In this personal conversation with Rick, discover what he thinks of the barriers facing people with disabilities, why accessibility is so important, what inspires and motivates him to make a difference, and what advice he has to give.
Rick, what do you think is the biggest barrier people with disabilities face today?
Rick: There are a number of barriers that people with disabilities face today. One of the most critical barriers is that we still don’t have a normalized and standardized view of accessibility in the built environment. We need to change design culture by professionally accrediting engineers, architects, city planners and general contractors, or anyone that is involved with building planning, operations and retrofitting new and existing buildings with Universal Design principles. We need to measure progress consistently by using the same language and measurements.
Canada has come a long way and we can build on our successes by creating a common standard to analyze a building or site for accessibility and we encourage many champions to join our global movement to determine meaningful access. Together we’ll get there faster!
What can we do in our communities to break down these barriers?
Rick: We can inspire leaders to adopt our Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ program. We can also encourage all levels of government, including at the federal, provincial, municipal and indigenous level to be the champions of supporting this important new social innovation. We can mobilize and unify our largely fragmented community of people with disabilities to facilitate adoption of this program. We can engage youth to be the next generation of change so that they can join our accessibility experts to rate schools and communities and advocate for change. We can remind people that disabilities affect everyone. Our social mission is to remove barriers so that we can focus on ability.
And why is creating an accessible and inclusive world so important?
Rick: Firstly, creating an accessible and inclusive world is a part of a global commitment to human rights in Canada’s constitution, which is also embedded in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Secondly, according to Statistics Canada, there are close to 3.8 million Canadian adults (or 1 in 7) that are living with a disability. Globally, people with disabilities represent over a billion people, making it the world’s largest minority according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Accessibility is not just important for people in wheelchairs; it benefits anyone with hearing, vision, or mobility challenges. It benefits your mom, parents with strollers, or someone with a temporary disability. With Canada’s aging population, it is becoming more important for businesses and governments to consider building accessibility into all public places and spaces. A new report released by the Conference Board of Canada shows that there is a powerful business case for making businesses and public spaces more accessible, as it will drive significant economic growth. In a tight labour market, there is an untapped workforce of people who could positively contribute if workplace accessibility is improved. Just like everyone else, people with physical disabilities want to spend money in their communities – working, shopping, and enjoying leisure activities. With improved access, people with physical disabilities will spend a greater share of income in restaurants and grocery stores and on entertainment, recreation and sport, and physical activities. Increased accessibility is not just the right thing to do, but the smart business thing to do.
Tell us, who or what inspires and motivates you to continue making a difference?
Rick: My dedicated team at the Rick Hansen Foundation allows me to feel I am supported by a fantastic group of change makers. Everywhere I go, I meet champions who are doing great work and who are excited about coming together to help us reach the goal of removing barriers in the built environment and thereby liberating the potential of people with disabilities. Finally, with advancements in technology, the next generation of youth are connected to a global movement, which means that we don’t need to wait for another Canadian to wheel around the world to draw attention to the potential of people with disabilities!
Is there any advice you’d give someone who’s recently been injured, or developed a mobility, vision or hearing disability?
Rick: Lean on medical professionals, family and friends as you strive to achieve as much recovery as possible, and have hope for the advancement of treatment care and cures. Live each day to its fullest. Try to see that there is love, beauty and meaning in spite of pain, suffering and challenges. Realize that a full and productive life is possible if barriers are removed. Look for examples of progress and role models of what is possible to help inspire you to see your full potential. Recognize that you are not alone. As you adjust to your new reality, it may be hard to believe in the beginning that you will be providing inspiration to those who you come into contact with. By moving forward to reclaim your life, and make the best of it, you will be making a difference. When you feel up to it, come join us on our journey to continue breaking down barriers!
How far have we come since you started your journey, and what more needs to be done?
Rick: We have come a long way. Canadians and people around the world are more united than ever and see accessibility for people with physical disabilities as a human right. Attitudes towards people with disabilities are evolving and have shifted to a more normalized and positive perspective focused on ability. Communities around the world have been responding to champions who are advocating for change. These examples of success need to be celebrated because they inspire people with disabilities to engage and participate in society. This in itself is creating exponential change.
The journey isn’t over. It’s one of the reasons we decided to start our Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ program. When our public spaces are universally accessible, it ensures that everyone can participate and live to their full potential.
Finally Rick, what do you see for your next chapter?
Rick: I believe my best work is still ahead of me. As Founder, I continue to help the Rick Hansen Foundation become stronger and more capable of continuing to accelerate the removal of barriers for people with disabilities. I will also continue to support innovations that accelerate the progress of spinal cord injury research, leading to cures for paralysis.