Rick Hansen on Making Accessible Buildings The New Global Standard


Every day, one in five Canadians struggles to go for coffee with a friend or interview for a job because of physical barriers at their destinations. Although features like ramps and braille signage in elevators may be present, they hardly do enough if users only run into more barriers on their floors. Today, 24% of Canada’s population lives with some sort of disability, and with an aging population, this number is on the rise (Angus Reid). Still, few buildings are intentionally designed to be barrier-free before construction begins.

We have a long way to go before truly accessible and inclusive design becomes the standard, but six-time paralympic medalist, activist, and philanthropist, Rick Hansen, is on it. He’s dedicated his life to removing barriers for people with disabilities through the Rick Hansen Foundation. In an attempt to make accessible buildings a new global standard, The Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ (RHFAC) is a program that rates, certifies, and showcases accessible buildings.

We sat down with Rick to find out more and discuss why developers need to design for long-term inclusivity now rather than later.

 

We’re still desperately in need of a harmonized accessibility standard

One of the biggest barriers people with disabilities struggle with every day is the built environment.

“Buildings are built for people,” says Rick “And to this day, the places where we live, work, and play are built with limitations that don’t have to be there.”

The Foundation has been working hard to identify barriers in the built environment that building codes often miss, and make solutions to those barriers as relevant to as many people as possible. Though there are existing and well-intended National, Provincial, and Municipal building codes, they are often conflicting and fall short on addressing other types of disabilities beyond mobility issues. Based on CSA Group’s B651 standard and other Universal Design protocols from Canada and internationally, it considers a variety of disabilities beyond mobility to help those with hearing challenges, vision challenges, and even parents with strollers and those with temporary disabilities.

RHFAC is the first program to rate spaces for accessibility based on an individual’s entire experience, rather than simply by evaluating a list of its accessibility features. Rather than acting to replace any of these existing standards or codes, the RHFAC is looking to fill crucial gaps and educate building owners and operators on Universal Design.

 

Standardizing the built environment for inclusivity is an economic and cultural imperative

Today, One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability (World Health Organization). In Canada, 24% of the population has a disability, and 47% is associated with someone who has a disability (Angus Reid). Whether a disability is caused by the natural effects of aging, or by an accident or injury, the simple truth is that each of us will experience disability at some point in our lives when our circumstances change. And when they do, we will need our communities to be accessible so that we can continue to participate and live full lives.

If 24% of Canada’s population isn’t large enough, with an aging population, the number is only expected to grow. For the first time ever in Canada, most people are now aged 65 and over than aged under 15.

The following stats shared in our interview tell us just how much value this segment of the market can bring:
There is a $314 billion dollar a year consumer spending opportunity within this demographic.
There are 1.5 million people living with a disability eager to join the employment market.
Tax revenue to provincial and federal governments for this sector is estimated at $4 billion dollars a year.

Besides potentially missing out on the contributions of this large segment of the population, neglecting to work towards this accessibility standard will only result in significant costs further down the line.

“By not building to this standard, we end up handicapping ourselves.”

The RHFAC intends to push accessibility up the design food chain. Rather than looking at accessibility as an afterthought, the program is motivating building owners and operators early on in the design, planning, and construction process, helping them save on future repercussions.

 

Building for inclusivity benefits everyone

Barrier-free design does not simply benefit those in wheelchairs, those with hearing challenges, or those with vision challenges by giving them improved physical access. It helps mothers with strollers, ageing boomers, and day-to-day people travelling with luggage.
Not only so, but city planners, architects, and developers earning their accessibility certifications are seeing the benefits of:
– Increasing employee safety and avoiding costly compensation claims.
– Having the ability to hire people with disabilities and know they will confidently meet their needs.
– Attracting more diverse visitors, staff, and customers.
– Gaining market differentiation and a competitive advantage as a visionary leader in equity, diversity, and inclusion
– Building sustainable, inclusive spaces without costly retrofits.
– Increasing the marketability of the building itself with a more desirable product.
– Taking confidence in having a product that meets future needs.

 

Accessibility certification costs are quickly mitigated by productivity benefits

A 2019 study by Angus Reid Inc in collaboration with the Rick Hansen Foundation found the assumption of certification costs to be a major resistance point by study participants. A feasibility study conducted by HCMA Architecture and the Rick Hansen Foundation f that moving from “non certified” to “accessibility certified” actually came at zero cost, and moving from “accessibility certified” to “Gold-certified” came at only a 1% cost.

“It’s much easier to make these adaptations in the workplace than you would think.”

This cost analysis proves that earning accessibility certification is a small amount to drive more possibilities in a competitive world. The Foundation has even issued $20,000 grants to organizations in BC looking to make such improvements, thanks to support from from the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction, and is actively encouraging governments to create more tax incentive opportunities to drive the change. Currently, thanks to support from the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility, complimentary RHFAC ratings are available in 15 municipalities across in Ontario.

Providing universal access to safe, inclusive, and accessible public spaces ensures that everyone is able to participate and live to their full potential. Now’s the time to educate developers, building managers, architects, and all those responsible for transforming our landscapes to include inclusive spaces, before the community comes knocking.

 

About Rick Hansen

Rick Hansen is the Founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation and a passionate supporter of people with disabilities in Canada. Rick is best known as the “Man In Motion” for his epic 26-month, 34-country, 40,000 km wheelchair trip around the world to make the world inclusive for people with disabilities and to find a cure for paralysis.

Since the end of the Man In Motion World Tour in 1987, Rick has dedicated his life to creating a world that is accessible and inclusive for all by removing barriers for people with disabilities through the Rick Hansen Foundation. Rick and his team at the Foundation are dedicated to raising awareness, changing attitudes, helping create accessible spaces, and liberating the amazing potential of people with disabilities.

 

About the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ (RHFAC)

The Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility CertificationTM (RHFAC) is a national rating system that measures and certifies the level of meaningful access of buildings and sites. The program works to help improve the accessibility of the built environment in Canada. Tested and piloted in British Columbia, the program has rolled out across the country, certifying buildings from malls, to airports, stadiums, small retail stores, and housing. Over 1,250 buildings have been RHFAC rated across the country, including Vancouver International Airport, SAP Labs Canada, the Canada Science, and Technology Museum, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The Foundation plans to move its efforts to an international level.