Created in 2005, most people are now aware of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and its goal to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive by 2025.
The AODA includes a set of accessibility standards that cover a range of areas from customer service, information and communication, employment, transportation, and design of public spaces: that’s where common spaces in condominium buildings come in!
Accessibility standards do not only apply to those with disabilities. They also work well for residents in other situations. You or another resident may be:
- Temporarily affected by accidents or medical issues.
- Pushing a stroller, or rolling luggage, or arms full.
- In their older years and dealing with mobility issues – perhaps needing a walker.
- Dealing with a condition that affects eyesight.
- In an emergency situation such as a fire or blackout.
- Dealing with dementia or a mental health complication.
If you think about it, we have all made use of a ramp or elevator while being an able-bodied person. During covid peak times, we all appreciated hands-free entries and it made life that much easier.
While intended for practical safety purposes, increased access can also make a condo more marketable as it increases the livability of the building. It just makes good business sense that inclusivity increases the pool of possible purchasers, thereby increasing the resale value of each condo suite.
Some upgrades are indeed costly, however that is not always the case. Accessible design sometimes just means designing smarter. And making small no-cost adjustments like colour choices can make a huge difference. Taking a proactive approach and considering accessibility should be a part of any condo refurbishment or upgrade project. Boards and managers need to probe designers for thoughtful solutions for all of their common spaces.
Here are some examples of how AODA standards might enhance the design of your next condo refurb project:
- Accessible layout and circulation: Corridors, elevator landings, lobby areas, concierge desks, and vestibules should be designed with adequate space for people with mobility issues to move freely. Physical obstacles and unnecessary steps should be reconsidered. Creating smooth sloped floors or attractive ramps in lobby spaces work well for residents and guests alike.
- Lighting and colour contrast: Brighter lighting and contrasting colours for walls, floors, and other surfaces in corridors, elevator landings, and lobbies help people with visual impairments navigate the space more easily and safely.
- Accessible furniture and fixtures: Modular seating areas with adjustable heights or other features that make them easier to use for various sized and able people make sense and can look great! Concierge desk heights should also be considered (and knee clearance) as well as elevator control heights.
- Signage and wayfinding: Clear and visible signage with large, bold lettering and contrasting colours in corridors, elevator landings, and all common spaces, help people with visual impairments to better navigate the space. Tactile signage with raised lettering or Braille make the signage even more inclusive.
- Suite doors: Ensuring that entryways have enough clearance for wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, etc. is ideal. Considering the height of handles and locks is recommended as well as minimizing the height of new thresholds.
- Mailrooms: Mailboxes should be at an accessible height and incorporate tactile elements like raised lettering or Braille on labels. Considering how much mailrooms are used in today’s world of online shopping, a large space rather than a cramped closet area makes sense for everyone – not just those with wheelchairs and walkers.
- Management offices: A welcoming office is not only good for residents but an example of the accessibility attitude of the building and its management. An automated door or removal of raised thresholds when installing new flooring makes sense as well as ergonomic furniture choices and an open flow to the layout.
- Universal design principles throughout: Designers are taught to incorporate wider doorways and hallways whenever possible. Touchless fixtures, flexible seating arrangements, automation and other technologies all help to create an environment accessible and easy to use by people of varying ages and abilities.
Incorporating inclusivity features into a condo refurb project allows for the enhancements to be incorporated aesthetically so that they become part of the overall design. Adding accessibility features after the fact may mean they don’t blend in, but rather look ‘tacked on’ as an after thought. Modern, smart design can do better than that. And from a practical perspective, it’s easier to address issues when the trades are onsite rather than afterwards with retrofits that will not be consistent with the overall design and come with added costs.