Published on: March 17, 2017
A person in a wheelchair pauses on a sidewalk as snow falls in Vancouver.
I have lived in B.C. my whole life, and there’s no question that this has been one of the toughest winters we’ve seen. Snow and freezing rain have made it difficult for all of us to get around this season in Vancouver and other parts of the Lower Mainland. Fortunately, snow and ice will eventually melt, with life for most people getting back to normal fairly quickly. The same can’t be said, however, for the roughly one in seven Canadian adults with a disability affecting their mobility, vision or hearing. For those 3.8 million people, normal life means confronting accessibility issues every day of the year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. For 30 years, I have been working toward positive change with my team at the Rick Hansen Foundation along with many other champions and organizations. Most recently, we have been developing innovative programs to remove the physical barriers that currently exist for people with disabilities.
B.C. recently announced a $9-million funding commitment to support the development of a made-in-B.C. Accessibility Certification Program, as well as an Accessibility Fund that will also help businesses and communities create more accessible buildings. Modelled on successful programs including the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) that rates green buildings, the Accessibility Certification Program will assess and recognize the efforts that developers, landlords and building owners are making to meet and exceed minimum accessibility standards. The Accessibility Fund will help incent change, taking us from where we are to where we need to be. These two initiatives support Accessibility 2024, the B.C. government’s 10-year plan to make British Columbia Canada’s most progressive province for people with disabilities by 2024.
For nearly four million Canadians with disabilities, this funding will enable effective and practical ways to change the existing physical landscape and improve accessibility. It will also raise awareness of this important issue so that everyone can recognize the many barriers to accessibility around them. It is my hope that this will inspire people to look for ways to make their communities inclusive and welcoming for everyone. The province of B.C. is playing a critical leadership role in helping us achieve our goal of making Canada fully accessible by 2050, and we are so grateful for their continued support.
Another way the Foundation is helping to improve the accessibility of public places and spaces is our Signature Canada 150 Initiative launched last fall, called Access4All. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Canada’s milestone birthday. With funding support from the Government of Canada, the Foundation is offering grants of up to $30,000 to schools and community groups for at least 50 large-scale “Barrier Buster” projects and awareness building events that shed light on accessibility issues in communities across the country. The response to date has been overwhelming. I’m proud to share that we have awarded the first 20 grants, including six projects in B.C., and will continue to accept applications until March 31st.
Thanks to strong partnerships with all levels of government as well as the private sector, we’ve been given the opportunity to leave Canadians with a lasting legacy of a world without barriers. Making Canada fully accessible for everyone by 2050 might seem like a daunting task, but it is possible if we all do our part, including taking note of the barriers that often are hiding in plain sight, but which are all too real for 3.8 million of our fellow citizens. With the continued support of governments at all levels, and the efforts of all Canadians, we can clear away those barriers and melt the obstacles confronting people with disabilities.
Rick Hansen is CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation.