 1.1: Terms and definitions
Term Source Definition
Accessible design ISO [1] Accessible design focuses on diverse users to maximize the number of potential users who can readily use a system in diverse contexts.

Note 1: This aim can be achieved by (1) designing systems that are readily usable by most users without any modification, (2) making systems adaptable to different users (by providing adaptable user interfaces), and (3) having standardized interfaces to be compatible with assistive products and assistive technology.

Universal design The Center for Universal Design, College of Design, North Carolina State University [2] Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.
Adaptable design CMHC [3] A house with an adaptable design is one that can easily accommodate change and a variety of family types. This could include options to modify bedrooms, adding plumbing for future washroom additions or dividing houses into multiple units. The term FlexHousingTM is used to describe homes that are designed to be adapted economically at a later date to accommodate someone with a disability. Examples of adaptable design features include removable cupboards in a kitchen or bathroom to create knee space for someone in a wheelchair, a knock-out floor panel in a closet to allow installation of an elevator or a set of stairs designed to accommodate a future stair lift.
Visitable design Concrete Change [4] A house with a visitable design includes basic accessibility features that allow most people to visit, even if they use a wheeled mobility device. Three (3) basic features make up a visitable home: a level, no-step entry (either ramped or ground level), wider doors and hallways throughout the entrance level, and a minimum half bathroom (toilet and sink) on the main floor, which can be accessed by a person using mobility devices.
Barrier-free/accessibility NBC [5] A barrier-free building means that the building and its facilities can be approached, entered, and used by persons with physical or sensory disabilities.
EgressibilityFootnote 1 NRC [6] Egressibility means that, in case of an emergency, the occupants have the ability to leave a building or to reach an area of safety. It does not mean that every occupant should egress in the same manner or through the same route; rather, it intends to provide an equal level of life safety for everyone.
Accessibility (In this paper) Accessibility encompasses a range of features that improve ease of use as well as the comfort or safety of users, including those features associated with accessible design, universal design, visitable design, adaptable design and egressibility.
Modules (In this paper) A module is a stand-alone section, subsection or separate document that would address different aspects of building accessibility.
Tiers (In this paper) Tiers are different editions of the entire collection of acceptable solutions for accessibility. Each successive tier is increasingly stringent in terms of level of performance or requirements (e.g. more building types included, more disabilities addressed).

2.0 Part 1 – Background

2.1 What does accessibility mean?

Accessibility, in the general sense, implies much more than building access. The broad objective of accessibility implies the access by every citizen to all aspects of societies such as education, work and employment, justice, health services, cultural life, recreational leisure and sports.

For the purpose of this paper, the term "accessibility" encompasses a range of features that improve ease of use as well as the comfort or safety of users, including those features associated with accessible design, universal design, visitable design, adaptable design and egressibility. This differs to some degree from the NBC's current definition of the term "barrier-free", which means that a building and its facilities can be approached, entered and used by persons with physical or sensory disabilities.

All accessibility measures aim to enable independent living and full participation in all aspects of life for all people.

Both accessible design and universal design are broad measures that can be applied to various degrees and various contexts. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), universal design and accessible design are often used interchangeably with the same meaning. [1]

Adaptable design and visitable design, on the other hand, are subsets of accessible design or universal design. They are more targeted approaches to improving accessibility that focus on a specific area of a house or building or a specific degree of accessibility.

Using the term "barrier-free" as a synonym for accessibility would be limiting the discussion to mobility issues and defining it too narrowly to express all aspects of accessibility. Table 1.1 provides some definitions of commonly used terms as they are used in this document.

2.2 The social model of disability

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Convention) is an international human rights treaty whose purpose is "to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity".

As of December 2020, there were 182 States Parties to the Convention, which marked progress towards increasing the broad objective of accessibility. [7]

Notably, Canada ratified the Convention in 2010.

A guidance document from the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner's office expresses the impact of the Convention as follows [8]:

"The entry into force of the Convention and its Optional Protocol in May 2008 marked the beginning of a new era in the efforts 'to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity' (art. 1). Although, persons with disabilities have always been entitled to the same rights as everyone else, it is the first time that their rights are set out comprehensively in a binding international instrument.

The development of the Convention reflects the shift that has taken place in the way disability and persons with disabilities are seen. Historically, disability has been considered to be a personal condition residing in the individual. As an individual deficit, the status of 'being disabled' has been viewed as the natural cause for some people being unable to attend a regular school, get a job or participate in social life. When disability is perceived in this way, society's responses are restricted to only one of 2 paths: individuals can be 'fixed' through medicine or rehabilitation ('medical approach'); or they can be cared for, through charity or welfare programmes ('charity approach'). According to this old model, the lives of persons with disabilities are handed over to professionals who control such fundamental decisions as where they will go to school, what support they will receive and where they will live.

Over the past few decades, there has been an important change in the way disability is understood. The focus is no longer on what is wrong with the person. Instead, disability is recognized as the consequence of the interaction of the individual with an environment that does not accommodate that individual's differences and limits or impedes the individual's participation in society. This approach is referred to as the social model of disability. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities endorses this model and takes it forward by explicitly recognizing disability as a human rights issue."

The Convention's Article 9 then links the social model of disability with the need for accessibility of the physical environment in which we live and requires that countries promote universal design (see Appendix 2). [9]

2.3 Authority for building codes

The NBC is an objective-based national model code that is developed by the CCBFC and published by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). The NBC helps promote consistency among provincial and territorial building regulations. The CCBFCFootnote 2 is responsible for developing and maintaining the content of national model codes.

In Canada, provincial and territorial governments have the authority to enact legislation that regulates building design and construction within their jurisdictions. Their respective legislation may include the adoption of the national model codes without change or with modifications to suit local needs.

One of the driving forces behind the creation of national model codes was regulatory disharmony amongst the provinces, territories and municipalities. In the early twentieth century, building code requirements varied amongst provinces, territories and municipalities. This fragmented approach created a significant regulatory and administrative burden for stakeholders such as tradespeople, regulators and manufacturers, and undermined the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the building sector.

Through the development of national model codes, there is a shared interest amongst the provinces and territories to harmonize building code requirements to the greatest extent possible. In fact, the ultimate goal of coordinating the development of codes in Canada is a greater harmonization in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings for Canadians. Harmonized codes increase productivity by reducing the regulatory burden and removing barriers to internal trade. They also simplify the administration of codes by regulators.

2.4 What is regulated in the NBC for accessibility?

The first accessibility requirements were introduced into the NBC in 1965 as enabling requirements (See Appendix 3), although they were limited in nature and scope, particularly as applied to residential buildings. Today's requirements — located in Section 3.8, Accessibility, and Subsection 9.5.2., Barrier-Free Design, of Division B of the NBC, address primarily public areas, such as areas where services are provided and workplaces.

Between 1995 and 2005, the CCBFC performed a "bottom-up" and a "top-down" analysis that created the rationale to include accessibility as an objective in the NBC alongside safety, health and protection of buildings.

The current objective on Accessibility (OA) in the NBC is to "limit the probability that, as a result of the design or construction of the building, a person with a physical or sensory limitation will be unacceptably impeded from accessing or using the building or its facilities" (see Appendix 1). The objective has 2 sub-objectives: OA1 Barrier-Free Path of Travel and OA2 Barrier-Free Facilities.

