One of the benefits of the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ (RHFAC) program is that it stays on the forefront of technological advances. This is particularly valuable for organizations using RHFAC on their journey toward improved accessibility.
It’s also huge for those who use RHFAC to measure and certify sites for their level of meaningful accessibility – the RHFAC Professionals themselves.
Chris Stigas is one such person. Chris is the project lead for his company, HandiHelp Accessible Innovations Inc., which specializes in accessible products and consulting for active people with accessibility needs. He obtained his RHFAC Professional designation and has never looked back, consulting on all manner of sites, from residential buildings to helping design a new ski lodge for children with disabilities located in Ontario.
In addition to being part of the growing accessibility movement, Chris is thrilled about the technological advancements such as smart products or Wi-Fi-enabled home environmental controls that help people with disabilities lead independent lives.
“These advancements are huge for independence and improve the overall quality of life. You forget about your disability when you get home,” he said. “They even improve efficiencies for the building, so it’s great all around. And, for me, as an RHFAC Professional, to go in and rate the building and document some of these features, it’s amazing. I’m currently trying to think of how to highlight them and show more people. It’s huge what is happening right now.”
Some features include smart locks so doors can be unlocked and locked through a smartphone. This is a big asset for those who have mobility issues in their upper body.;
“Instead of having to press something like a garage door opener or a button mounted to your mobility device, now you can open your front door through your smart device. This is important because everybody has an adaptive way to access the smart device that they’ve already created,” said Chris.
“Not only that, but there’s a touchscreen inside the units. You can open your door using that touchscreen, operate all your lights, and adjust your heat. And, as an added feature, that touchscreen can be connected to the building’s concierge. So, if you’re nonverbal and need to communicate, you can do so through this device. And in the case of emergency for someone who is deaf, for instance, the instructions will come up on that screen instead of just seeing a flashing strobe.”
How Technology and RHFAC Are Changing the Game
There is a growing awareness of the importance of accessibility in technology. As more people become aware of the need, combined with legal requirements, the demand for accessibility increases, which prompts companies to invest in research and development. It’s a win-win situation, added Stigas. Making spaces accessible benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities. And sites themselves can increase their customer base, improve customer loyalty, and enhance their reputation as an inclusive and socially responsible organization through their RHFAC rating.
“All it takes is just one forward-thinking developer to do it,” Chris added, “And then people fall into the new way of doing things like dominos.”
Chris achieved his RHFAC Professional designation in 2020, building on his electrical construction background using architectural renderings and blueprint design knowledge. He has a strong personal connection to the growing movement towards building a more inclusive and accessible society, stemming not only from his own lived experience with a spinal cord injury seven years ago but also from his genuine desire to aid others.
“I really want to continue to be a trusted source. Through my work as a volunteer, being an RHFAC Professional, and my own lived experience – those three things have presented me with this opportunity,” Chris said. “I’m trying to make the most impact with what I have. I want to show people what is possible and even help people aspire to do big things themselves.”
Designing for the Future
Big things are happening in the industry, Chris noted. Accessibility is now entering the awareness of those who build and manage residential buildings.
“It’s the first time in Canadian history that there are more people over 65 than under 15,” he said. “The government recognized that they’re not going to be able to keep up with demand and build enough accessible housing, so the fact that the residential multi-level housing industry has recognized that and is reaching out for recommendations because they see this oncoming wave of people who are going to need this. The residential multi-level housing industry is paying attention, and they’re designing for it.”
To keep up with the demand on his end, Chris encouraged industry colleagues to take RHFAC Training and obtain their Professional designation.
“We need to build an army of people to get these things done,” he said. “And bring everyone along with us, of course.”