In 2017, about 6.2 million Canadians (one out of every five) lived with some form of disability. That’s a substantial group of users you cannot afford to overlook in your building project or public space. As Canadians continue to age, it will become increasingly more important to ensure that public spaces are accessible to everyone. It is this goal to which the CNIB is committed and why these guidelines have been created.

The design recommendations presented in this resource focus primarily on the needs of people with vision loss, including those who are deafblind. While some technical requirements also address various design needs of people with other disabilities, it’s important to note that “Clearing Our Path” is not intended as a resource to comprehensively address the accessibility needs of all people with disabilities.

Canadian provinces or territories may have legislation or bylaws that address some of the same technical requirements presented within this resource. Where such legislation exists, architects and other designers are encouraged to choose the design requirements that maximize accessibility for people with vision loss, but never less than the legislated requirements of the local authorities.

Governments, both in Canada and around the world, are passing ground-breaking disability rights legislation. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), introduced in 2005 was Canada’s first such legislation. The Accessibility for Manitobans Act  passed in 2013 and Nova Scotia’s Accessibility legislation was passed in 2019. Both British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have followed suit enacting legislation which is aimed to improve accessibility for their citisens.

All five pieces of legislation site accessibility standards as they pertain to the built environment as an integral component of the respective legislation. It is this legislation which, when realized, that will impact the greatest number of Canadians as provinces maintain jurisdiction over all things physical spaces. The Accessible Canada Act, passed in 2019 while also siting accessibility standards to the built environment speaks only to the federal government and its premises and federally regulated industries.

We believe that public services and spaces that aren’t accessible to people with disabilities cannot accurately be described as “public.

Architectural design should incorporate elements that facilitate the safe use of a space or independent travel. There are many uncomplicated, inexpensive solutions that consider the needs of people with vision loss while also benefiting all users. These solutions can not only make a space more accessible, but enhance it aesthetically, since buildings that apply universal design principles can also be beautiful. Implementing these solutions mainly requires the application of simple techniques to make information about an environment available in an accessible way. To read more about the seven principles behind universal design  visit the University of North Carolina’s Center for Excellence in Universal Design.

The myth that accessibility costs are too high

“Seven case study projects were analyzed assuming they were new construction and not renovations. They
are representative of the three building-related RHFAC site types including public, commercial, and multi-unit residential spaces.
Key Findings:
Cost Increase of 1%
The average new construction cost increase across the three building-related RHFAC site types to achieve RHF Accessibility Certified Gold with a score of at least 80% is estimated to be an additional 1% of the construction when meeting NBC or OBC.
Score of 35% / 42%
To achieve an RHFAC certification, a project must achieve a score of at least 60% for Accessibility Certified or at least 80% for Accessibility Certified Gold. Projects built solely to NBC would receive an RHFAC score of 35% , and projects built to OBC would receive an RHFAC score of 42%, at no additional cost.” The findings support the long standing assertions put forward by persons with disabilities that accessibility, if planned early on in the design phase of a project are not prohibitively expensive. CNIB continues to work with the Rick Hansen Foundation as their accessibility certification program evolves.

The RHF report can be found at this link.