Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification

This video from the 2018 Presidents Group Roundtable features Rick Hansen, Founder and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation. He talks about the evolution of accessibility and the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Program.

Video Transcript:

(Rick Hansen) It’s interesting how things have evolved. I remember, back on the original Man of Motion tour, the issue of accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities was largely considered a charitable concern.

And then the evolution, over all these years, is clearly refined and elevated to be firmly embedded – as you heard from Minister Simpson and Minister Qualtrough – a human rights concern. And to imbedding the laws of our country there are constitutional statements and objectives and then drop them down systematically below that into practical implementation integrity and credibility against the metrics and the results of moving towards a truly accessible and inclusive country.

It’s easy to talk about it and sometimes you need to put the words in but in reality the real litmus test is: how are we doing? And trying to make those metrics objective and to stand behind them and recognize that no one’s perfect, we’re all on the journey and we just need to try to get there faster. That’s why this event is so important.

If I think about where we’re at today we’re moving way past just the charitable and human rights initiatives to think of the economic and cultural imperative. It’s urgent for us to be a healthy, sustainable culture and society. If we have all those pillars driving forward and there are no black and white maxims or ideology to limit or exclude people from the way they approach this solution, we can power and get there faster.

And the world has changed rapidly, there’s over 1 billion people on the planet today living with a disability according to the World Health Organization. It’s the world’s largest minority and yet, there’s interesting things, you know, trends are moving way past that because aging boomers are bringing their disabling conditions into this number and it’s going to be one in five Canadians by 2036.

It’ll affect everyone. It won’t be just the marginal things. It won’t also just be the stereotypical things we see in our symbols today. If you think of the one thing that represents in our symbolic examples of accessibility, what is that symbol? The traditional stickman in a wheelchair. Wow, that’s really interesting.

We’ve heard today, and of course we all know disability is visible and not so visible. It affects all of us in different ways. And so, we have to reframe that symbol and also address some of the systemic barriers that are real in order for us to really understand how to make change because without understanding that we go forward with at our own peril because we don’t really understand resistance and challenges inside individuals, inside organizations and in society. 

When we look at today’s world, disability isn’t hitting at or above its weight. The magnitude of this whole field is because everyone seems to have it being fragmented and oriented by the individual personal experience; the medical diagnosis of disease or clinical diagnosis of the kind of disability or the state that the person is in, in their own personal journey.

Yet, when you bring that magnified community together on common barriers that we all face then we could actually drive and accelerate and break through. The first is to make sure that we understand disability is a big deal and it affects everyone. 

We also have to recognize that attitudes need to move from being negative, stereotypic to being positive, normalized and enabled and really, reference them only when they’re relevant and then mostly focus on the barriers so we can liberate ability and potential. That really shifts all of our perspective.

Then lastly is accessibility. Accessibility is really critical because if we can speak about awareness and attitudes and ideology, but if people can’t get to the places they live, work, play and learn then nothing really counts. And so, one of the things about making sure that employment is really maximized and we’re talking about employment but one of the major pillars of that is really recognizing that our built environment is absolutely fundamental to being able to be fully functional and to be able to actually see some of the examples of how our built environment just holds us back.

Taking a look at this actual building here that really thinks that their innovative solution towards a built environment is to put a ramp in. Right? Who would ever use that? Or, “Well, we won’t build a ramp, we’ll just deal with the stairs and we’ll create some innovative solutions.” Or, when we’re in the parking lot in a northern community, we’ll put a handicapped spot… that old signal. But of course, to the right there somebody wants to put the snow somewhere and they’re not thinking inclusively.

Sometimes the broader of systemic barriers are more important than the tangible physical and barriers. That’s why it’s important to look at an entire built environment in its whole. Our organization, The Rick Hansen Foundation, has committed to hiring people with disabilities and we’re proud that we’re hiring, and we have over 30% of our workforce with people with disabilities.

We’ve made our work environment accessible but we’re part of a bigger building and interestingly enough, that building isn’t owned by us and it’s a big institution. What happened is, when it was built, they actually didn’t really think about the customer service and that there was no parking spot for them and so what they did is, they actually all moved into the suite of wheelchair parking spots. So, constantly those spots were completely jammed and not accessible because it wasn’t thought of in a holistic and universal way.

