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Improving School Residence Accessibility

In our last article, we covered how new and renovated school buildings need to be accessible to students, educators, parents, and visitors with disabilities. We also outlined why an education standard should mandate more accessibility in older school buildings. In this article, we focus on residence accessibility.

Residence Accessibility

Like other school spaces, school residences must follow the rules in the Design of Public Spaces Standards and the Ontario Building Code. Under the Design of Public Spaces Standards, new and redeveloped residence spaces must have accessible features. For instance, all new or reconstructed residences must have accessible:

Moreover, all residences of schools in the public sector, and all residences of private-sector schools with fifty or more workers, must have accessible:

Similarly, under the Ontario Building Code, all new and redeveloped buildings open to the public, including school residences, must follow accessibility standards. These standards include:

  • Ramps, lifts or elevators whenever there are stairs
  • Automatic doors
  • Wide doorways at entrances to buildings and common areas
  • Accessible public washrooms
  • Barrier-free paths of travel into and through buildings
  • Visual and audible fire alarms
  • Accessible seating in auditoriums
  • Assistive listening systems in meeting rooms and auditoriums designed to hold at least seventy-five people

Stronger Standard Needed

Currently, the Code and Standard do not have guidelines specifically for residence accessibility. For example, there are no guidelines to help designers create accessible residence 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 residences. A new section of the Code that addressed educational institutions could make new schools accessible for more students.

More Accessible Features

Other best practices can help residence accessibility. For instance, good lighting will help residents or visitors who are Deaf communicate visually. Lighting is also important for residents or guests who are visually impaired. Moreover, Braille and large-print room numbers allow residents or visitors who are blind or visually impaired to find their way.

Furthermore, residence dining areas should make their menus and services accessible to all students. Finally, residences should provide accessible-format copies of operation instructions for:

  • Phones or TVs on-site
  • Connecting to WIFI
    • Other devices on-site, such as fitness and laundry equipment

A growing number of students with disabilities are going to college and university. Therefore, residence accessibility gives schools the chance to welcome more students.