Universal Accessibility Standards

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A formal system of universal accessibility standards for tourism establishments and infrastructure.

The project, initiated by Kéroul, consisted of researching and designing a coherent system of accessibility standards taking into account the many realities of people with restricted physical ability and closely approaching the recognized standards of other countries.

Objectives :
- to reduce or eliminate the obstacles to international tourism faced by persons with restricted physical ability;
- to ensure that all of the standards developed for those with mobility, sight and hearing impairments are recognized nationally and internationally.

The standards feature 5 levels of accessibility:
1. Total accessibility : facilities meet all of the accessibility standards for persons with impaired mobility, including those in motorized wheelchairs and/or those with limited use of their upper limbs.
2. Partial accessibility : the establishment is accessible to independent persons in wheelchairs, with some restrictions. In general, these requirements meet the needs of users of manual wheel chairs, which are easier to manoeuvre;
3. Reduced accessibility : the establishment is accessible to persons with impaired mobility who are able to walk. Facilities do not meet the requirements of level 1 or level 2.
4. Sensory - visual impairment : the establishment is accessible to persons who are visually impaired; hearing impairment : the establishment is accessible to persons with impaired hearing.
5. Small stature : the establishment is accessible to persons of small stature.

Project development :
In November 1998, Kéroul, a Quebec organization that promotes tourism and culture for persons with restricted physical ability, saw a need for universal standards of accessibility that could provide simple, reliable information for tourists with restricted physical ability. The consulting firm of Groupe DBSF was commissioned to conduct this study.

Initially, the following standards were analyzed: the Quebec Building Code, the Alberta Access Program, the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act,  France’s Ministry of Housing and Great Britain’s Tourism for All accessibility standards. Also, the recommendations of the following organizations were analyzed: the European Union’s “Access to tourism establishments by persons with disabilities”, l’Association québécoise de loisirs pour personnes handicapées (Quebec Recreational Association for Persons with Disabilities) and Kéroul’s own recommendations.

The analysis compared the requirements of each standard, assessed its relevance, identified similarities and differences, and enabled the assessment of various levels of accessibility, in accordance with the requirements of the standard. The analysis of comparable standards produced the following findings:
- standards were found to be directed at two main types of infrastructure and establishments, specifically: infrastructure common to public establishments (tourism and non-tourism) such as public telephones, restrooms and parking facilities; and establishments and facilities specific to the tourism industry, such as campgrounds, movie theatres, and airports;
- simplicity was a vital characteristic in facilitating the universal understanding and application of a standard;
- a universal standard had to have the potential to reduce the major differences between accessibility levels;
- cultural and functional differences in perception were allowable, but the standard had to be specific enough to enable assessment of its application;
- the identifying, directional, regulatory and informational values of signs posted in public places had to be respected. Also, the presence of auditory, visual and tactile signals was essential. Universal accessibility standards were developed from these results, following extensive consultation with organizations representing persons with restricted physical ability.

The main reasons behind the choices made in developing the proposed standards are the following :
- the standards must, above all, promote the independence of persons with restricted physical ability;
- the implementation of new standards must allow a smooth transition from one system to another for tourism establishments that already meet accessibility criteria. The standards are purposely not overly restrictive in order to ensure compliance by a greater number of establishments. The focus is on the essential rather than the desirable;
- the requirements called for by the standards must command the respect of persons with physical disabilities; however, such persons must be willing to accept that they will not necessarily be guaranteed the same comforts they have at home;
- because of the limitations specific to the various types of disabilities, a distinction was made between persons with sensory disabilities (visual or hearing impairment), persons of small stature, and persons with impaired mobility;
- the width requirements for wheelchair accessibility are based on the minimum and maximum measurements of a wheelchair, as well as its turning radius.

Results :
The standards were adopted by the Quebec organizations representing persons with restricted physical ability, specifically individuals with motor, visual or hearing impairment. The accessibility criteria are now being incorporated into the Quebec tourism industry’s Quality Program. This program aims at supporting the tourism companies to raise the level of service offered to the customers, to guarantee uniformity and consistency.
The study has resulted in the development of the only known set of standards, officially recognized by the Quebec tourism ministry, for categorizing the accessibility of tourism sites and establishments for travellers with physical, visual or hearing impairment.

Key elements :
- accessibility criteria based on a study of comparable elements in Canada, the United States, England, France and the European Union;
- partnership with organization for persons with disabilities;
- flexible standards system for gradual implementation.

Main resources needed :
The Office des personnes handicapées du Québec (Quebec Board for Disabled Persons) assumed the cost of the project.

Partners :
Several organizations supported the project, notably: La société logique, a resource center for architectural accessibility, the Quebec Paraplegic Association, l'association québécoise des personnes de petite taille (The Quebec Association for Persons of Small Stature), the Quebec Centre for the Hearing Impaired, the Quebec Federation of Senior Citizens, le Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Québec (Quebec Organization of the Blind and Visually Impaired).

Contact :
Kéroul 4545, avenue Pierre-De Coubertin, C.P. 1000, succursale M.
Montréal, Quebec, Canada, H1V 3R2
Phone: +1-514-252-3104
Website: www.keroul.qc.ca