The OA1 Barrier-Free Path of Travel objective is assigned to requirements that ensure people with disabilities can access the building and circulate within it. The OA2 Barrier-Free Facilities objective is assigned to requirements that ensure people with disabilities can use the building's facilities.

This application of the current NBC OA objective is, however, limited and does not apply to:

  • detached houses, semi-detached houses, houses with a secondary suite, duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, row houses and boarding housesFootnote 3
  • high-hazard industrial occupancies
  • temporarily occupied spaces such as automatic telephone exchanges, pump houses and substations

Even in large buildings, the NBC's accessibility requirements have additional exemptions and do not apply to:

  • service rooms, janitor rooms, crawl spaces, attic or roof spaces
  • above- and below-ground-level floors not served by an elevatorFootnote 4
  • apartments and hotel rooms that have not been designated by an authority having jurisdiction to be accessible

Section 3.8. of Division B of the NBC contains design requirements for the accessible path of travel and specifies minimum dimensions for features such as ramps, clear floor space and doors. It also regulates accessible controls of all types of building systems and specifies the type and location of door hardware, grab bars, faucets and accessible plumbing features. Section 3.8 also contains minimum safety requirements such as the maximum stopping force for doors and a cane-detectable guard when a door opens into the path of travel.

Many accessibility design requirements have been updated in the NBC 2015, and many more are expected to be included in the NBC 2020. As well, certain parts of the design requirements of the Canadian Standards Association's CSA B651, "Accessible Design for the Built Environment", are permitted to be used as an acceptable solution to comply with Section 3.8.3. of Division B of the NBC. (See Appendix 4 for more details)

2.5 Why are we talking about this now?

2.5.1 Demographics

An estimated 6.2 million Canadians over the age of 15 years — or 22% of this population — reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability in 2017. There are several types of disabilities and their prevalence decreases as follows: pain, flexibility, mobility, mental/psychological, dexterity, hearing, seeing, learning, memory, developmental and unknown (StatsCan, 2017). [10] These are self-reported numbers and therefore depend on individuals' perspectives on what constitutes a disability to them.

The proportion of the population with some sort of disability can be expected to increase in the near future as Canada's population continues to age. Seniors accounted for 18.6% of Canada's population over the age of 15 years in 2017 (StatsCan, 2017), and 38% of them reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability. [10]

The proportion of seniors aged 65 years and over will continue to grow as the large baby boomer (1946 to 1965) cohort reaches 65. It is projected that by the year 2030, almost 1 in 4 people in Canada will be a senior citizen (StatsCan, 2014). [11] Since prevalence of disabilities increases as people age, it can be expected that the societal benefits resulting from comprehensive accessible design will increase.

In fact, data from the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability [10] indicates adult Canadians with disabilities are likely at risk of encountering physical barriers in the built environment due to a lack of specialized architectural features and other accessibility features. This has the potential to impact an individual's ability to independently move in and out of buildings, within buildings, and use interface items such as buttons in elevators.

In addition, a 2015 national survey canvassing issues related to disability and accessibility conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation [12] revealed that 79% of Canadians surveyed think their community should be accessible to everyone regardless of physical disability. However, only 28% believed that their community is currently accessible.

2.5.2 What is the societal expectation in terms of regulating accessibility?

One of the fundamental and most challenging questions is how an acceptable (minimum) level of accessibility should be defined in the future and evaluated by the CCBFC standing committees, and whether this level should address the needs of all building occupants or only the needs of a majority of users while other policy instruments (incentives, subsidy programs) could serve the remaining minority of users that need to further customize their living and work spaces. Good design will result in greater accessibility for the whole of society.

The concept of only addressing the "minimum acceptable" also raises the question of whether the minimum level of accessibility is set by societal expectations, a cost-benefit analysis performed by a committee, or a combination of both. In the former case, it seems that Canada — by ratifying the Convention and bringing into law the Accessible Canada Act — has set the minimum acceptable level of accessibility (see 2.2 and 3.1 in this document). In the latter case, the question becomes how committees can evaluate the benefit of greater dignity, independence and a person with a disability's personal choices.

Regulating how buildings are designed and constructed for accessibility, among other considerations, and to which buildings the requirements apply has an impact on housing affordability. Affordability affects ownership and owner's choices.

2.5.3 Federal, provincial and territorial and municipal initiatives

The federal government is working on several initiatives to improve the status quo. One example is the national consultation "What does an accessible Canada mean to you?" undertaken by Employment and Social Development Canada [13] between July 2016 and February 2017 to inform the development of what would become the Accessible Canada Act. A summary of the consultation findings, "Creating new federal accessibility legislation: what we learned from Canadians," was also published. [14] Another example is the "Let's Talk Housing" initiative and its results in the "What We Heard" report, [15] which was part of Canada's National Housing Strategy 2017. At the federal level, these examples show that there is an appetite to seek input and possibly break new ground. The CCBFC and its stakeholders can feed into this process.

Along with signing on to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Canada has also adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. [16] The 2030 Agenda focuses on 5 themes: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. When it comes to people, the UN states that human beings should be able to "fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment". Specifically, Sustainable Development Goal 11 addresses all 5 themes through the lens of accessibility:

Sustainable Development Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.

Canada has also enacted federal accessibility legislation. An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada (referred to as the Accessible Canada Act) came into force on July 11, 2019. Working within the federal jurisdiction, the purpose of the Act is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the realization of a Canada without barriers. The Act will achieve this through the proactive identification, removal and prevention of barriers to accessibility in priority areas such as employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies (ICT), communications other than ICT, the procurement of goods, services and facilities, the design and delivery of programs and services, and transportation. [17] [18] [19]

During consultations leading to the Accessible Canada Act, Canadians indicated that areas of focus under legislation should include the built environment. Accessibility Standards Canada — the federal organization that creates accessibility standards and funds research in support of standards — has identified the built environment as one of its priority areas. At the time of writing it had established a technical committee on accessibility of outdoor spaces and had launched the recruitment process for a technical committee for emergency egress. [20]

Some provincial governments are creating their own accessibility legislation or related policies. Several provinces and territories have started to develop their own programs and policies to improve upon the status quo. The following are examples of provincial initiatives:

