Société Logique

Universal Accessibility

Defining the Concepts

Universal accessibility, accessibility as defined by the building code, and adaptation

These three concepts are currently used in architecture and construction. As a society, we are moving towards universal accessibility, a phenomenon that extends beyond Québec. Universal accessibility is a global trend that plays a part in sustainable development. Universal accessibility is also referred to as universal design or barrier-free design.

Universal accessibility: building a better future for everyone

Universal accessibility is the character of a product, service, information or environment which, with equity as its goal and an inclusive approach, allows each person to realize activities autonomously and to achieve equivalent results. (Inspire by Groupe Défi Accessibilité, 2011)

Universal accessibility creates barrier-free environments such as buildings, areas, equipment or objects. The idea behind the concept of universal accessibility is to create a world in which the entire population, including people with disabilities, can live and manoeuvre freely and safely.

In practice, environments are designed to be used in the same way, by the highest number of users. All impairments are taken into consideration (auditory, intellectual, autism spectrum disorders, language/speech, motor and visual), as are situations where a person may be temporarily incapacitated. Meeting the specific needs of a group of individuals is done in such a way as to be beneficial to the entire population.

For example, in a building, a slight incline up to the entrance can be used by everyone, rather than having an access ramp for some and stairs for others.

By applying concepts of universal accessibility from the very beginning of a project, solutions offered are simple and aesthetically pleasing. It is also important to note that costs are comparable to those of traditional design.

All projects, from the most modest to the most luxurious, can apply concepts of universal accessibility: residences, businesses, hotels and restaurants places of work, entertainment or service facilities, sidewalks and parks; communication means, parking meters and public telephones; frequently used objects; etc.

The concept of universal accessibility also implies the notion of adaptability. When environments are designed to be adaptable, different components can be added later on to meet the specific needs of users. By setting wood nailers into the wall of the bathroom of a residence, for example, residents will be able to install grab bars when and where needed.

Universal accessibility meets a wider need than the regulations of the building code.

Left: photo of modern public building with main entrance at sidewalk level
Right: photo of modern public building with main entrance at sidewalk level, covered by an awning

Photographer: Société Logique

Accessibility as defined by the building code: a minimum requirement

Accessibility according to the Québec Building Code corresponds to barrier-free design requirements as detailed in the regulations. These are minimum requirements primarily aimed at facilitating mobility for people in wheelchairs.

According to the regulations, an accessible environment often means providing an access to people with disabilities which is different from the one used by the majority.

Left: photo of public building with two entrances: an access ramp and stairs
Right: photo of modern public building. The entrance begins with an access ramp on one side and stairs on the other and converges into a slight slope up to the door

Photographer: Société Logique


Adaptation is usually done to improve access to existing environments. Adapting a home or public building means providing solutions on a case-by-case basis to meet the specific needs of a person or group. For example, it might be necessary to adapt a classroom for a quadriplegic student by installing an automatic door.

Adapting an environment often implies modifying many of its existing features, and the whole process can cost a substantial amount of money.

Left: photo of sports centre with access ramp and handrail up to the door designated for people with disabilities. The other doors are used by other users and have a 15-centimetre threshold
Right: photo of former school with a temporary wooden access ramp installed at the back of the building

Photographer: Société Logique