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May 01, 2017

Accessibility and Planning: What You Need to Know

Planners are leaders within their communities. You have the power to shape the environment around you and help make everyday life easier and accessible for people of all abilities.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is the legislative framework that will help make Ontario accessible for everyone by 2025. As planners, your role is to help improve the quality of life for every citizen by integrating accessibility into all planning processes from the outset.

Provincially regulated organizations with one or more employees in Ontario need to be compliant with Ontario’s accessibility laws, including the Design of Public Spaces (DOPS) Standard. As of January 1, 2017, DOPS requirements are now in effect for all public sector organizations and large (50 or more employees) businesses and non-profits. On January 1, 2018, the standard will also apply to small businesses and non-profits.

Another critical compliance deadline is approaching. By December 31, 2017, organizations will have to report their compliance with all accessibility requirements currently in effect for them, based on their size and sector. Reporting only applies to businesses and non-profits with 20 or more employees, while all public sector organizations must submit an accessibility compliance report. 

Accessibility in Design
Organizations are not required to alter their public spaces if they have no plans to do so. However, being a successful planner means considering all disabilities, whether apparent or not, in your regular planning practices. This can include integrating universal design principles when designing barrier-free and accessible cities. For example, when planning outdoor play spaces for children in your community, incorporate features that allow children and caregivers of all abilities to use the play space together. You have the flexibility to design play spaces that are creative, fun and challenging for children of all ages and abilities.

There are free online resources and tools available to help with implementation. For example, the Global Alliance on Accessible Technology and Environments created The Illustrated Technical Guide to the Accessibility Standard for the Design of Public Spaces. This free guide covers the requirements under the standard and includes technical drawings and specifications. It also highlights best practice considerations and appropriate solutions for developing and constructing accessible public spaces, including accessible outdoor play spaces.

Another excellent resource planners can look to are Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees (AAC). Under the AODA, municipalities with over 10,000 residents are required to have a committee. The majority of its members are people with disabilities, and they work with their local councils to identify and break down accessibility barriers. You can learn more about the AAC in your area and how you can get involved by contacting your local municipality.

The Design of Public Spaces Standard and Ontario’s Building Code
One of the most common myths around the AODA is that it requires everyone to renovate their building. This is untrue. The 2015 amendments to Ontario’s Building Code enhanced accessibility requirements, however, neither law requires buildings to be retrofitted for accessibility. Accessibility requirements under both the Building Code and DOPS work on a go-forward basis.

The DOPS Standard requires organizations to incorporate accessibility when building new public spaces, and/or redeveloping existing public spaces. Public spaces covered by this standard include:
  • Recreational trails and beach access routes
  • Outdoor public use eating areas
  • Outdoor play spaces
  • Public outdoor paths of travel
  • Parking lots
  • Service counters
  • Fixed waiting lines
  • Waiting areas with fixed seating

Where to start - Ontario’s accessibility laws: How to file a compliance report
Businesses and non-profits with 20 or more employees and all public sector organizations are legally required to file a 2017 Accessibility Compliance Report by December 31, 2017.
Report your accessibility compliance using a new and improved form in three simple steps: download, complete and submit.

The accessible form includes links to resources and features to help organizations understand and report on their compliance requirements. You can find this form at

The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario is available to help. For a complete list of your requirements, tools, resources and templates, visit or connect by phone or email.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by The Government of Ontario

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