It’s not enough to get people with physical disabilities through the door, they must be able to fully function in the building as employees before Canada has achieved an acceptable level of accessibility, says Man in Motion Rick Hansen.

The Rick Hansen Foundation released a study Friday that showed one in five Canadians – almost nine million people – will live with a disability by 2030.

That’s up from about four million Canadians today and highlights the need for a concerted effort to ensure full accessibility in public spaces, he said.

“As a matter of fact, the cost of confining policies and barriers today are not sustainable in a good, economically sound model for a country that wants to be the best country in the world.”

Hansen, speaking on CTV’s Your Morning, said it’s “really reassuring” that the report found 92 per cent of Canadians believe accessibility is a human right for people with disabilities.

“That’s the Canada we want to build and it’s in our constitution. But then the concern is there’s a gap.”

That gap comes between the ideal and the reality. Ontario requires that any barriers to accessibility must be eliminated by 2025 and the federal government recently announced plans for accessibility legislation.

But Hansen, who was paralyzed from the waist down when he was thrown from the back of a pickup at 15, says inclusive design should be the standard for new buildings. That’s a leap beyond current standards of accessibility, which mean people with disabilities must be able to get into a building, to a point where they can work inside.

The foundation wants to see buildings rated for their accessibility, similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program that certifies and celebrates green building.

The study, done by the Angus Reid Institute, found 86 per cent of respondents support that idea.

“We have to measure where we’re at. We can’t just keep talking about it and then accept where we currently are,” said Hansen. That means setting reasonable goals and deadlines so that there is a sense of urgency.

“The country needs us to become accessible so that we can not only embed our human rights but we can go beyond that and drive the economy and become successful,” he said.

“Everyone counts and no one should be left behind.”

Nine per cent of Canadians surveyed consider themselves to have a physical disability, while 13 per cent say they face mobility or physical challenges that can present difficulties, but don’t see themselves as having a disability.

Hansen says it’s commonly believed accessibility comes at a prohibitive price “and yet when you take the myths away, it’s not that costly and, of course, there are some costs to build the country that you want but then the financial benefits and the social benefits are staggering and they are way beyond the modest costs it would take to get to the goal.”

Hansen gained worldwide attention during his Man in Motion tour, when he wheeled more than 40,000 km through 34 countries between 1985 and 1987, raising $26 million for spinal cord research and initiatives. The next year he launched the Rick Hansen Foundation, which raises money and advocates for people with disabilities.

The survey data was gathered from a random sample of 1,330 Canadians. It was released one day before the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3.

The study also found:

  • 95 per cent of those surveyed said it would be very or moderately important that a new public building under construction in their area be accessible to people with physical disabilities;
  • 46 per cent of Canadians surveyed view the difficulty of renovating older buildings, as well as cost (35 per cent) as the two biggest obstacles to addressing the accessibility gap;
  • Canadians rank affordability and accessibility as their top two considerations for a new public building in their area;
  • Half of Canadians agree with the statement: “It’s understandable that employers feel it is risky to hire people with physical disabilities.”