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Accessibility and inclusion: Imperative for Canada’s future

Rick Hansen is the CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation

People often ask me what I might be doing today had I not suffered a spinal cord injury as a teenager. Did I miss out on some grand ambition? Would I trade the journey I've been on for the use of my legs?

Not a chance. I feel like I am one of the luckiest guys in the world.

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Because it is not about using your legs in order to have a great life. It is about asking the important questions, about giving back and making a difference; having a purpose, a passion, about continuing to grow and learn as you go through this journey, and treating it as a gift.

Thirty years ago, I launched the Man In Motion World Tour to prove the potential of people with disabilities, and raise awareness of the need for greater accessibility. Following the Tour, in 1988, the Rick Hansen Foundation was born.

Since that time, the Foundation has raised over $325-million and delivered programs that have increased awareness, changed attitudes, and improved the quality of life for people with disabilities. While much has been achieved, there is much more to be done.

The reality is that baby boomers are aging; by 2036, it is estimated that one in five people, or nine million Canadians – will have a mobility, sight or hearing disability. Not only will that create a challenge for those who will face obstacles navigating a world that is not fully accessible, but it will also come at a significant cost to society.

Creating the conditions that allow people to reach their full potential has been a driving force behind the Rick Hansen Foundation for 30 years, and we will continue to push the existing boundaries with the same steadfast commitment to our long standing vision – an accessible and inclusive world.

I believe there are three ways to get there:

1. Attitudes toward disability and the stigma that goes with it must change.

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2. People must be aware of and understand the true impact that disability has and will have on us all.

3. Barriers in the built environment must be removed to ensure access for all to the places we live, work and play.

As we approach Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation, we are launching Access4All, a Canada 150 Signature Initiative that will complement nearly three decades of work by the Foundation, raising awareness and breaking down barriers for people living with disabilities. Access4All is challenging schools and community groups from across Canada to take on "Barrier Buster" projects, aimed at improving the accessibility of public places and spaces, such as schools, libraries, and playgrounds.

With a view to addressing barriers in the built environment, we are developing a new certification program that will create a comprehensive rating system to measure accessibility. This program will simultaneously provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities, helping individuals reach their potential, and reducing societal costs.

To help change attitudes, we continue to provide free educational resources through our Rick Hansen School Program to educate about access and inclusion. Every year, we engage over 500,000 youth across Canada, and the key to continued progress lies in inspiring and motivating young people to make a difference in their communities.

We encourage collaboration among community leaders, people with disabilities, service groups and others to work together to find ways to further remove barriers and drive change.

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As our nation prepares for a milestone anniversary that celebrates 150 years of proud achievements – I encourage all Canadians to become barrier busters and work together to make accessibility and inclusion an economic and cultural imperative for the Canada we all deserve.

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