So, designing a solution for fragmented views of what accessibility is, is absolutely critical; making it not just a subjective individual experience but a unified professional experience, the qualified experience, where people can be trained and accredited and it isn’t just the perspective a person with a disability it’s actually normalized through the design community.

Everybody who touches a building becomes responsible for learning and knowing that their building is built and/or could be retrofitted as being accessible and inclusive. That’s been done in other sectors. The Leeds world was established as a result of energy efficiency and wanting to have buildings built right but we forgot people and we have to catch up to that. 

We’ve decided to create an accreditation and certification program in accessibility. We have an amazing group of experts led by Brad McCannell, one of the world’s experts in universal and inclusive design and he’s here and I’d like to recognize Brad. Brad has been in his business for over 30 years. But Brad is one person, and we knew that we had to scale this and transform it and normalize it and we needed a committee of experts from the built environment and the chair of our committee who drives this organization and development is Stanis Smith. 

Stanis is with Stantec and I want to recognize Stanis because Stantec is an engineering architectural firm who actually comes in and works in the real world. To have Stanis represent that next generation of professionals actually adopting this and leading as a normalised process is huge.

What that does is, it allows us to actually create a certification process when people have been rated and then recognized for where they are. Are they at a minimal level or do they not qualify against even the minimal laws and standards? Or at a gold level where innovation drives the creativity and the result? And is it actually relevant to how the building functions?

We want to be able to create objective, meaningful scorecards where anything below 60% isn’t qualified. Anything 60% to 80% is accessibility certified and then anything above is gold. And we’re not putting boundaries around that because we want to make sure that today’s standards don’t become tomorrow’s handicaps and innovation will continue to drive forward.

And it’s a handoff product it can be used right away, not for tomorrow, not for four years down the road when legislation comes forward and actually creates yet again, new standards and new processes. People want to act now. They want comfort and security that they actually have the right thing to do but they’re not perfect and they can keep going after they actually have been assessed as well because it’s a journey not a destination.

And in BC, thanks to the government of British Columbia we’ve actually had an incredible start-up grant to be able to make this happen, a made in BC national and global solution. And we’ve already had over 237 in the last dashboard and it’s now I’ve been told today it is over 300 people and organizations have been rated and assessed. 

300 different organizations behind those building ratings and of course, we see this as moving forward rapidly and it’s not just about the rating and then the ability for you to speak to your employees and your customers about where you are, it’s also about us to be able to think about being able to help you to move forward with practical recommendations that are well thought out common sense.

It also prevents the burden to come up with these solutions or the ability to recognize there are financial challenges and that’s why we’re also pleased to be able to offer accessibility grants once you’ve been rated. So, that if there’s recommendations to upgrade, to get to the certification level or to even go beyond, well then you can apply, and we have up to 4 million dollars of grants. And already, there’s 47 applicants have been in play already.

We have two more grant cycles over the course of the next fiscal year. There’ll be 200 projects all together throughout British Columbia and we have some really cool examples of how an organization, the Surrey Art Centre, has received a gold designation in their certification but they’ve actually applied for a grant and they’ve been upgraded based on recommendations because remember it’s 80% and above. 

And they’ve actually got improvements to have new accessible washrooms in their facility for everyone. So, it’s an upgrading process and we want to be able to make sure that that scale up grant isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of every building and every organization in British Columbia. And every province across the country and eventually every country in the world, is using a unified and global standard that’s made here in British Columbia.

We’re super proud of being able to actually now extend into other universities and colleges in other provinces in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax throughout this year. We actually have a federal proposal to help the federal government interpret complex legislation and have a practical hand off tool for private sector and communities and government to all work together and to unify their jurisdictional authority with common platforms and common sense to make things happen right away.

Ultimately, we want to celebrate success. And so, as we build a whole new normal view of what accessibility is and get into our accessibility certification program, take advantage of the expertise that’s taking place and be a champion and a leader in your industry, not just in your organization.

And lastly, I want to recognize that the world is a lot smaller than it was when I wheeled around the world, and the only way that we can actually make an inclusive world is to build bridges to inclusivity. This certification program is truly a tangible bridge where we standardize language with standardized metrics and we push out the ability for everyone to participate and make it relevant to all.

I want to thank you for giving me the privilege to speak to you and I hope that you’ll join in this movement, this made in BC national and global movement. The journey that’s been going on for over 30 years. And we’ll get there faster with an exciting program, like our accessibility certification program.

Thank you.