Building Better: Brad Bartko’s Journey to Advocacy
“We don’t get many of you people in our establishment.”
Those were the words that Brad Bartko heard when he tried to use a washroom at a bar in Edmonton when he was eighteen. He was led to the back of a dark long hallway after being brought through the kitchen to use the only washroom that would accommodate his wheelchair.
“I felt like a circus animal, not a human being.”
This moment was pivotal for Brad. He never wanted this to happen to anyone again. He knew he wanted to help make a change for people with disabilities to ensure they could participate fully in their community.
Broadening his perspective with RHFAC Training
Brad seeks to engage as many people as possible in conversations about disability and access. One area he wanted to learn more about was accessibility in the built environment so he could help create change in his community. To increase his knowledge base, he enrolled in Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility CertificationTM (RHFAC) Training through PowerED(TM) by Athabasca University.
RHFAC Training teaches individuals how to use the RHFAC methodology to rate buildings on their level of meaningful access and provides suggestions on how they can improve. Upon successful completion and passing of the subsequent RHFAC Professional exam, individuals will obtain their RHFAC Professional designation, qualifying them to conduct RHFAC ratings for existing buildings and pre-construction plans. The training course provides an understanding of how to interpret accessibility in the built environment. “The best part of the training was getting an understanding into more [disability] communities.” Brad explained. As a wheelchair user, he doesn’t have the same lived experience of people with hearing or vision loss, so RHFAC Training helped expand his knowledge and be able to incorporate it into his work. “What I really love about universal design is how it impacts and benefits everyone.”
Building a Business
Just over a year ago, Brad and his wife started disABILITY: Accessible by Design, a business with the mission to help make the built environment more accessible for all.
“I have been in a chair my whole life,” he explained. “My wife is in construction, so it was a match made in heaven to start working on accessibility in the built environment.”
“There's a lot of people in the disability community that fall between the cracks. I speak what's on my mind and tell it how it is,” he said. “So, I said, let’s make a difference.”
Based on Brad’s experience when he was eighteen, the business started by looking at how they could make bars and restaurants more accessible, and the work has since branched out to working with municipalities, such as Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton.
Going into the future, Brad wants to continue to expand his business and spread awareness about accessibility and inclusion.
“I want to push harder in Alberta. Make it more accessible for everyone,” Brad said.
“It’s not about me, it’s about we.”