  • Accessibility requirements in Ontario are found in both the Ontario Building Code (barrier free requirements) and the province's accessibility legislation, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The Ontario Building Code is administered by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The AODA is administered by the Ontario Ministry of Seniors and accessibility.
  • The Ontario Building Code establishes minimum requirements that must be met when a building is constructed, renovated, or demolished and includes accessibility and barrier-free design requirements related to buildings. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) (2005) is a law that sets out a process for developing and enforcing accessibility standards. Implementing and enforcing these standards will help Ontario reach its goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.[21] Under the AODA, the Design of Public Spaces (DOPS) Standard addresses accessibility requirements mostly for external public spaces (such as recreational trails, beach access routes, exterior path of travel and sidewalks, outdoor play areas, parking etc.).  Similar to Ontario Building Code, Standards under the AODA are reviewed every 5 years from the time of their adoption into regulation. DOPS was adopted into regulation in 2012.
  • Accessibility 2024 is a 10-year action plan that aims to make British Columbia the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024. [22]
  • The Accessibility for Manitobans Act became law in December 2013. Starting in 2016, the Act requires Manitoba government and broader public sector organizations to prepare accessibility plans that address the identification, prevention and removal of barriers. The main goal is to prevent barriers from being created in the first place by working on long-range plans to ensure accessibility rather than relying on human rights complaints to remove barriers one at a time. [23]
  • Quebec is considering different solutions, regulatory or other, aimed at improving safe access for people with disabilities who use motorized mobility aids in public buildings and apartment buildings, and, in September 2018 has introduced accessibility and adaptability requirements for dwelling units. A guide was developed and published in 2019, to facilitate the application of the requirements for accessibility in dwelling units [24].
  • Quebec adopted the Equals in Every Respect: Because Rights Are Meant to Be Exercised policy in 2009, the aim of which is to increase the social participation of people with disabilities over a 10-year span. [26] Furthermore, Quebec revised the law that addresses the rights of people with disabilities (Act to Secure Handicapped Persons in the Exercise of their Rights with a View to Achieving Social, School and Workplace Integration) in 2004. [26] Some aspects of this law address accessibility, such as plans to adopt regulations to address the accessibility of buildings built before December 1, 1976 [25]. Further study is anticipated on the resulting impacts of such a regulation change.
  • Nova Scotia passed its accessibility act (An Act Respecting Accessibility in Nova Scotia) in September 2017, and the Act is now in force. It was designed with elements of the Ontario (AODA) and Manitoba (The Accessibility for Manitobans Act) accessibility legislation.  [27]
  • Nova Scotia has replaced the exception for detached homes, townhouses, etc from compliance with accessibility requirements in the National Model Codes, with required compliance with adaptable housing requirements. These requirements include, among others, minimum dimensions for doors and corridors, lower plumbing rough-ins in the kitchen to accommodate different counter heights and wall reinforcement in bathrooms for future installation of grab bars.

There is growing interest from governments, interest groups and the public to improve the accessibility of houses and buildings, particularly in Part 9 buildings in the NBC, where, at this time, the application of accessibility requirements is limited. The potential expansion of application, scope and level of accessibility requirements still need to be determined. Removing the application limit from the Accessibility objective and applying the requirements to — for example — dwelling units such as detached, semi-detached and townhouses could be seen as similar to an expansion of the objective itself or its scope. When a significant change like this is considered, substantial justification is required. According to the CCBFC Policies and Procedures, any addition or change of objective requires a widely-accepted rationale (see section "Protocol for Addressing a Change to Objectives in the National Model Codes" of the Policies and Procedures).

Some provinces and municipalities have taken the initiative to introduce accessibility features into private buildings. For example, the City of Vancouver amended its building code to ban door knobs in favour of lever-type devices in all new construction, including private homes — a measure with a fairly low cost impact. In other areas, more extensive and higher-cost measures and guidelines have been introduced, such as including visitability or adaptability features in the new construction of private buildings. For example, the Saanich Council uses both a mandatory and voluntary approach to encourage the uptake of adaptable housing. In 2003, the Council passed an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw that requires most newly-constructed apartment buildings and seniors' congregate care facilities be built to include Basic Adaptable Housing standards. Building permits issued for apartment buildings with an elevator and common corridor must comply with the regulations. Furthermore, the District of Saanich website states that "those applying for rezoning, subdivision and development permit applications are also encouraged to incorporate features from the voluntary design guidelines for apartment buildings, townhouses, and single-family homes." (District of Saanich, British Columbia. 2017). [28]

2.5.4 International initiatives

Of course, Canada is not the only country working on accessibility initiatives. The following are a few additional examples of actions by other nations.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. Its purpose is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. [29]
  • The International Building Code (US ICC IBC) and the Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities standard (ANSI-A117) propose 3 levels of accessibility for dwelling units, from fully accessible to visitable.
  • UK Housing: optional technical standards (2015). [30] The UK government allows local planning authorities to have the option to set additional technical requirements exceeding the minimum standards required by building regulations. This applies to accessibility and water, and an optional nationally described space standard. As stated on their website: local planning authorities will need to gather evidence to determine whether there is a need for additional standards in their area, and justify setting appropriate policies in their local plans.

2.5.5 The need for harmonization

The different policy goals for accessibility are starting to cause significant disharmony amongst the provinces and territories. Often the terminology and criteria for establishing better-than-code requirements varies by jurisdiction, making it difficult to compare one criterion to the next. This patchwork of programs and lack of consistency across Canada is causing confusion amongst industry, regulators and the general public. It creates inconsistencies of accessibility for people with disabilities. This confusion is also raising risks for developers and owners, increasing building costs and slowing uptake of accessibility initiatives. Many stakeholders consulted during the drafting of this document expressed their support for the NBC to be a leader and model for other provinces and territories in establishing accessibility guidelines.

The provinces and territories are looking for a viable approach to meet their commitments to remove barriers and ensuring residents have equitable access to opportunities and services. They are looking at measures such as accessible design through building codes or incentive programs to address their goals.

Leading up to the most recent edition of the NBC, the CCBFC and its Standing Committee on Use and Egress have done substantial work to harmonize technical requirements on accessibility with those of other provinces and territories and to catch up with public and industry's requests to clarify these requirements. The CCBFC is aware of the need to continue this work, but has asked for a policy review of accessibility requirements to inform the approval of significant future technical work.

A pre-determined pathway towards a shared goal for accessible design might serve the provinces and territories' needs. However, several policy questions need to be examined before a plan that sets a national direction of accessible design requirements in building codes can be developed.

Regardless of the policy instruments that are chosen to do the job, there is growing momentum to make Canada a more inclusive society and increase the opportunities and participation of all Canadians.

3.0 Part 2 - CCBFC's policy considerations

This part will examine possible policy choices for the CCBFC. The desired outcome of this part is that the CCBFC can determine the extent to which the NBC will be involved in creating an accessible built environment for Canadians.

3.1 Domestic and international human rights obligations related to the rights of persons with disabilities

3.1.1 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Convention) in 2010. The Convention is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The core obligation imposed by the Convention is to protect the right to equality and non-discrimination for persons with disabilities in relation to all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Convention also requires States Parties to promote an enabling environment so that persons with disabilities can fully enjoy their human rights on an equal basis with others, including taking measures to promote accessibility and independent living for persons with disabilities. In addition, the Convention requires that persons with disabilities be consulted and involved in decision-making processes about issues pertaining to them. [31]

Article 9 (Accessibility) of the Convention (details provided in Appendix 2) specifically requires that States Parties take measures to ensure persons with disabilities have access on an equal basis with others to the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. This Article specifies that these measures, including identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to public buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, (public) housing, medical facilities and workplaces. This Article requires that States Parties promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public.

In 2018, Canada acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Optional Protocol contains 2 procedures to strengthen the implementation of the Convention: 1) a complaint procedure for individuals and groups who claim that their rights under the Convention have been violated once all national recourse procedures have been exhausted; and 2) an inquiry procedure to investigate allegations of grave or systematic violations of the provisions of the Convention by a State Party.

