By Rebecca Riley

WE and the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) announced a new partnership to advocate for increased accessibility across Canada at a press conference on Nov. 15 at WE Day in Ottawa.

Craig Kielburger and Rick Hansen onstage at WE Day  Credit: Rebecca Riley
Craig Kielburger and Rick Hansen onstage at WE Day
Credit: Rebecca Riley

WE is a family of organizations that provides people with the tools to create social change and includes WE Charity (formerly Free the Children), Me to We and WE Day, which is their signature event for youth involved in their school programming.

RHF has developed a program to evaluate and promote accessibility across Canada. The program will be taught in the WE Schools curriculum in over 14,500 schools across Canada, the U.S. and the UK.

Through the program students will be taught how to identify barriers for people with disabilities and will be challenged to brainstorm solutions.  There has been a lack of discussion in classrooms about disability issues, and this program could help to raise a greater general awareness in the future.

According to the RHF website, “The Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification (RHFAC) is a LEED-style rating system that evaluates the accessibility of commercial, institutional, and multi-family residential buildings and sites.”

Rick Hansen, founder and CEO of RHF,  said at the press conference that this program aims to address a gap between common misconceptions around accessibility and the reality of how environments are built.

“When people think of new projects or buildings they often forget about how to we make them accessible. And so, just the actual awareness — because people think [accessibility is] normalized, that it just happens. But it doesn’t in our country,” Hansen shared.

In September WE opened their Global Learning Centre in Toronto — Hansen and his organization provided ideas for how to make the building accessible. WE has applied for its RHFA certification.

Craig Kielburger, co-founder of WE, added that this partnership will meet a demand in education. “The teachers are clamoring for this, ’cause we hear this from schools who are asking for this and they’re looking for these great, high quality resources.”

Hansen acknowledged a lack of public knowledge about how to implement accessibility.

“We have different ideas about what accessibility means — there are different legislations or different tool kits and that’s [confusing] for people,” he stated. “They often want to make the best choices but [wonder] where do we go that’s trusted, that has the best assessment to be able to know how to make things accessible for not just people in wheelchairs, but people with vision, mobility, or hearing or not so visible challenges. This is about access for all.”

Both Kielburger and Hansen concluded the press conference by sharing their hope that this program will help to make every building in Canada fully accessible within 30 years.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2017).