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Rick Hansen continues to make moves building an inclusive and accessible country for the next generation

Paralympian, activist and founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation Rick Hansen is seen in this photo. (GILDA FURGIUELE)

In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, WE asked remarkable Canadians the question: What are you doing to make our country a more caring and compassionate place?

In 1985, Rick Hansen wheeled around the world to raise awareness and funds for his life’s mission: to build a world where people with disabilities can live to their full potential.

The history of Rick’s success as an athlete competing on the world stage is well-documented. But this career, which includes six medals won between 1980 and 1984 as a Paralympian and a coveted spot in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, came after Rick became the first person with a disability to obtain a degree in Physical Education from the University of British Columbia. Point being, Rick’s status as a forerunner in the world of competitive sports has never been motivated by a simple goal to win; it stems from an attitude of anything is possible.

Surrounded by friends and mentors encouraging him to see that every person on earth has a right to dream big–and the potential to turn these dreams into real-life achievements–Rick set out to change the narrative around people living with disabilities.

Today, Rick is the proud leader of his own foundation. His goal? Make Canada fully accessible by 2050.

To forge the future he sees for his ideal Canada, Rick is empowering others to identify barriers in their communities and find innovative solutions. “Whether it’s visible or invisible, find an accessibility barrier in your community,” Rick insists. “Take the initiative to set a goal–be it joining a team, volunteering your time or raising money.”

A foundation dedicated to increasing public dialogue around disability issues (which includes awarding municipalities grant money to improve on its accessible spaces), the Rick Hansen Foundation is seizing Canada’s 150th birthday as an opportunity to stir up even more conversation.

While the country is buzzing with talk of historic achievements and future goals, the foundation is giving up to $30,000 to Canadian schools and community groups to use toward projects that further the development of infrastructure needed to eliminate physical barriers for disabled people.

As we near July 1st, Rick is feeling optimistic. “I’m encouraged to see Canadians identifying projects that include additions such as ramps to make schools, playgrounds and libraries more accessible; installing lifts to the aquatic centre in their community and adding sensory features to public parks to enhance the experience and wayfinding for people who are blind and deaf.”

Outside of its plans related to Canada’s big day, the Rick Hansen Foundation is celebrating an anniversary of its own. This year in March, the Man in Motion Tour marks 30 years since the completion of a two-year tour stretched across 34 countries, over 4 continents. By its end, the tour had raised $$26-million in donations, transformed the world’s perception on disabilities and solidified Rick’s mission in life.

Read on to learn what inspired Rick to pay it forward and become a pioneering change-maker, working to better the future of Canada.

Q&A

Why is “we” stronger than “me?”

We are all interconnected, relying on each other as a global society, as a family and a community. “We” reflects and respects our diversity as human beings and implies that together we are stronger. “We” bring different points of views and perspectives that exceed individual talents manifested in isolation. “We” also implies a responsibility to help each other–to be collaborative and compassionate.

What is the kindest action you’ve been on the receiving end of, and what about the gesture touched you personally?

Mentorship has been a huge gift in my life. My mentor, Stan Stronge, took me under his wing and helped me shift my attitude to see possibilities at a very challenging time after my injury. He changed my life by encouraging me to be a part of wheelchair basketball, helping me find affordable housing in Vancouver when I went to school and showed me how to access grants to fund my wheelchair equipment. He even helped me get a summer job at the B.C. Wheelchair Sports Association. He was always kind and compassionate. Stan inspired me to develop a sense of social responsibility and encouraged me to pay it forward.

Fill in the blank: Moving forward into the next 150 years, our country needs [blank] in order to build a more caring and compassionate Canada.

Difference makers.

We need every citizen to believe that they are champions and difference makers with a responsibility to play small or large roles in making Canada and the world a better place. Inclusivity is key, and we need more people committed to respect and honour the diversity of our country.

Nominate one person you believe is working to positively change the future of Canada.

Trent Seymour is a youth and a barrier busting change-maker. I visited Trent at the hospital as he was battling the life threatening consequences of spinal cord injury. I have watched him transform from being a victim of unfortunate circumstances into a person who is focusing on ability, not disability. Trent pursues life to the fullest, and he is becoming the next generation of young barrier busters. With determination, Trent has become an accessibility expert and an Ambassador at the Foundation. I’m proud to see Trent share his story of hope and inspiration with thousands of youth. In doing so, he is encouraging his peers to overcome both visible and invisible challenges, so that they can in turn learn, grow and make a difference in their world.

Describe the core values of your ideal Canada.

My ideal Canada is a country where people are healthy, and we can all live in an inclusive, respectful society, within a clean environment.

What small action have you taken in present day to help secure a brighter future for our country tomorrow?

As a birthday present to mark Canada’s 150th, the Rick Hansen Foundation is awarding grants of up to $30,000 to schools and community groups across Canada, so that everyone can participate in [building] an inclusive country.