Walrus Talks Inclusion: Rick Hansen

The Canadian icon spoke about the need for harmonization when we talk about making real change in the Canadian landscape of accessibility and inclusion.

Rick Hansen
From TD Presents The Walrus Talks Inclusion in Vancouver on May 7.

Rick Hansen spoke about the need for harmonization when we talk about making real change in the Canadian landscape of accessibility and inclusion.

You can watch all The Walrus Talks speakers from this event here: The Walrus Talks Inclusion on YouTube

Well, good evening. Thank you Shelley. What a privilege it is to be here to join the Walrus Talks and of course to be in the presence of our Lieutenant Governor, the honorable Janet Austin. Thank you so much for joining us. It means a lot. And to be here with other panel members who have come together with their expertise to be able to help focus on solutions and thoughts and ideas about moving barriers, removing them, getting them out of the way so people can live to their full potential. Thanks to Shelley, Rich, Vivian, Jewelles, Neil and Ricardo for all of your fantastic work. Ultimately, I think it’s really important for us to realize that disability is a big deal. What do I mean by that? Well, the stats show that there’s one in five Canadians living with a disability today. The World Health Organization says there’s 1.3 billion people on the planet with a disability, the world’s largest minority. Aging baby boomers are coming and that number is expected to grow exponentially.

We have legislation. What is that? We also have the emerging economy, which you’ll hear more about from Rich. Why is it then it’s such a big deal existing Canadian society that we’ve made actually such little movement in the social dialogue, in the cultural dialogue, in human rights? Well, it’s because largely lack of awareness it is a big deal. It’s fragmented by body type, by clinical diagnosis, by the plethora of so many people doing their great work, but very difficult for us to be able to come together and to find common solutions that really show the power of our community, and lacks jurisdictional fragmentation. Harmonization doesn’t seem to happen in this country and it’s imperative. Lastly, there are so many barriers and so many solutions. Where do we pick? I believe that anything’s possible, but I’ve learned through my years that not everything and focus is the key. Our organization is small and we think about lots of things that are important.

But today, really looking at some of the things that there’s inconsistent, imperative and implementation on accessibility, because the interpretation is, it’s so different. Currently that power is held mostly by disability advocates who have a variety of perspectives and they’re considered sort of secondary to the system. The lack of the competency and accountability of the design and built culture tends not an industry not to truly reflect the issues of accessibility. So being able to focus on the built environment as a major priority really helps us to be able to address one of the most significant barriers for people with disabilities. If people can actually go to the places that they live, work, play and learn, and they can be inclusive, to be recognized, to be valued and to contribute, well, then we actually can make a difference. But really our community actually has dealing with so many fires.

There’s so many reactive problems and largely accessibility is thought to be a bit of an afterthought, and oh, let’s just talk to the advisors and let’s also see the consequences, which are huge financial costs, lost opportunities. When construction and retrofit or new buildings are being considered, these consequences are not sustainable. What are the solutions? We’re looking to the other fields like the LEED energy efficient model for buildings, which is now a global solution and a best in practice standard and it’s moved beyond, adopting the principles of universal and inclusive design, the most good for the most people, training and accrediting professionals in the built-in environment to be accessibility experts, to normalize it, and then of course to be able to make sure that we have a common language, common measurement and the ability to work on a common global standard.

Accessibility certification was the top priority for our foundation to be able to actually build that cohesive collaborative coalition of people from the experts in the field of disability. The ability to bring organizations that represent people with disabilities together, private sector and the builtin design community to be able to be part of that solution together. Well, being able to think about it, we’ve developed a pilot project. We actually built a globally recognized curriculum of which could be the training basis for that accessibility expert team and then we trained a series of accredited experts and they went out and rated buildings. We learned, evolved, moved that pilot project into full scale implementation now across this country.

What we’ve been doing is now utilizing six colleges and universities to be able to teach that curriculum. Engineers, architects, city planners, advocates for the disabled real estate folks are all working together and we’ve rated over 1100 buildings across the country. We’re actually asking Canadians to measure up and the percentages of that are very interesting. About 37% of those buildings were not to a minimum standard. 60% were and we had about 3% which were gold innovation, really cool and beyond the minimum standards, but we celebrate those and recognize them because incentives to move forward are really powerful. Being able to actually recommend a pathway for improvement once they’ve been assessed and then to offer accessibility grants, especially for those that can’t afford it so they can actually get to and beyond the line faster.

Of course there’s always waiting, waiting for that compliance to take place when enforcement comes as to whether you’re in that minimum standard or not, at that minimum level of social safety net or not. You can actually look at that through legislation, through codes and/or the UN Convention on Rights and Freedoms for People with Disabilities in national reporting and measuring up. But we should try to move forward faster and not wait for that and see if we can actually move people together. How do we do that? We build a global movement. We actually have a vision that something made in Canada can connect people from around the world, over a hundred countries, 250,000 accredited professionals changing the design community and normalizing disability so that we actually have this issue behind us so we can take care of the important human issues.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to report on an annual index measuring where we are and actually continuing to track that until we can get to the goal, and then people know where Vancouver is relative to Tokyo or Saint John’s, Newfoundland or Beijing, China. This is the opportunity that we have, and there’s a West Coast saying that says, rising tides float all boats. While there are many barriers, powerful and important things to deal with, if we can focus together, if we can join in this movement, I believe it will energize the focus on awareness, on attitudes, on the need for employment, the power of an economy, social justice, and human rights, and many, many of these other barriers. But let’s get going. Let’s work together. Together, we can get there faster. Together, anything is possible. Thank you.

Rick Hansen