As a State Party to the Convention, Canada is required to submit periodic reports on the measures taken to give effect to its obligations under the Convention. This report is submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Committee) — a body of 18 independent experts who monitor implementation of the Convention by States Parties. Once a report is submitted, a delegation of officials from Canada appears before the Committee to present its report and answer questions in an interactive dialogue. Following the review, the Committee issues concluding observations on Canada's implementation of the Convention. The Committee may also make non-binding recommendations on how Canada can improve its implementation of the Convention. Canada submitted its first report in 2014 [32] and appeared before the UN Committee on April 3–4, 2017 to present it.

3.1.2. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and federal, provincial and territorial human rights codes and legislation

Canada implements the Convention through constitutional and statutory protections, legislative, administrative and other measures (including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms), federal, provincial and territorial human rights acts, as well as a range of other laws, policies, programs and services. [33]

Subsection 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that "every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal benefit of the law without discrimination, and in particular without discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability". The Charter applies to the actions of federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, but does not apply to private actors.

All governments in Canada — federal, provincial and territorial — have adopted legislation prohibiting discrimination on various grounds in regard to employment matters, the provision of goods, services and facilities customarily available to the public, and accommodation. Whereas the Charter protects against discrimination by governments, human rights legislation also protects against discrimination by individuals in the private sector. Human rights codes prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, as well as a variety of other grounds.

Policy considerations: The CCBFC will consider ways to strengthen implementation of the Convention in Canada as it develops its long-term policy goals.

3.2 Accessibility and the NBC objective

3.2.1. Does "accessibility" based on the social model of disability still fall within the minimum acceptable scope of the NBC?

The challenge for government is to ensure that the regulations and other policy instruments it uses to achieve its goals are both effective and efficient. Effective in the sense that they help resolve the issue they were introduced to address, and efficient in the sense that they minimize direct compliance costs borne by those subject to the regulation, and indirect costs imposed on the public.

Since the inception of national model codes in 1941, the CCBFC and its predecessors have ensured that the code's development process and its requirements meet their intended objectives efficiently and effectively. In 2005, the CCBFC published the first objective-based codes and explicitly defined the objective of each requirement. By definition, this means that NBC requirements (in Division B) are considered the minimum acceptable measures required to achieve the objectives (in Division A).

In this context, current NBC requirements associated with the Accessibility objective are by default considered a minimum acceptable level. "Minimum" in this context may mean that:

  • accessibility requirements only apply to buildings or building areas where they are considered most necessary (i.e. diverse set of users)
  • only a portion of occupants and/or users with disabilities are addressed and the requirements are primarily based on dimensions for people who use manual wheelchairs
  • buildings constructed in compliance with the NBC leave people with disabilities with fewer choices with respect to suitable living spaces, or
  • designers and builders are not currently required to consider or provide for the future adaptability of housing

3.2.2 Should the requirements of the NBC be limited to technical rules, or should they also state the application for the requirements?

Section 3.8., Accessibility, of Division B of the NBC 2015 was reorganized to separate the application (which buildings or areas in buildings are required to be accessible) from the technical rules (how to build and design accessible buildings). Subsection 3.8.2., Application, now contains information on where the requirements apply, and Subsection 3.8.3., Design, contains all design requirements including an option of complying with CSA B651, "Accessible Design for the Built Environment". These changes had very little or no cost impact over the NBC 2010 requirements.

The question as to whether the role of a national model code should deal with the technical rules only or whether it should also address the application has been discussed for many years among the CCBFC and the provinces and territories. If only technical rules were addressed, the NBC would effectively duplicate CSA or other accessibility standards. On the other hand, standards may contain more fully encompassing provisions that go beyond the scope of the NBC. Standards could be used as a core framework and the NBC could fill any gaps with additional technical rules. Stakeholders have expressed that combining application and technical requirements could make for a better regulatory approach in creating a national standard.

3.2.3 Limitations of building codes

Every regulation has its limits. People generally do not work, sleep and socialize in the same building and travel between these social functions. Any regulatory measure in the building code needs to be supported by equal measures in other areas of the built environment such as roads and public transportation in order to create true independent living for all Canadians. If a building is accessible but the outdoor environment is not, the building essentially becomes inaccessible.

One such limitation is that the current accessibility regulations affecting buildings generally only apply to new construction. There are thousands of inaccessible buildings that were built before building code regulations were put into place. Once an existing building undergoes an alteration, a minimum level of accessibility features could be required. In some cases, it would be impossible to reach even the current level of NBC 2015 requirements.

This limitation is being discussed by the Joint Task Group on Alterations to Existing Buildings (JTG AEB) and is addressed to some degree in its draft Report on Alterations to Existing Buildings. The application and degree to which accessibility features could be required during an alteration will be determined by the technical Standing Committees in accordance with triggers and principles outlined in the draft JTG AEB report.

Policy considerations: The CCBFC is already engaged in creating requirements for the alteration of existing buildings and will continuously expand the access for and safety of people with disabilities in buildings where it is demonstrated that regulation is the most effective way to do so.

Possible implementation steps: The CCBFC will resolve with the provinces and territories whether the NBC's role should be limited to focus on the technical rules or whether the NBC should also state the application for the requirements. The CCBFC will also develop supporting guidance on creating transparent and clear information on the impact of possible approaches including considerations of building lifecycles.

3.3 Implications of addressing and changing accessibility in the NBC

If more progressive codes are the answer and the national model codes development continues to include requirements for accessibility, the questions become whether there is an overall goal that Canadians want to reach in terms of the accessibility of their physical environment and whether accessibility requirements should differ between public and private buildings.

3.3.1 Disability can be complex and varied

Disability affects people's lives to different degrees and in different ways. A one-size-fits-all solution for accessibility is not possible because an individual's specific disability will determine how that individual interacts with the environment. In other words, building code requirements that accommodate a person who uses a wheelchair will not necessarily benefit a person with hearing or vision loss.

For this reason, the current notion for requirements in the building code has been to target universal design to apply the most cost-effective measures and requirements where they would have the biggest impact on the broadest range of users.

3.3.2 Regulatory approach

Regulation is often used when there is a need to take quick and effective action on a policy matter. Voluntary transformation through incentives and other non-regulatory measures is not always suitable when decisive and broad scale policy action is required.

Regulation, however, has some significant costs on society. For example, the compliance and enforcement aspect of regulation consumes considerable public resources. In a time where there are many competing demands on those resources, it is essential that the need for regulation be well justified. For this reason, regulation is generally only used when it has been determined that the market is not effectively in addressing a need and that this need has a high cost on society.

While regulation can be an effective way of ensuring that needs are addressed, it should be applied carefully, considering the costs of not acting upon an issue, but also of the future needs of society — for example, to ensure an efficient use of public resources. Other policy instruments might be better suited, particularly in situations that require a more targeted approach for a specific context.

For buildings, the burden to the regulators of compliance with more ambitious requirements than those in the NBC 2015 (design drawings, permits, inspections) may be considered relatively low because the current compliance process uses the same steps (for the designer) and the same infrastructure for enforcement (design review).

