Capital Design Guidelines


The National Capital Region is intended for the enjoyment of and use by all Canadians and visitors. An integral part of this vision is for the region to reflect a Canada without barriers, where all people can enjoy the Capital, regardless of individual ability.

Every design decision regarding the built environment has the potential to include or exclude certain people. However, when barriers are removed or a site is inclusive by design, people can participate fully, thus promoting a more accessible and inclusive environment for all. Universal accessibility is a design approach which assumes that the range of human ability is ordinary, not special.

Universal accessibility in design affords comfortable, equitable, barrier-free access and participation for Canadians, regardless of a wide range of physical, mobility and cognitive limitations. Achieving universal accessibility requires the proactive identification, removal and prevention of barriers in both natural and built environments.


The goal of these guidelines is to assist in removing, mitigating and avoiding barriers by providing direction to consider how physical spaces are designed, in order to ensure that they are accessible to people having different abilities and disabilities.

These guidelines do not specify particular numerical requirements or standards of accessible design. Other policy instruments, including legislation identified in the References section, provide the technical requirements, minimum standards and required features in a range of design scenarios. These guidelines provide designers with principles and direction about how to integrate accessibility as a key objective in the Capital.

Policy Statement

The Accessible Canada Act requires federal entities such as the NCC to work toward the realization of a Canada without barriers, through the removal of barriers and the implementation of measures to prevent new barriers.

All projects on NCC lands, and all projects on federal lands in the National Capital Region subject to federal land use, design and transaction approval, will be reviewed for universally accessible design.

1 User Experience

  • 1

    User Experience

    • 1.1

      Diversity of Needs: While design standards can identify ways to remove or overcome specific barriers, they do not reflect the diverse and intersecting forms of marginalization, disability and discrimination that people face. Design should exceed minimum standards and strive for universal accessibility.

    • 1.2

      Inclusivity: The needs and abilities of each person differ, as does the way they perceive and experience space. Design should afford all persons the ability to use and enjoy spaces with dignity and comfort.

    • 1.3

      Consistency: Designs should provide a consistent user experience through the use of predictable design elements, recognizing that users experience travel through the built environment without regard for jurisdictions.

      • Designs subject to federal jurisdiction must meet the minimum standards of accessibility, as set out in the National Building Code and the Canadian Standards Association’s Accessible Design for the Built Environment (CAN/CSA-B651).
      • Designs should have regard for the locally applicable standards, and provide a consistent user experience across jurisdictional boundaries. Provincial and municipal standards regulate accessible design of non-federal buildings and public spaces; much of the built environment of the National Capital Region is shaped by these rules, which create user expectations of predictable design elements.
      • Where there are multiple standards that potentially apply (e.g. National Building Code, CAN/CSA-B651 and local codes), the selected design should provide the highest level of accessibility.

2 Universal Design Principles

  • 2

    Universal Design Principles

    • 2.1

      Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

      • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
      • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
      • Provisions for privacy, security and safety should be equally available to all users.
      • Make the design appealing to all users.
    • 2.2

      Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

      • Provide choice in methods of use.
      • Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
      • Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.
      • Provide adaptability to the user's pace.
    • 2.3

      Simple and Intuitive Use: The use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.

      • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
      • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
      • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
      • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
      • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.
    • 2.4

      Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

      • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
      • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
      • Maximize the "legibility" of essential information.
      • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
      • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.
    • 2.5

      Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

      • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated or shielded.
      • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
      • Provide fail-safe features.
      • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.
    • 2.6

      Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

      • Allow the user to maintain a neutral body position.
      • Use reasonable operating forces.
      • Minimize repetitive actions.
      • Minimize sustained physical effort.
    • 2.7

      Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use, regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility.

      • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
      • Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
      • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
      • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

      The seven principles of universal design were developed by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

3 Complementary Objectives

  • 3

    Complementary Objectives

    • 3.1

      Heritage and Accessibility: The National Capital Region features a wealth of heritage buildings, modifications to which must maintain their character-defining elements.

      • Design should remove barriers and integrate accessibility, while retaining character-defining elements.
      • Provide the highest level of access with the lowest level of impact.
    • 3.2

      Natural Heritage: The National Capital Region encompasses natural areas whose topography and natural features pose barriers to access.

      • Where access is permitted, design should avoid and minimize impacts to the natural environment.
      • Where alteration would compromise natural features, provide equivalent opportunity elsewhere.
    • 3.3

      Year-round Enjoyment: The experience of space by persons of a range of ability levels will vary in different weather and seasons.

      • Design should avoid the creation of barriers in each season and provide ways to overcome the barriers that each season brings.