Ottawa's accessibility rules need more common sense: critics
Must a floating dock sit still? Should a children's garden be at adult height? Some are questioning the city's common sense when it comes to accessibility.
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Is Ottawa taking its accessibility rules too far?
Some community groups certainly think so, after paying thousands of dollars to meet strict requirements – and in some cases, making projects less accessible to the people they’re supposed to serve.
Take the Cardinal Creek children’s garden. Phase one of its raised-bed garden project opened in an east-end park last June, but not without conflict.
City staff insisted the beds be built to adult accessibility standards even though they’re meant for kids, according to community association president Sean Crossan.
“So, these three- and four-year-olds, their eyes are at the top of the raised bed,” he said.
The garden volunteers ended up removing the beds’ top slats on one side so kids could at least reach from one angle – technically against the rules, but a “common sense” solution, Crossan said.
“One would think that … if you’re going to be building a children’s garden you build the garden to meet children’s needs,” he said.
That kind of common sense was needed in Manotick, too, according to Coun. Scott Moffatt. He handled a rare exception to the rules when he helped secure a local boat launch two years ago.
The project was nearly sunk after cost estimates doubled to $50,000 to add railings, a safety lip and a stabilizing system to keep the floating dock within accessible slope requirements – nearly impossible with wake rolling in.
“The city errs on the side that (the AODA) applies to everything, but the reality is, it doesn’t,” Moffatt said. “You can’t take those requirements and stick it to this and have it make sense and still be affordable. No one’s going to build a $50,000 dock.”
Capital Coun. David Chernushenko has also struggled to balance accessibility with feasibility.
The Old Ottawa East community association in his ward cancelled plans last year to build an outdoor ping pong table in Brantwood Park, after the project was estimated at $17,000.
The soil needed costly remediation, but the city also required an accessible pathway to connect the table to the rest of the park.
That’s not a problem, Chernushenko said, it just limits what communities can afford to do.
“Ottawa has chosen to err on the side of greater accessibility,” he said. “That means some things won’t happen and costs will go up.”
Ottawa has a responsibility to meet the provincial Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as well as updates to the Ontario building code and the Canadian Standards Association.
Those regulations inform the city’s own Accessibility Design Standards, which must be met in all new construction or renovation projects on city land or facilities, according to staffer Jo-Anne Moore.
As a self-proclaimed accessibility champion, the city’s standards are sometimes more strict than the provincial and national minimums, she added.
For instance, the provincial says sidewalks should be 1.5 metres wide, but Ottawa asks for 1.8 m. Ottawa also installs more emergency call buttons in accessible washrooms than the law requires.
Exceptions to the rules are possible, but only for a good reason – and cost doesn’t count.
There are community grants to help with cost, Moore said, and provincial and federal programs are also available.
The city hosts an AccessAbility Day each May, and has committed to implementing its Older Adult Plan to increase walkability and accessibility across the city.
Still, some accessibility advocates say the city isn’t going far enough.
Last week the Council on Aging released the findings of a walkability audit that shed light on poor sidewalk maintenance, missing crosswalks and car-centric intersection designs.