In the case of accessibility for housing, the case could be quite different and could involve new areas of expertise (for builders) to design and (for building officials) to enforce the resulting construction requirements through inspections. There may be a need to allow more flexibility in some buildings' regulation enforcement where implementation could be complicated by various factors. There may also be a need for more education and knowledge transfer related to new requirements as detailed further in this document.

Outside of building codes, there are a variety of other policy instruments that can be used to advance innovation, education and implementation of accessible design in both public buildings and dwelling units. (See Appendix 5 for more details on non-regulatory policy instruments.)

3.3.3 Flexibility as to where mandatory requirements apply

It is necessary to examine if other policy instruments or a combination of them can achieve the policy goal for the most difficult-to-implement accessibility measures – for example, an elevator in all buildings. If regulation is determined to be the best way to achieve the policy goal, it needs to be examined whether the requirements can be relaxed somewhat or if design flexibility can be provided.

When it comes to accessible housing, the UK Government also provides flexibility as to where the requirements of its visitability regulations have to be applied and where not. In its 2010 Building Regulations (amended in 2016), Section M4(1) states: "Where it is not possible to achieve step-free access to any private entrance (as may occur on a steeply sloping plot) a stepped approach is acceptable…. " [34]

If high-cost accessibility design requirements were to be introduced in the NBC, their application could offer similar flexibility.

3.3.4 Cost-effectiveness

When addressing any policy issue, it is common practice to go after the easy wins or the "low-hanging fruit" first. These are often measures that can have a broad impact at no or relatively low costs, and are relatively easy to implement (e.g.: lever faucets, lever door handles, D-handles on cabinetry). [35] The ideal combination is when the measures have a low cost and a large beneficial impact on safety.

Many low- or no-cost universal design features have already been included in the NBC 2015. Recently, for example, there have been changes to accessible controls of all types of building systems and the location of door hardware or grab bars. The high-cost measures, on the other hand, need to be carefully examined; elevators, allowances for larger spaces that better reflect today's anthropometric reality, independent means of evacuation, or implementing accessibility measures in existing buildings are all considered high-cost measures for buildings.

Regulating accessibility features in housing, such as requiring lever door handles might be acceptable because it is a cost-effective feature that benefits a broad range of users (e.g. children, the elderly, and people with disabilities). A no-step entrance for houses, on the other hand, could have a more significant cost impact and would generally preferentially benefit people who use wheeled mobility devices or have a mobility impairment.

It could be argued that Canadian society has already agreed that accessibility requirements should be regulated (when accessibility was included into the NBC and human rights legislation was passed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability).

3.3.5 How to measure the benefits?

"Cost effectiveness" implies that the benefit outweighs the cost or at least matches it. While all proposed changes to the NBC are required to undergo a cost-benefit analysis before they are implemented, the cost-benefit of accessible features may require a more comprehensive approach that takes into consideration such things as social inclusion, the needs of vulnerable populations and mental health, while human rights legislation must also be followed.

The avoided cost of future adaptation is a benefit that it is relatively easy to measure compared to other aspects (e.g. improved dignity). Studies by the CMHC for example, show that adapting existing buildings to make them accessible is much more costly for individuals and the public than built-in accessibility. [36] [37]

Accessibility requirements should also be assessed based on a model that evaluates the benefit of improved dignity, which may be difficult to quantify. How should the benefits of providing access to buildings and housing for a larger percentile of the population be quantified – by a group of people who would otherwise not be able to access the building at all? It isn't a question of benefits such as reduced health care and institutional care costs, not even a question of increased productivity. It becomes a question of not only quantifying equality and unassisted living but ultimately human rights.

There are some attempts at quantifying equal access to buildings. For example, most recently, the report Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario, [38] which was written in support of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It conducts a macro-economic analysis and compares the cost of building accessible buildings and housing to savings through decreased poverty levels among people with disabilities, reduced expenses for caregivers, and the benefit of reducing under-education and general social and economic exclusion of people with disabilities – all of which close the income gap and increase the GDP. A part of this increase in the GDP was attributed to the advantage that accessibility features offer the broader community (aging population, people pushing strollers, etc.).

3.3.6 Industry capacity

One criterion for choosing regulation is assessing whether the group that has to comply with the requirements is adequately trained and equipped with adequate knowledge and resources.

The 'large' buildings industry seems adequately prepared for more ambitious accessibility requirements. In the case of the home building industry, while many of the leading housing constructors are leading the way in accessible design, it needs to be recognized that others in the home building industry may not currently have all the capacity and knowledge to achieve more ambitious goals in accessible design. More knowledge and experience with accessible technologies, related innovative building practices and regulatory experience may be required to support more progressive accessibility requirements for homes.

In the housing industry, the missing capacity could be provided through demonstration projects, incentive programs and voluntary standards. This is not unlike similar efforts that supported the industry in learning how to build energy-efficient housing and making such features part of good design and sustainability rather than simply a series of requirements.

Depending on the extent of potential new building code requirements, the provinces and territories may need to offer more training and education before they adopt new accessibility requirements, as may be the case for any building code requirement change. The NRC and the CCBFC could provide this support by more effectively disseminating the information gathered during the code development process. For example, guidance on specific topics could benefit the entire construction industry with information that is consistent with current or potential future code requirements in their respective jurisdiction.

The NRC could collaborate with the provinces and territories and other industry and government stakeholders (e.g. Canadian Home Builders' Association, Office of Disability Issues (ESDC), Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) to build broad industry capacity on accessible construction and support the ability of industry and regulators to design, construct and enforce more accessible buildings and houses. This could also be achieved by providing "how to" guides on design and construction of accessible spaces and including clear definitions and frameworks to assess and rate accessibility for inspection and certification procedures. This kind of support will increase the likelihood that the provinces and territories will be "ready and able" to adopt new targets in accessible design. For example in Quebec, the current guide is being updated to reflect the changes introduced in the NBC 2015, once the province has adopted it.

Policy considerations: The CCBFC believes that there is a strong justification for regulating accessibility requirements in the NBC.

Possible implementation steps: The CCBFC will partner with federal, provincial and territorial governments and other organizations to quantify the associated costs and to overcome barriers in implementing accessibility.

3.4 Harmonization of accessibility across Canada

3.4.1 "What we learned from Canadians"

The federal government, through Employment and Social Development Canada's (ESDC) Office for Disability Issues, conducted a national consultation called "What does an accessible Canada mean to me?" from September 2016 to February 2017. [13] ESDC's goal is to create a best practice for accessibility of buildings and the built environment for federal departments and agencies. Results from the national survey were published in a report titled "Creating new federal accessibility legislation: What we learned from Canadians" (Employment and Social Development Canada, May, 2017) [39]. The report summarizes the results of the survey and concludes that there is emerging consensus about what the new legislation should look like and the role of the Government of Canada. Specifically, the report specifies that:

  • new federal accessibility legislation should include detailed policies for organizations on how to improve accessibility
  • the Government of Canada should be a leader, both in practice and in supporting organizations to be successful
  • the Government of Canada should set ambitious goals with clear and measurable targets

Survey participants reported that the built environment (e.g. buildings, recreational facilities, washrooms, physical surroundings) is the second highest priority area with respect to improving accessibility (second to employment). Regarding building codes and standards, survey participants shared concerns that accessibility requirements are only minimum requirements and that even these are not always being met. In particular, the report stated the following:

There was discussion on whether the Government of Canada should try to improve existing building codes or try to push builders to go beyond the minimum requirements with a program that recognizes builders who exceed them. (Employment and Social Development Canada, May, 2017, p. 18) [39]

3.4.2 What should the future role of the national model codes be?

Some provinces and territories have expressed a desire to take more progressive action on accessibility and are using building codes as their policy instrument of choice. For example, Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta have developed more comprehensive accessibility requirements in their codes that meet the needs of a broader range of people with disabilities while Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland-Labrador have developed their own comprehensive accessibility requirements for selected design elements. Quebec has also recently introduced new requirements for dwelling units, and has developed accessibility requirements for buildings undergoing major renovations.

