Canadians struggle every day to access spaces like schools, libraries, community centres, retail and office spaces because of physical barriers to accessibility.
Without real access across the entire built environment, people are shut out from fully participating in everyday life, businesses fail to reach their full potential, and people with disabilities are denied the opportunities of full citizenship. Making the spaces where we live, work and play universally accessible unleashes our collective economic and social power—creating a Canada we can all be proud of.
Advocates and organizations of and for people with disabilities have shouldered much of the load in making these changes and have made important and effective inroads to creating this much needed accessibility. At the Rick Hansen Foundation we believe that it’s time to bring the owners and operators of facilities to the table. Through them we can change the design culture to better respond to the real needs of people disabilities by identifying barriers and solutions using common language and common methodology. Thus, the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility CertificationTM (RHFAC) program was created.
Here are a few facts about the RHFAC program you may not have known:
Fact #1: RHFAC measures meaningful access.
RHFAC is the first program to recognize that the accessibility of any given space needs to be judged on the basis of an individual’s entire experience, rather than by simply evaluating its access features in isolation. It’s a holistic approach based on people with varying disabilities affecting their hearing, vision, and mobility. It also benefits seniors, parents with strollers, caregivers and those with temporary disabilities.
RHFAC ratings and scorecards are used to determine a building or site’s certification level. This gives an organization a ‘snapshot’ of the overall accessibility of their facilities. Certification does not equal perfection. Using their scorecards, organizations are able to identify which areas have scored well and which areas require improvements in a simple, and easily understood format.
Fact #2: RHFAC was developed as an industry program in consultation with professionals working in the built environment and the community of persons with disabilities.
The program was created with extensive research into best practices in Universal Design, as well as consultations with industry experts and national organizations of and for people with disabilities.
An RHFAC Advisory Committee of industry experts provides advice on the design, scope, development, and distribution of the program. The committee serves as an ongoing forum for review, feedback, discussion, collaboration and partnership.
Our Expert Taskforce provides an additional level of quality assurance. The Expert Taskforce is comprised of individuals from various organizations, including the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, CNIB, BCANS, Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, March of Dimes, Barrier Free Canada, MS Society, Easter Seals Canada, and the Canadian Association of the Deaf.
If other individuals are interested in joining our committees, they can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fact #3: RHFAC does not replace the need for building code, legislation, or standards—it complements them.
One significant problem facing accessibility in the built environment is how many competing standards exist across Canada. There are National, Provincial, and Municipal codes, along with endless regulations. Different provinces are at very different levels of accessibility. These codes and regulations are important, however many are conflicting, and most are mobility-centric. While RHFAC is a national program, RHFAC Professionals are required to review local codes and standards appropriate to each region. Having harmonized national standards complemented by incentives is key to progress.
RHFAC provides industry with a tool to measure their level of meaningful accessibility and does not replace any existing standards or requirements. Instead, it helps to fill crucial gaps between local codes and the real needs of users to give owners/operators a better understanding of the practical application of Universal Design. It’s based on CSA Group's B651 standard and other Universal Design protocols from Canada and internationally, considering a variety of disabilities beyond mobility.
Fact #4: RHFAC was developed to educate industry.
It’s time to bring industry—the developers, building managers, architects—and those responsible for transforming our landscapes, into the discussion. Lived experience is integral to helping designers and builders understand the elements needed in the built environment, and how they are used. Surprisingly, basic access requirements are not typically taught in architectural and design schools. RHFAC is a bridge that communicates the realities of lived experience to industry professionals.
RHFAC was created to speak to the industry, with the intent to change design culture and push accessibility up the design food chain. Instead of looking at accessibility as an afterthought, this program motivates the owner/operators early on in the design, planning and construction process.
Fact #5: RHFAC ratings are delivered by independent RHFAC Professionals.
When you request an RHFAC rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation. RHFAC is delivered by independent RHFAC Professionals across Canada, trained to use the RHFAC Rating Survey to identify barriers on a cross-disability basis.
To ensure a fair and unbiased rating, an independent adjudicator and the CSA Group review each rating to ensure quality and accuracy.
Fact #6: RHFAC Professionals are accredited based on standardized training.
Equally important to educating industry is ensuring that the RHFAC Professionals conducting RHFAC ratings are properly trained and accredited. It’s crucial that these individuals understand both the applicable code and the elements that create meaningful access for the disability community and seniors.
To date, over 150 individuals have taken the RHFAC Accessibility Assessor Training course at post-secondary institutions across the country and are trained to use the RHFAC methodology. The course is recognized for continuing education units (CEUs) by the following professional bodies: The Alberta Association of Architects, The Architectural Institute of British Columbia Engineers and Geoscientists BC, Engineers Nova Scotia, Manitoba Association of Architects and the Ontario Architects Association.
Pre-requisite qualifications for the course include a diploma in architecture, engineering, or urban planning, or a minimum of five years’ experience related to accessibility in building environments. RHFAC is an additional tool for industry experts to use, and complementary to other accessibility assessments.
Fact #7: Notable organizations have been RHF Accessibility Certified.
Over 1,200 buildings have been RHFAC rated across the country, including Vancouver International Airport, SAP Labs Canada, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
To-date, three per cent of sites rated have achieved RHF Accessibility Certified Gold, 61 per cent have earned RHF Accessibility Certified, and 36 per cent did not meet certification levels.
Fact #8: RHFAC strives for transparency.
Let’s ensure everyone can go everywhere.
The first step to solving any problem is identifying the problem in the first place. By helping organizations better understand their current level accessibility, RHFAC ratings are the launching point to real tangible change.