RBC Foundation’s $1.25 million donation to the Rick Hansen Foundation will help support accessible enhancements to the built environment.

One in four Canadians has at least one disability.

This figure, from the Canadian Survey on Disability, continues to rise given the country’s aging population. The survey also reports that 72% of persons with disabilities experience barriers to access in their daily lives, such as when entering or exiting public spaces, which may lack handrails and ramps, or using sidewalks, which may be too narrow for wheelchairs.

While the survey notes that the employment rate among persons with disabilities has improved overall, it found that less than half of those with a severe disability are employed—a startling statistic that implies there’s room for improvement in making Canada more accessible.

With this goal in mind, the RBC Foundation has committed to a $1.25 million donation to the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF), a registered 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 relationship between RHF and RBC goes back to 1985, when RBC sponsored Hansen’s “Man in Motion World Tour”, a 26-month, 34-country, 40,000 km wheelchair trip that raised $26 million. Last year, the RBC Foundation provided a donation of $250,000 to support RHF’s “Making Canada Accessible for All” program. This funding launched a new registry for RHF’s rating and certification program, which certified 25 professionals and 120 buildings.

Rick Hansen at the “Man in Motion” 10th Anniversary Royal Bank of Canada event Rick Hansen at the “Man in Motion” 10th Anniversary Royal Bank of Canada event

“We’re proud of our strong relationship with The Rick Hansen Foundation,” says Doug Jeoffroy, RBC’s Senior VP, Global Corporate Real Estate. “As part of the bank’s goal to improving accessibility and supporting the full and equal participation of all persons, our design and occupancy teams strive to go ‘beyond the code’ across new construction and renovations. We continue to make ongoing accessibility improvements and are working with industry leaders, built environment professionals, as well as employees and clients with disabilities to identify, prevent and remove accessibility barriers and further strengthen the inclusivity of RBC spaces.”

“Meaningful access is about more than a checklist,” says Brad McCannell, VP of Access and Inclusion at RHF. “It requires thinking about a person’s whole experience.”

One example of this mentality shift, says McCannell, is thinking of handrails not only as physical support, but as a wayfinding method for people with vision loss.

McCannell says Canada tends to be a decade behind the needs of the disability community, partially because it takes so long to change building codes.

“One of the heartening things to come out of the Accessible Canada Act is a broadened understanding of who people with disabilities really are—this includes people with vision loss, hearing loss, and the neurodiverse community. All these things affect the built environment.” The Accessible Canada Act is a federal law, implemented in 2019, which aims to create a barrier-free country by 2040. This includes ensuring buildings and transportation methods are comfortably accessible.

The RBC Foundation’s gift will help support three areas of the RHF’s efforts toward meaningful access and inclusivity, beyond minimum building code compliance.

The donation will help enable RHF to conduct 200 globally recognized accessibility ratings each year, based on Universal Design principles, significantly enhancing inclusivity in Canada’s built environment. It will also help support RHF’s certification training program for industry professionals, expanding its curriculum to reach more than 2320 professionals. In addition, it will help benefit RHF’s Accessibility Professional Network, which brings together consultants and experts.

Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification assessors at Rick Hansen Secondary School Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification assessors at Rick Hansen Secondary School

“There is a strong commitment to accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities at RBC,” says Mike Reid, VP Resource Development at the Rick Hansen Foundation. “It blends together nicely in terms of the Canada that we want. We’re excited about working with RBC on allowing our innovations and programs to benefit the bank and its employees, as well as from a customer perspective.”

In June 2023, RBC published its RBC Accessibility Plan, which outlines its commitments to remove accessibility barriers. These include training employees on disability awareness, making its website and mobile platforms user-friendly, and reviewing waiting area proportions in branches. RBC also established a central Accessibility Office, which focuses on accessibility culture and improvements across the organization.

Rick Hansen speaks to students in Winnipeg, Manitoba Rick Hansen speaks to students in Winnipeg, Manitoba

By 2028, RBC Foundation’s donation will help to transform accessibility across Canada by facilitating the ability to conduct 1,000 Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification ratings nationwide, including government buildings, educating 3,750 professionals on meaningful accessibility, and enabling 400 members to join the Accessibility Professional Network. The goal is to help ensure Canadians with disabilities can fully participate in life within their communities.

McCannell says that while the donation will allow the Rick Hansen Foundation to make spaces more accessible, the cultural shift it enables is just as significant. “RBC Foundation isn’t just funding us, but also enabling RBC to make changes within its organization. That kind of leadership is what we as a community really need. We need the industry to step up. RBC has been doing that for decades, but this is a big leap forward.”

Meaningful Accessibility in Small Businesses

Nine million Canadian adults consider accessibility when deciding which business to visit.  Join us for a discussion with the Rick Hansen Foundation about steps you can take to make your business a more inclusive and welcoming space for all.  Embracing accessibility isn’t just about compliance, it’s about unleashing the economic power of the 1 in 4 Canadians living with a disability.

This webinar will be offered in English only with live French closed captioning.

Date: June 25, 2024

Time: 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT

Duration: 45minutes

Register Now >


This article originally appeared on News & Stories

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.