Other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, the United States, Australia, have recognized that minimum provisions should not be limited to accommodate a person using a typical manual wheelchair or other manual mobility devices such as walking aids, canes, crutches, braces and artificial limbs. They considered other types of wheeled mobility devices such as power wheelchairs and scooters. They are considering new anthropometric data of mobility device users to better accommodate a larger portion of the population. In Ontario, for example, the building code requirements now reflect larger dimensions to accommodate the wider range of mobility devices and larger people.

A long-term strategy would provide an approach for the provinces and territories that would ultimately present a harmonized solution across Canada. This would likely be an improvement over the current disharmonious situation of "better than code" policies and programs, which can be difficult for industry, regulators and the public to navigate. Many members of Canada's construction community have urged for more consistent requirements across the country. A single overarching ultimate goal has, however, not been identified by the provincial/territorial jurisdictions.

3.4.3 Beyond Canada

Many other countries are changing their accessibility requirements too. For example, the UK has implemented a design standard containing 3 progressive levels of accessibility for dwellings – visitable dwellings, accessible and adaptable dwellings, and dwellings for people who use wheelchairs. The UK documents highlight the objective of the regulation to provide reasonable provision within the plot boundary for access. [30]

The International Standards Organization also has a standard on Building construction-Accessibility and usability of the built environment, (ISO 21542:2011), [40] which provides requirements and recommendations for access, circulation and egress on many building elements and certain exterior elements.

3.4.4 What could a long-term goal look like and what needs to be considered?

Progress on accessibility may benefit from a pan-Canadian approach that unifies the provinces and territories through a national strategy, similar to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. In particular, specific goals that align with the principles of the Convention would help set priorities and position the use of regulation amongst other policy tools.

Long-term goals for Canada could mean applying the accessibility requirements to more buildings or to develop requirements that include a wider group of individuals. This might involve some or all of these 4 distinct targets:

  1. Enable access to and safe use of more locations in new buildings for people with more types of disabilities
  2. Expand the scope of the OA objective and agree on accessibility levels for dwelling units and for what number of dwelling units
  3. Include accessibility in the strategy for alteration on existing buildings, or
  4. Review, evaluate and adjust requirements on egressibility

Setting an ultimate goal for accessible design and construction would require an early introduction to provide manufacturers, builders, developers and suppliers with market opportunities and time to prepare for future code requirements, enabling a smooth transition to increased requirements.

Any future goals should comply with Canada's Smart Regulation principles, which require that regulation is supported by evidence, reflecting the latest knowledge, and that such goals are based on clear performance targets that provide design flexibility while serving the public interest. Setting a clear goal, and making sure that the way to achieve it satisfies smart regulation principles, would help to ensure that any potential regulation is an efficient use of limited resources. It would also help standing committees to develop the respective design and construction requirements – regardless of how many steps may be necessary to reach the goal.

There is a need to make progress on accessibility within the National Codes in a timely manner. Otherwise, there is a risk that the provinces and territories will create their own paths to achieve their own targets if progress takes too long. This could jeopardize the ultimate goal of National Codes – namely harmonized requirements across Canada.

Policy considerations: The CCBFC contributes to harmonization and regulations that provide better accessibility to buildings by people with disabilities. The CCBFC will provide direction to its standing committees in setting new acceptable minimum requirements for accessibility, adaptability, egressibility and visitability. The CCBFC should consider the latest anthropometricFootnote 5 data and the importance of accessible housing when deciding on new accessibility requirements to accommodate a diverse set of users.

Possible implementation steps: The CCBFC will work with the provinces and territories and PTPACC to achieve this goal while recognizing the diverse and at times unique needs of the provinces and territories. The CCBFC will continue to develop a credible impact analysis method to fairly describe the benefits for future accessibility changes.

3.5 Is a "modular" approach more effective at enabling harmonized accessibility requirements than a "tiered" approach?

3.5.1 Changing the notion underlying the development of the National Codes

The CCBFC recently agreed to shift model energy code requirements into a more progressive role of setting the pathway rather than following the industry. In the case of energy efficiency this is being achieved through the development of a tiered approach – that is, a series of pre-determined steps at increasingly ambitious performance levels that lead to an ultimate performance goal. This is a significant departure from the traditional role of building codes.

More progressive accessibility codes could help accommodate Canada's aging population, likely leading to reduced health care costs as seniors are enabled to age in place. However, in the discussion about housing prices in recent months, there have also been counter arguments that governments may be overly accommodating to the boomer generation at the expense of millennials who are struggling to get established. The CCBFC may therefore wish to be seen as serving all population groups equally by developing building codes that take a cradle-to-grave approach with all the variants in between addressed.

While it would be possible for the CCBFC to make a minimum standard more progressive, setting the requirements high might create a difficulty in "backing down". Providing various levels of code options for accessibility, however, would certainly offer more flexibility to jurisdictions in accomplishing their individual policy goals.

Structure in the form of sound technical standards, tiers or modules, would help governments to create good policy. It informs them of what is technically possible. Most, if not all, provinces and territories look favourably on a national framework on accessibility to preserve scarce resources and avoid a patchwork approach to accessibility across the country.

3.5.2 Module and tiered approaches

A tiered approach would see different editions of the entire collections of acceptable solutions (such as NBC Section 3.8.). Each edition would address a different level of performance or a different extent of the requirements, such as more building types addressed, more disabilities addressed (see the 4 target areas in 3.4.4.).

In contrast to the tiered approach, a modular approach would see different aspects of building accessibility addressed in stand-alone sections or subsections or even in separate documents. Examples of modules might include signage accessible to all (safety and directional items), or anthropometric dimensions (ensuring sufficient manoeuvering space in buildings for a given percentile of wheelchairs). The modules could be called up in provincial or territorial codes by adapting the application of the respective accessibility regulations when so desired.

A variety of accessibility modules, ranging from the status quo to more ambitious requirements, would provide more options to owners, builders and policy makers. Of course, there would need to be a certain degree of congruence between the national status quo and the modules to ensure that design conflicts are avoided.

With any approach, it is important to assess the administrative and legislative burden introduced by multiple codes or levels of performance. Since a tiered approach is already being considered for energy efficiency, any lessons learned on that subject could be applied to this subject.

The question is whether a pre-determined, tiered pathway towards improved accessibility for the community of people with disabilities, is a suitable approach for building codes or whether a modular approach would be easier to manage for the jurisdictions.

