'Man in Motion' Rick Hansen says more incentives needed to design accessible buildings

Rick Hansen says a program celebrating accessibility could encourage building designers to create more inclusive spaces. And a report released Friday suggests a large number of Canadians support a LEED-style program to rate building accessibility.

Hansen wants a program that celebrates, certifies design of inclusive spaces

Rick Hansen, CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, is calling for a program that celebrates and certifies accessible buildings, patterned on one that certifies buildings for green design. (CP)

Canada's Man in Motion Rick Hansen says creating a program for celebrating and certifying accessible buildings — patterned on one that certifies buildings for environmental design — could encourage building designers to create more inclusive spaces.

And a report released Friday suggests a large number of Canadians agree.  

"Canadians are really behind us in the push for human rights, accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities," said Hansen, the CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation.

A report released Friday in partnership with the foundation and the Angus Reid Institute suggests 86 per cent of Canadians support a LEED-style program to rate building accessibility. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is one of the most popular green building certification programs used worldwide. 

That type of system could raise the bar for buildings with accessible design beyond what's required by law, Hansen says.

"We need really strong legislation to protect Canadians with disabilities, to reflect Canadians attitudes that accessibility is a human right," he said.

"But minimum standards of compliance only get us to certain levels. And what we really want is a really inclusive and accessible environment," said Hansen, a wheelchair athlete who first made headlines with his Man In Motion World Tour, which stretched from May of 1985 to May of 1987 and raised $26 million dollars for spinal-cord research. 

Rick Hansen on the Great Wall of China in 1986. The Canadian wheelchair athlete's Man In Motion World Tour raised funds and awareness hoping to create a world without barriers for people with disabilities. (Neal Ulevich/The Associated Press)

Laws such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which came into effect in 2005 specified that barriers to accessibility must be eliminated by 2025. It also created the Ontario Accessibility Directorate to enforce compliance.

The federal government recently announced that it too plans to introduce accessibility legislation across the country.

But Hansen said it's important to move beyond what legislation requires. 

"We need to create a next level of certification where people can be inspired to innovate, above and beyond codes which vary between jurisdictions," he said.

Maayan Ziv, founder of the Access Now website, says certification would celebrate good design. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Maayan Ziv founded Access Now, a crowd-sourced website that identifies places in Toronto that are accessible to those with disabilities and those that are not.

She says she's heard the the idea of a certification for buildings that have been designed with accessibility in mind come up in consultations held by the Ontario government.

"What a certification model does is celebrate, identify and showcase to the community businesses that have done a great job at being inclusive," Ziv said. "It's not difficult and they are out there. It begins with thinking about inclusion at the beginning and not something you tack on later."

But the Angus Reid Institute report found that while 92 per cent of Canadians support accessibility efforts they consider the cost of either designing fully accessible new buildings or retrofitting existing building as a serious obstacle to making that ideal a reality.

The institute conducted an online survey from Oct. 31 to Nov. 7 with what it describes as a representative, randomized sample of 1,330 Canadian adults.

Ing Wong-Ward, associate director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, says designing accessible buildings shouldn't be a burden or afterthought. (Courtesy Centre for Independent Living in Toronto)

Ing Wong-Ward, the associate director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, says the idea that designing an accessible building is costly is an unfortunate perception.

"It is seen as being burdensome by architects and engineers and not as something that can be a potential creative challenge," said Wong-Ward, who points to Frank Gehry's design for the Art Gallery of Ontario as an example of excellent accessible design.

"This is a bit of a culture -- that we still see that making barrier-free design about being for one part of the population. That we see it as a specialty item; that we see it as an accommodation." 

And Hansen says there is a sound business case for designing new buildings with accessibility in mind.

According to demographic projections, due to an aging population one in five Canadians will have some level of disability by 2030.

"That's a big number. Everyone will be affected in some way by disability," said Hansen.


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