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Going “beyond the code” to make Canada more accessible

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

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.

“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 enable RHF to conduct 200 globally recognized accessibility ratings each year, 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.

“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.

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.”

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