Rick Hansen’s new mission: Improving accessibility across Canada

Published: May 22, 2019  |  Source: ctvnews.ca
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Accessibility activist Rick Hansen has a new poster to show you. One with adjustable text at an eye level so people in wheelchairs can read it, text in multiple languages, a braille pad and even a recording of someone reading it.

A hand-painted wall mural is currently up on Ossington Street in Toronto’s west end (at 143 Ossington), and an interactive and backlit poster, aptly named ‘Poster for Everyone,’ was on display at Nathan Phillips Square, where people of differing abilities interacted with it.

It’s part of the national “Everyone Everywhere” campaign from the Rick Hansen Foundation to raise awareness to improve physical accessibility for all Canadians.

“We need to keep amplifying the awareness that accessibility is a big deal and the idea of getting everyone, everywhere, is the dream,” he told CTV National News’ Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme.

The new campaign is being rolled out shortly before Accessibility Awareness Week, which runs from May 26 to June 1.

“It’s really awesome to be able to see varying responsiveness [in the poster] … you get the full experience no matter what perspective or what kind of challenge you might have,” Hansen said.

He praised the poster for its key features, which include adjustable eye level text, adjustable languages, a braille pad and even recorded voice reading the text.

“The poster, that’s technical and responsive to every type of person and it’s inclusive, so why shouldn’t we be able to do that with our buildings and every part of our society?” Hansen asked.

According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians have some sort of accessibility issue — with that number expected to rise as baby boomers continue to age.

In fact, Angus Reid Global research found half of all Canadian adults have or have experienced a physical disability or who live with someone who has.

This campaign wants to show how prevalent people with accessibility needs are but how far Canada still has to go.

“We have a constitution that said Canadians with disabilities should be part of this country but we get failing grades from the UN’s special rapporteur [on the rights of persons with disabilities], he said.

“Big governments — federal, provincial, municipal, Indigenous — need to come together and actually create a legislative interpretation so … we don’t put barriers to employment, transportation or information,” Hansen said.

Hansen lamented that, despite it being 2019, there are still far too many obstacles to true accessibility, from heavy doors and steep access ramps to a lack of tactile markers in public spaces and far too many homes needing costly retrofitting.

Pinning hopes on Bill C-81

He believes the federal government is close to passing the long-awaited Bill C-81 — an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. He said passing this legislation would be a boon for “many generations to come.”

According to the federal government, the law will, “create new accessibility standards and regulations that would apply to sectors in the federal jurisdiction, such as banking, telecommunications, transportation industries like air and rail.”

It adds, “these new regulated standards would set out requirements for organizations to follow in order to identify, remove, and prevent barriers to accessibility.”

“Now it’s going to go to the House of Commons, and I am just really hopeful that it’s going to be approved as is and that we’ll see royal assent [passing both the House and Senate] by the end of session, definitely by June,” he said.

The goal has been a long-term one for Hansen. He said the reason it has taken this long is due to a variety of disparate factors.

“People don’t understand the prevalence of it and new stats coming out [showing the prevalence and potential],” he explained. Hansen said recent economic data show the missed opportunities in not making spaces more accessible.

More acessibility means a stronger economy: Hansen

A report from the Conference Board of Canada estimated there are potentially one million workers being barred from employment. Hansen also cited figures that estimates a $17-billion loss to Canada’s GDP, and another outlining the potential additional $314 billion of consumer spending.

“Instead of focusing on ‘Well, what’s it going to cost to build the Canada we want?’, look at the payoff,” Hansen said, adding a more concerted effort will create a world where people with disabilities can fully contribute to society. “And build the country shoulder to shoulder with everyone else.”

Hansen sustained a spinal cord injury and became a paraplegic when he was 15 – he’s been an accessibility advocate ever since.

He’s been a Canadian Paralympian and it’s been 32 years since his Man in Motion World Tour when Hansen set out to travel across the world in his wheelchair.

Back in 1985, he set out to prove the potential for people with accessibility challenges and travelled 40,000 kilometres during his 26-month trek as he wheeled across through 34 countries on four continents.

Jeremiah Rodriguez, CTVNews.ca Writer