Currently, the AODA does not have a healthcare standard. A committee is making recommendations about what a healthcare standard should include. In the meantime, however, there are still AODA requirements for healthcare providers to follow. The Design of Public Spaces Standard and the Ontario Building Code both have regulations that apply to healthcare providers. When providers follow these requirements, they make healthcare spaces more accessible to patients, workers, and visitors with disabilities. Accessible healthcare spaces can include:
- Doctors’ offices
- Walk-in clinics
- Wellness centres
- Health regulating colleges
Accessible Healthcare Spaces
Under the Design of Public Spaces Standards, healthcare providers must make new and redeveloped public spaces accessible. For instance, new or reconstructed healthcare spaces must have accessible:
Similarly, under the Ontario Building Code, all new and redeveloped buildings open to the public, including healthcare spaces, must follow accessibility standards. These standards include:
- Ramps, lifts, or elevators whenever there are stairs
- Automatic doors and wide doorways at entrances to buildings and common areas
- Accessible public washrooms
- Barrier-free paths of travel into and through buildings
- Visual fire alarms
More Accessible Healthcare Providers Needed
Currently, the Code and Standard do not have guidelines specifically for hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, or other healthcare spaces. For example, there are no guidelines to help designers create accessible hospital rooms. However, the Ontario Building Code offers regulations mandating accessibility for other organizations. For instance, the Code has a section on accessible hotel rooms. Many of these guidelines, such as how many rooms to build per floor, could also apply to hospitals. A new section of the Code that addressed medical settings could make new healthcare facilities accessible for a growing number of patients with disabilities.
Stronger Standard Needed
In addition, the Code and Standard only mandate accessibility in buildings and spaces that are new or redeveloped. These legal limitations mean that older buildings and spaces are closed or unwelcoming to people with certain disabilities, including people who:
- Use mobility aids
- Have heart or lung conditions
- Have limited upper-body movement
Healthcare providers may feel that they do not need to worry about making older spaces accessible because the standard does not require them to do so. They may also fear that installing accessible features will be costly, time-consuming, or inconvenient. However, grants for structural accessibility may offset costs. In addition, some changes are less costly and easier to put in place. While renovating for accessibility may take time and construction is inconvenient, inaccessibility is just as time-consuming and inconvenient for people with disabilities. For instance, people with disabilities may not find a family doctor whose office they can enter.
Access Helps Everyone
Finally, the number of Ontarians with disabilities will rise as people age. More and more people will soon need healthcare in places they can fully access. Therefore, the new healthcare standard should include recommendations to make older healthcare spaces more accessible. However, all organizations should be concerned about their level of accessibility. As more people develop disabilities, accessibility will become more important, in healthcare and in all other sectors. A revised Design of Public Spaces Standard and Ontario Building Code could create more spaces open to everyone.