While much still needs to be done for our country and world to become truly accessible and inclusive, this International Day of Persons with Disabilities is an opportune time to celebrate the amazing initiatives that have taken place across Canada over the past year to improve accessibility and create inclusive places and spaces for all Canadians.
While not exhaustive, below are some 2017 initiatives that pushed the important accessibility movement forward. These highlight that Universal Design not only helps the growing number of people with disabilities in our country, but also our aging population of baby boomers, and ultimately, the quality of life for each and every one of us.
Public consultations and new legislation
- National accessibility legislation consultation
From July 2016-February 2017, the Government of Canada consulted with Canadians on planned national accessibility legislation. The key findings report, Creating new federal accessibility legislation: What we learned from Canadians, was published in August. Based on the feedback, the government will be focusing on six priorities: employment; physical access to buildings and other public spaces; transportation by air, train, ferry and buses; program and service delivery; information and communications; and procurement of goods and services.
- Nova Scotia passes accessibility legislation
Passed on April 27, Bill 59 makes Nova Scotia the third province to pass accessibility legislation, joining Ontario (2005) and Manitoba (2013). Under the new Act, Nova Scotia has set a goal to be accessible by 2030.
- Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Program (RHFAC) launches
This year, the Rick Hansen Foundation launched a first-of-its-kind, LEED-style rating system that evaluates the meaningful accessibility of buildings and sites. Once rated, a building or site may be certified, ‘RHF Accessibility Certified’ or ‘RHF Accessibility Certified Gold’ and choose to be publically listed to showcase their accessibility to their community. Thanks to funding from the Government of BC, RHF is offering approximately 1,100 free ratings for BC buildings until March 2019.
Accessibility improvement grants
- Enabling Accessibility Fund
The Government of Canada’s current round of Enabling Accessibility Fund provides construction and renovation grants to communities and workplaces to improve physical access and safety for people with disabilities. Important funding like this creates opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in their communities and have access to richer employment opportunities.
- Access4All Canada 150 Signature Project
RHF, with support from the Government of Canada, granted over $1.5 million to schools and community groups to help improve accessibility with 55 large-scale “Barrier Buster” projects all across the country. Barrier Buster Projects were undertaken from coast to coast, improving accessibility in schools, parks, libraries, sports and recreation facilities, art centres, churches and more to create real and lasting impact for Canadians with disabilities.
- BC Accessibility Grants Program
With support from the Province of British Columbia, any BC non-profit or for-profit commercial, institutional, or multi-family residential building that’s completed an RHFAC rating can apply for funding of up to $20,000 to complete an accessibility improvement project through the RHF BC Accessibility Grants Program. Funding applications are open until December of 2018.
Raising awareness and celebrating progress
- National AccessAbility Week
In May 2017, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough announced an annual national week devoted to inclusion and accessibility, National AccessAbility Week. During the last week of May, Canadians all across the country celebrated, highlighted and promoted inclusion and accessibility in our communities and workplaces across the country.
- Accessible Cities Award
RHF launched the inaugural Accessible Cities Award to celebrate and showcase the Canadian cities that are leading initiatives that promote universal access and inclusion and improving the lives of people with disabilities. The 2017 Award winners included Winnipeg, Richmond, and Edmonton. The Canadian Museum of Human Rights (Winnipeg), the Richmond Olympic Oval (Richmond), the Walterdale Theatre, (Edmonton), Celebration Square (Mississauga), and Francois Dupuis Recreation Centre (Ottawa) were inducted in the Award’s Circle of Excellence.
Educating the next generation
- Universities Canada sign diversity pledge
The Presidents of about 60 schools voted to adopt seven principles of diversity which include a commitment to identify and remove barriers for women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and people with disabilities.
Corporate Canada leads the way
- Canadian Tire Jumpstart’s Play Finds a Way movement
This past September, Canadian Tire pledged to donate $50 million over five years to its charity Jumpstart to support building accessible playgrounds across Canada and retrofitting existing community centres, parks and arenas to remove physical barriers for kids of all abilities.
From new accessibility legislation and funding, to showcasing progress and educating the next generation, this December 3rd, we have a lot to celebrate! So much great progress has been made across the country to build the accessible and inclusive Canada we all want and deserve. As we look forward to 2018, our collective achievements will continue to build momentum, and new initiatives, including impending federal accessibility legislation, will ensure that Canada leads the way in ensuring people of all abilities are able to fully contribute and participate in our communities.