Accessible Building Standards
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and the City of Saskatoon support the concept of universal design.
Universal design encourages recognition of each person’s uniqueness along with their interdependence on other members of society. On that basis, society needs to develop a concept of special needs which is not based on a piecemeal accommodation of the “norm” for the few, but on designing an adaptable world suitable for all.
The concept of universal design is larger than either of accessibility or barrier-free design. Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities. Current building codes tend to focus on the needs of people with mobility impairments, e.g., wheelchair users. This has led to inadequate design requirements and has in some cases created problems for individuals with other types of disabilities. Some examples include:
- Curb ramps which have neither tactile nor visual cues making them dangerous for people with visual impairments,
- Water fountains at only one height making them difficult to use for tall people, people in wheelchairs, or people of small stature.
It makes good business sense to identify and remove barriers faced by persons with disabilities. Barriers can be physical, attiduinal or systemic. Removing barriers allows for fuller participation by all members of society.
It is most effective to identify and remove barriers voluntarily and proactively rather than respond to individual accommodation requests or complaints. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission investigates complaints where barriers have not been identified and removed. Barriers to public services can result in discrimination against people with disabilities.
Accessibility is not a one-way street
Businesses, public services, and society as a whole benefit from accessible transportation. A shift in perceptions and attitudes is required to realize this. Adopting the concepts of accommodation and accessibility through universal access and barrier-free design will benefit all members of the community.
Addressing barriers is not only about the provision of barrier-free, equitable lifestyles for people currently living with disabilities. It is also about future planning. Saskatchewan has an aging population and due to medical advancements people are living longer. We need to proactively plan for the future.
Substantive equality not technical compliance
Accessibility should not just be a matter of whether or not it is possible for persons with disabilities to perform tasks, but also whether it is possible to perform tasks in a dignified and easy way.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and the City of Saskatoon endorse the concept of substantive equality which strives for equal rights and opportunities and the recognition of the dignity and worth of every person.
Accessibility is the law
People who obtain a building permit are often unaware of their additional legal obligations under the Code regarding accessibility rights, building standards and human rights law in Saskatchewan.
In particular, it is important to be aware of the relationship between the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code and the Construction Codes Act, which adopts The National Building Code (NBC), a model code for Canada.