In honour of National Access Awareness Week (NAAW) 2021, I can’t believe it’s been forty-six years since my injury, thirty-four years since Rick Hansen completed his history making – the Man In Motion World Tour. Thirty-one years since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in the US., twenty-nine years that the United Nations first recognized the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, and most recently the Accessible Canada Act became law in July 2019.

In Canada, it is estimated that between 15 to 20% of the population has a disability – a market larger than any other minority group in the country. With that each year during the last week in May, and first week in June, NAAW is meant to celebrate and promote the contributions of persons with disabilities and highlight the work done by individuals, communities, and workplaces to remove barriers to accessibility and to foster disability inclusion in Canada.

In keeping with the education, awareness, and advancements that have been made since NAAW was formalized, for many individuals and families, today’s modern cities and towns may be convenient and fascinating places for working and living, offering a great variety of opportunities and experiences. But for many individuals with disabilities, even after the histories outlined above, such built environments are full of uncertainties, anxieties, barriers and dangers.

So we have to ask ourselves why is accessibility so important for people with disabilities. For a person with limited mobility, vision or hearing loss, the physical environment can either enhance or limit their independence. People with disabilities encounter many barriers that prevent them from moving about freely, independently and safely. For individuals who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices, steps, stairs and doors may be obstacles. People who are deaf or experience hearing loss, blind and/or visually impaired are endangered by the absence of directional and safety features, that can be heard, felt, and/or touched. Many office buildings, community centres, parks and places of worship just to name a few have not been fully designed to welcome users with a variety of disabilities. In addition, public transportation systems, too are often not fully user-friendly to persons with disabilities.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, people with disabilities have almost gone unnoticed. When in fact, people with disabilities are CEO’s, politicians, homemakers, athletes, physicians, parents and children. They are also consumers in need of employment, education, housing, food, entertainment, recreation, clothing, financial services and travel.

Faced with these situations, the continuous education and awareness activities under the umbrella of NAAW, many organizations, companies and individuals are working towards “barrier-free” and/or “universal design”. These concepts and principles are a way of thinking that strives to design buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, ability, disability or other characteristics.

So with each year that we celebrate NAAW, many more facilities, services, and companies are making progress in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities. However, more work and ideas are required. Consequently, ongoing education is critical in order to effectively discuss the concepts and philosophies of accessibility, community inclusion and diversity. Keep up the good work!!