Unlocking Canada’s Potential: Innovating for Accessibility and Inclusion

The RBC Foundation and the Rick Hansen Foundation team up to support accessible enhancements across the country

One in four Canadians has at least one disability, and this figure will rise as the country’s population ages, says the Canadian Survey on Disability. It also reports that 72 per cent of those with disabilities experience barriers in their daily lives, like when entering or exiting public spaces that lack handrails and ramps, or using sidewalks too narrow for wheelchairs.

Though the employment rate of people with disabilities has improved overall, less than half of those with a severe disability are employed—a startling statistic that means there’s room for improvement when it comes to accessibility in Canada.

Supportive partnership

With this in mind, the RBC Foundation has committed $1.25 million to the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF), a Canadian charity working to eliminate physical and attitudinal barriers for persons with disabilities. RHF’s founder, Rick Hansen, has been dedicated to disability advocacy since becoming paralyzed in a car crash as a teenager.

The strong relationship between RBC and RHF began in 1985 during Hansen’s RBC-sponsored Man In Motion World Tour, a 26-month, 40,000-kilometre wheelchair trip across 34 countries that raised $26 million. Last year, the RBC Foundation donated $250,000 to support RHF’s Making Canada Accessible for All program, helping launch a new registry for RHF’s Accessibility CertificationTM (RHFAC) program.

Considerate initiatives

As part of RBC’s goal to support the equal participation of all ages and abilities, RBC works with experts “to identify, prevent and remove barriers, and further strengthen the inclusivity of RBC spaces,” says Doug Jeoffroy, RBC’s senior vice-president, global corporate real estate.

Investing inclusively

Canada tends to be a decade behind the needs of the disability community, partially because it takes so long to change building codes. But the Accessible Canada Act aims to change that, creating a barrier-free country by 2040.

“The act offers a broadened understanding of who people with disabilities really are—this includes people with vision or hearing loss and the neurodiverse community”, says Brad McCannell, vice-president of access and inclusion at RHF. “Meaningful access is about more than a checklist; it requires thinking about a person’s whole experience,” he adds—“for example, considering handrails not only as physical support, but as a wayfinding method for people with vision loss.”

The RBC Foundation’s donation will help support three efforts by RHF that offer meaningful access and inclusivity beyond minimum building code compliance. 200 globally recognized RHF accessibility ratings will be conducted each year to significantly enhance inclusivity in Canada’s built environment, and support its accessibility training and education courses for industry professionals. The donation will also benefit RHF’s Accessibility Professional Network, the first-of-its-kind membership network that brings together professionals, students and all who are interested in advancing accessibility. “There is a strong commitment to accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities at RBC,” says Mike Reid, vice-president, resource development at the RHF.

“Just as importantly, the donation will help create a cultural shift, enabling RBC to make changes within its organization”, says McCannell. “That kind of leadership is what we as a community really need—the industry to step up. RBC has been doing that for decades, but this is a big leap forward.”

Learn more in the RBC Accessibility Plan, which outlines RBC’s commitments to remove accessibility barriers.