With the advice of the provinces and territories, the CCBFC has to decide whether it should move toward more ambitious requirements.

3.5.3 Harmonization through modules

A modular approach, rather than tiers, is seen as the most appropriate approach for accessibility given the diversity of options that it covers. Whereas energy requirements are well-suited for a linear, progressive approach (one variable, one specific target), accessibility is better-suited for a modular approach with a menu of options as there are several variables to consider and several different, less clear-cut, targets to strive for. Consistent application and enforcement of the modules may also require additional training for industry and regulators.

In a regulatory environment on accessibility that is already quite fragmented it is fair to question whether a modular approach would make any progress in the move towards harmonization.

Because harmonization means progressively fewer variations between provinces and territories and the National Codes, the main contribution of modules would be that they allow flexibility for each jurisdiction to adopt the technical areas (modules) they prefer and to select the timing of adoption into regulation. Recognizing the fragmented situation on accessibility requirements across the country, the modular approach may reduce the competition between the provinces and territories in that regard. Any province, territory or municipality deciding to adopt the same module would then at least use the same set of solutions. In contrast, a tiered approach could be seen as inviting competition to the final goal (highest tier).

The mandate of CCBFC and the NRC is to harmonize national codes and provincial/territorial codes as much as possible. It will likely never be completely accomplished, but in a very fragmented technical area, modules likely offer the best chance of progress on the harmonization front for a moderate effort on the sides of CCBFC and the NRC. The key challenge will be to select the modules and to structure them so that they are relevant to most if not all jurisdictions and that they address or fulfill the policy goals of most if not all jurisdictions.

Policy considerations: The CCBFC believes that modules, rather than tiers, offer the most effective approach to enabling harmonized accessibility requirements. The CCBFC is committed to the harmonization of building code requirements across Canada and will work with the provinces and territories and PTPACC to create effective requirements that are relevant to most, if not all, jurisdictions and to assist the jurisdictions in fulfilling their respective policy goals.

Possible implementation steps: In the short term, the CCBFC will develop harmonized technical modules to be included in the NBC. This will enable the provinces and territories to move forward on accessibility in a more harmonized and consistent manner. The provinces and territories can choose to opt into the modules that make the most sense for them. The CCBFC will coordinate the development of each module with other parts of the code and with the development of other modules. In the long term, the CCBFC will update and manage the maintenance of the technical modules as experience in accessible building design grows and lessons are learned.


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[24] "Accessibilité à l'intérieur des logements d'habitation," 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.rbq.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/medias/pdf/Publications/francais/guide-accessibilite-logements-habitation.pdf.

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[34] Government of the UK, "Access to and use of buildings: Approved Document M," 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-to-and-use-of-buildings-approved-document-m.

[35] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, "Cost of Accessibility Features in Newly-Constructed Modest Homes. Research Insight.," November 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/data-and-research/publications-and-reports/cost-of-accessibility-features-in-newly-constructed-modest-houses.

[36] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, "Cost of Accessibility Features in Newly-Constructed Modest Houses, Research Insight," November 2016.

[37] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, "Cost of Adaptability and Accessibility Features - Existing Modest House, Research Insight," September 2019.

[38] Martin Prosperity Institute, "Releasing Constraints - Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario.," 2015. [Online]. Available: http://martinprosperity.org/media/ReleasingConstraintsMPI_June11.pdf.

[39] Employment and Social Development Canada, "Creating new federal accessibility legislation: What we learned.," May 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/accessible-people-disabilities/reports/consultations-what-we-learned.html .

[40] ISO/TC 59/SC 16, "ISO 21542:2011 - Building construction - Accessibility and usability of the built environment," 2011. [Online]. Available: https://www.iso.org/standard/50498.html.

Appendix 1 – NBC accessibility objectives and application limitations

Division A – Part 2 Objectives Application of Objectives

(See Note A-

  1. Objective OA, Accessibility (including Objectives OA1, Barrier-Free Path of Travel, and OA2, Barrier-Free Facilities), does not apply to
    1. detached houses, semi-detached houses, houses with a secondary suite, duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, row houses and boarding houses (see Note A-, Secondary Suite),
    2. buildings of Group F, Division 1 major occupancy, and
    3. buildings that are not intended to be occupied on a daily or full-time basis, including automatic telephone exchanges, pumphouses and substations. Objectives

1) The objectives of this Code are as follows (see Note A-

An objective of this Code is to limit the probability that, as a result of the design or construction of the building, a person with a physical or sensory limitation will be unacceptably impeded from accessing or using the building or its facilities (see Sentence for application limitations).
Barrier-Free Path of Travel
An objective of this Code is to limit the probability that, as a result of the design or construction of the building, a person with a physical or sensory limitation will be unacceptably impeded from accessing the building or circulating within it (see Sentence for application limitations).
Barrier-Free Facilities
An objective of this Code is to limit the probability that, as a result of the design or construction of the building, a person with a physical or sensory limitation will be unacceptably impeded from using the building's facilities (see Sentence for application limitations).

Appendix 2 – UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Article 9 [9]

Article 9 – Accessibility

  1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:
    1. Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces;
    2. Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.
  2. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to
    1. Develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;
    2. Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;
    3. Provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities;
    4. Provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understand forms;
    5. Provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public;
    6. Promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information;
    7. Promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;
    8. Promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost.

Appendix 3 – History of building accessibility in the NBC

NBC Edition and Approach Illustrations of Accessible Floor areas

Prior to 1965

  • How: no requirement
  • Where: no requirement
"Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). No sections are shaded

NBC 1965

  • How: Supplement design standard
  • Where: optional
"Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). No sections are shaded

NBC 1970

  • How: Supplement design standard
  • Where: as dictated by AHJs
Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). All sections are line-filled in blue

NBC 1975 and 1977

  • How: Supplement design standard
  • Where: public areas on the main floor up to one elevator (exclude apartment and office buildings)
"Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). Main floor section marked 'Bar' is shaded green

NBC 1980

  • How: Supplement design standard
  • Where: public areas on the main floor up to one elevator (exclude apartment buildings)
Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). Main floor sections marked 'Bar' and 'Office' are shaded green

NBC 1985 and 1990

  • How: design standard in the NBC
  • Where: main floor and on floors served by elevators (the application within suites is vague)
Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). Main floor section marked 'Bar' is shaded green, and 'Office', and 'Apartment' are line-filled in green

NBC 1985 and 1990

  • How: design standard in the NBC
  • Where: main floor and on floors served by elevators (the application within suites is vague)
Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). On both floors, sections marked 'Bar' are shaded green, and 'Office', and 'Apartment' are line-filled in green

NBC 1995 to 2010

  • How: design standard in the NBC
  • Where: main floor and on floors served by elevators (except within hotel suites and apartments not designated by the AHJs)
Drawing of occupancies in two floors of a building (Bar, Office, Apartment on each floor). On both floors, sections marked 'Bar' and 'Office' are shaded green, and 'Apartment' is line-filled in blue

Appendix 4 – CSA B651-2012 and the NBC 2015

Section of CSA B651 referred to in the NBC 2015

Table – Barrier-free design provisions
NBC barrier-free application (Code references) Applicable CSA B651 provisions

