Graduates of a Nova Scotia Community College program starting this spring will be trained to help improve accessibility to buildings and properties for people with disabilities under a partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation.
A crowd gathered Thursday in the atrium at NSCC’s Institute of Technology campus on Leeds Street in Halifax to hear details of an announcement from college president Don Bureaux, Eastern Shore MLA and House Speaker Kevin Murphy and Hansen, a world-renowned and celebrated Paralympic athlete.
NSCC will be the second community college in the country to offer the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program, which trains people to analyze buildings and properties for accessibility — particularly for people with physical, sensory, learning and developmental disabilities — and to advise clients on how to meet or exceed accessibility standards.
Hansen, who was paralyzed from the waist down in 1973 at the age of 15 after he was thrown out of the back of a pickup truck, learned to play wheelchair basketball and nine years later won multiple medals in summer Paralympics and at the Pan Am Games in Halifax.
He went on to mount a 26-month Man in Motion tour, rolling more than 40,000 kilometres in a wheelchair through 34 countries. Hansen raised $26 million to bring awareness to disability issues and has raised hundreds of millions more since then to help fund research into spinal cord injuries.
Hansen said while Canada has made great strides in accessibility over the past 40 years, there’s a long way to go.
“There are massive numbers
of people with disabilities that are entering our community because of aging baby boomers,” he said.
“And . . . by 2036, one in five Canadians will have a mobility, a cognitive, a sensory or any kind of disability that would actually create challenges in the future, and so this is an imperative that we actually start moving faster to be more formal about the idea of becoming accessible.”
Hansen said he is working to get the training program, which includes a Canadian Standards Association test, into educational institutions across the country and hopes it will set a global standard for accessibility.
“We’re hoping that a number of the students that come through will make a career out of this in their training or in the work that they’re doing in the community,” he said. “Design and accessibility experts will be in hot demand.”
Murphy said the provincial government would be contributing just more than $87,000 to cover the tuition for the program’s first 20 participants.
They are expected to include designers, developers, builders and members of the disability community.
Four will also be trained to become program instructors.
Murphy, who became a quadriplegic in 1985 after injuring his spinal cord in a hockey accident, has operated several small businesses and also worked in the province as a peer counsellor for the Canadian Paraplegic Association. He also spent seven years as national solutions co-ordinator with the Rick Hansen Foundation, according to his legislature biography.
Last year, the province enacted new public and private-sector accessibility legislation and set aside $1.8 million to increase grants to help community buildings and small businesses become more accessible.
Even though the law sets a target of 2030 — 12years from now — to make the province accessible, Murphy said the government has made great progress.
“Relative to government’s reaction to many initiatives, we are moving at lightning speed on this file,” he said.
However, it’s important to press for further advances, because Nova Scotia has the highest rate of disabled citizens per capita in Canada, said Murphy.
“There’s still a tremendous amount of work to do to get us to that goal in 2030, but this represents a real milestone, because when you think about the life cycle of a building, these are generational-type changes. Just because there’s legislation doesn’t mean we can go out and magically see the business community change its way of doing business.”
Don Bureaux, president of NSCC, said the college has had a longstanding commitment to removing accessibility barriers.
“At the college, we have a clear mandate to help build the economy and quality of life for the province of Nova Scotia,” he said.
“This is just not only the right thing to do, it’s also going to be economically imperative for the province to ensure that everyone has access to all aspects of life, both personally and professionally.”
Although the first cohort of participants is being funded by the province, the course is expected to eventually attract paying students.
“I think there’ll be an absolute demand for this,” said Bureaux. “The hope is that this would be seen as a pilot project. Then in the future we can build and expand on this.”