How far has B.C. come in terms of accessibility? Rick Hansen weighs in
'A lot of the stats show deep unemployment, challenges and barriers still out there,' says Rick Hansen
When Canadian icon Rick Hansen was just 15 years old, a pickup truck accident left him a paraplegic. He went on to circle the entire planet in his wheelchair and raise millions of dollars for people living with disabilities.
It's been almost 30 years since Hansen completed the Man in Motion tour — but how far has the province come since he finished the tour at B.C. Place Stadium in front of thousands of inspired fans?
"There are strong disparities between people with disabilities and the general population, and a lot of the stats show deep unemployment, challenges and barriers still out there," Hansen told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's B.C. Almanac.
And more recently, an Angus Reid poll found that many Canadians are sympathetic to employers who choose not to hire people living with disabilities.
"50 per cent of Canadians thought it was acceptable to see disabilities in hiring as high-risk, and should be cautious," said Hansen. "That's an urban myth that is a legacy from generations ago."
B.C. disability subsidies
While finding stable employment remains a huge barrier for many people with disabilities, there are government subsidies to help offset some of the financial constraints.
But in B.C., critics say funding is not nearly high enough to cover the rising costs of living.
As of Sept. 1, 2016, British Columbians with disabilities receive a $983-per-month subsidy from the government. The figure was raised from $906; however, with changes the government also made to the bus pass program, the increase only resulted in an extra $25 per month for public transit users.
The government also scrapped a $66-per-month transportation subsidy that more than 20,000 British Columbians with disabilities were receiving when the new rates went in.
- B.C. scraps annual bus pass fee for persons with disabilities
- Disability increase amounts to $11 extra per month for 20,000 British Columbians
At the time, director of Disability Alliance BC Jane Dyson said the new rates were inadequate for people in the province to be able to live with dignity.
But Minister of Social Development Michelle Stilwell says progress was made.
"The ability for me to raise the rates by $25 as well as change the way we distribute the transportation allowance really enabled more people across the board to have [greater access to transportation]," she said.
"Prior to the change, 45,000 people in the province were not receiving that support, even though they had transportation needs."
Much like Hansen, Stilwell began using a wheelchair after an accident left her paralyzed below the waist. She has similarly used athletics as a way to raise awareness for people living with disabilities, and has won gold medals in the last three Paralympic Games.
And while the changes she's made to the disability subsidy have been highly criticized, Hansen says they should not be overlooked — even though there's room for improvement.
"Any time someone has taken a barrier and shifted a policy and made progress, it really should be recognized and applauded," he said.
"At the same time, that gives us permission to say what have we missed, and where do we have to go from here."
Bursting through barriers
Hansen says in B.C. and in the rest of Canada, the built environment continues to be a widespread issue.
The Rick Hansen Foundation is currently running a campaign called Access4All, which offers grants up to $30,000 to Canadian youth and community leaders who want to embark on projects that make public spaces more accessible.
"The built environment is one of the most fundamental platforms by which we build an accessible and inclusive society," Hansen said.
"We're asking youth to break down barriers ... big social movements need the youth of our country to be fully aware, engaged and champions of change."
For more information, visit the Rick Hansen Foundation.
With files from CBC's BC Almanac
To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: How far has B.C. come in terms of accessibility? Rick Hansen weighs-in