Interior accessible routes (

4.3 and 5.1

Exterior accessible routes (

8.2.1 to 8.2.5 and 8.2.7

Passenger pickup areas (


Ramps (

5.3 and 5.5

Doors and doorways (


Passenger-elevating devices (


Operating controls (


Signage (

4.5 and 9.4

Drinking fountains (


Washroom facilities ( to

6.2 and 6.3

Bathing facilities ( and


Communication ( and


Counters ( and


Spaces in seating areas (


Table of contents of CSA B651-12

  • Preface
  • 1 Scope
    • 1.1 Purpose
    • 1.2 Application
    • 1.3 Dimensions
    • 1.4 Commentary and figures
    • 1.5 Annexes
    • 1.6 Terminology
    • 1.7 Large print
  • 2 Reference publications
  • 3 Definitions
  • 4 General requirements
    • 4.1 Area allowances
    • 4.2 Operating controls
    • 4.3 Floor or ground surfaces
    • 4.5 Signage
  • 5 Interior circulation
    • 5.1 Accessible routes
    • 5.2 Doors and doorways
    • 5.3 Handrails
    • 5.4 Stairs
    • 5.5 Ramps
    • 5.6 Elevating devices
    • 5.7 Emergency and security
  • 6 Interior facilities
    • 6.1 Drinking fountains
    • 6.2 Washroom facilities
    • 6.3 Universal washrooms
    • 6.4 Change benches
    • 6.5 Bathing facilities
    • 6.6 Communications
    • 6.7 Seating
  • 7 Residential accommodation — Permanent and short-term
    • 7.1 Scope
    • 7.2 Design requirements
    • 7.3 Visitable dwelling units
    • 7.4 Accessible dwelling units
  • 8 Exterior circulation, spaces, and amenities
    • 8.1 Scope
    • 8.2 Accessible routes
    • 8.3 Pedestrian crossings
    • 8.4 Intersection design
    • 8.5 Transit stops
    • 8.6 Urban furniture and equipment
    • 8.7 Landscaping elements
    • 8.8 Temporary facilities
  • 9 Vehicular access
    • 9.1 Scope
    • 9.2 Pedestrian routes
    • 9.3 Passenger pick-up areas
    • 9.4 Signage for designated parking
    • 9.5 Designated parking
    • 9.6 Ticketing dispensers or paying machines
  • Annexes

Appendix 5 – Summary of non-regulatory policy instruments

Voluntary incentive programs and demonstration projects

Voluntary incentive programs and initiatives may serve to encourage leadership and innovation. Demonstration initiatives (pilot projects) and voluntary standards may be used to encourage next generation technology and construction practices.

Another important role of pilot demonstration projects and voluntary incentive programs is to provide the opportunity to test new designs, technologies and building practices, and learn from mistakes before they are implemented in building codes as mandatory requirements.

However, voluntary initiatives on accessibility have a history of very little up-take which could become a concern.

Financial initiatives – buildings

The Government of Canada's Enabling Accessibility Fund (EAF) provides funding for projects in Canadian communities and workplaces to help improve accessibility. Since the creation of the EAF, the Government of Canada has funded over 2,300 projects, helping thousands of Canadians gain access to their communities' programs, services and workplaces. The program has an annual budget of $15 million. The federal budget in 2016 committed to providing an additional $4 million over 2 years, starting in 2016-17. The EAF is administered by Employment and Social Development Canada. The EAF deals with workplaces and community assets, including motor-vehicles, but not with housing.

This 2-pronged approach, using codes to set the minimum acceptable requirements and financial incentives to encourage leadership and innovation to create better practice, has generally worked well. With the help of government-sponsored incentive programs, many of the innovative building products and practices used in next generation buildings have now become cost-effective and commonplace.

Financial initiatives – homes

As of 2016, the federal government offers a Home Accessibility Tax Credit (HATC). Canadians can claim a non-refundable tax credit for a renovation or alteration that is of an enduring nature and is integral to the eligible dwelling (including the land that forms part of the eligible dwelling).

The renovation must:

  • allow the qualifying individual to gain access to, or to be mobile or functional within, the dwelling, or
  • reduce the risk of harm to the qualifying individual within the dwelling or in gaining access to the dwelling.

Zoning requirements (bylaws)

Municipalities can use zoning requirements to mandate a certain percentage of accessible housing to be constructed in specific zones. This is sometimes required as part of a subdivision permit. Zoning bylaws can refer to codes or voluntary standards. This is currently done in BC for adaptable dwelling units in apartment buildings.

Even if zoning bylaws state the extent to which buildings and houses should be accessible and where the accessible buildings or dwelling units should be located, there is still a need for technical standards or codes to specify requirements that achieve the desired level of performance.

Research and public education

Organizations like the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation organize research and provide research material and guidelines on a variety of housing-related issues, including barrier-free design, to the public. One example includes the FlexHousing guidelines, a form of construction where the interior configuration can change over time to adapt to the needs of the homeowner.

Sharing such research and educating with the public using success stories and "lessons learned" can inspire owners and encourage innovative practices, as well as help people with disabilities avoid potentially costly mistakes.

Voluntary standards and guidelines

There are a few international standards published by ISO that address braille signage, auditory guidance, and on guidance for standard developers as to how standards could be made more accessible.

In Canada the main standard document for accessibility is CSA B651 "Accessible Design for the Built Environment", last published by the Canadian Standards Association in 2018. For example, the Enabling Accessibility Fund (see above) requires projects to meet design standards provided in CSA B651-18.

The CSA B651 standard is referenced in Part 3 of the NBC and is offered as an acceptable compliance path instead of following Section 3.8. The standard specifies technical requirements on how to make buildings and the exterior built environment accessible and safely usable by people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. Not all areas of the standard are referenced (see Appendix 4).

Many other standards on accessibility are available in Canada and worldwide, such as:

  • ADA Standards for Accessible Design by the Department of Washington, D.C.
  • ICC A111.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and facilities (American National Standard)
  • AS 1428 Design for access and mobility (Australian Standard)
  • ISO 21542 Building construction - Accessibility and usability of the built environment (International Organization for Standardization)
  • Access to and use of buildings, approved document (England and Wales Regulation)

Ranking/certification programs

There are ranking programs that exist for tourist locations where a locale can indicate their level of accessibility to people with disabilities – for example, wheelchair accessible, partial wheelchair access, limited wheelchair access, or no wheelchair access. The Rick Hansen Foundation is currently working on a similar initiative in British Columbia. It is expected that such ranking or certifications would drive a market advantage for the businesses and locations using it, which would create pressure on peers and competitors to offer the same level of access.


There are a few examples where organizations provide training that enhance the industry's or the public's capacity to address accessibility in the built environment. Accessibility Ontario provides training and consulting services to the public sector, private sector, and non-profits in Ontario to help them understand and comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The Rick Hansen Foundation is creating a certification program for Accessibility specialists.

A promising model is being applied by the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) in the United States, which offers training to builders who want to become a Certified Aging-in-Place specialist. The Canadian Home Builders' Association has recently established a Home Modification Council and is in the process of modifying for Canada the Certified Aging-in-Place courses developed NAHB.