Speaking Notes for the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, How Accessibility is Driving Innovation: Launch of in-person Accessibility Consultations at Abilities Centre August 23, 2016 Whitby, Ontario

Hello everyone. It’s my pleasure to be here with you at Whitby’s state-of-the-art Abilities Centre. What a wonderful facility! Wouldn’t it be great if we had centres like this in communities across Canada?

This space and this community are true example of what we can do when we start from a place of inclusion and keep opportunity in mind.

I was deeply honoured to be named the first federal Minister dedicated to persons with disabilities.

The creation of this cabinet position makes it very clear that people with disabilities are important to our government and that we deserve to be considered in every decision around the Cabinet table.

We must consider the needs of Canadians with disabilities in every aspect of society. We need to create services—workplaces—transit systems and communities that consider accessibility from the outset.

We want to move from a model where accessibility is the exception and accommodations come after we discover barriers to one in which we incorporate accessibility—in every sense of the word – into everything we build and use.

This shift – both monumental and simple at once – is a game changer.

To start—we need a legal framework that protects and promotes accessibility.

Right now—within our current legal framework, people with disabilities can only defend their rights after they’ve been violated.

The current system unfairly burdens individual Canadians to identify a barrier or instances of discrimination which are then brought forward for examination and resolution. Needless to say—this vigilance is exhausting, prohibitively expensive, and I know you agree with me that it is fundamentally wrong.

That’s exactly why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked me to lead a process on planned accessibility legislation.

In order to create relevant and robust legislation—I need to get input from Canadians like you. I appreciate you taking time to be here – to help us get this right.

In a few minutes, I look forward to speaking with several outstanding “Accessibility Innovators” about their take on what an accessible Canada means. These young Canadians are demonstrating how accessibility can drive innovation, and create a new way of doing things. Better ways of creating and thinking about accessibility. I have said this before and expect you will hear it from our Accessibility Innovators as well – when systems and spaces are accessible, every Canadian wins. Barriers are bad for business.

When asked about Fred Astaire’s dance ability, Ginger Rogers once responded that she had to do everything that he did, but backwards and in heels. Imagine the creativity that persons with disabilities must employ every day to navigate buildings, products and services that were not designed with their needs in mind. Development of creative products, ways of doing things and – ultimately – a different way of looking at the world. These young innovators have done exactly that: tackled barriers that could otherwise impede people with disabilities from easily and seamlessly participating in their communities.

Their work takes innovation, drive, determination and yes, creativity. In fact, I find their work tremendously inspirational.

I am honoured be share a bit about them with you.

Maayan Ziv is founder and CEO of AccessNow, an on-line platform that uses crowdsourcing to pin-point the accessibility status of locations on an interactive map. Living with muscular dystrophy, Maayan is motivated to create a more accessible world.

Micah Rakoff Bellmana student of Carleton’s Industrial Design program, has seen his invention called Lift taking the top prize in this year’s IDeA competition through which Ontario’s university undergraduate students compete to come up with inventions that help remove barriers for people with disabilities. His innovation is a height-adjustable, movable table with integrated storage that provides home cooks a comfortable and flexible work surface in the kitchen. The height adjustability allows Lift to be used as a counter at a suitable height for users of any level of ability. This device strives to give more freedom to older individuals and people with disabilities in the kitchen.

Quayce Thomas, an entrepreneur and architecture student at Carleton University, saw his app take the top prize in the IDeA competition in 2015. Timsle is an app that promotes healthy active living using social networks. This “accountability network” helps people with disabilities to meet academic or other goals and prevent depression.

I can’t wait to hear what these inspiring young people have to say.

Cette discussion sur l’accessibilité est tellement importante et comme tous les voyages – elle pourrait nous entraîner sur une foule d’avenues. L’accessibilité veut-elle dire rendre les immeubles accessibles? Ou s’assurer que les programmes et services sont réellement accessibles pour tous les Canadiens? Ou encore veut-elle dire éliminer les obstacles à l’emploi pour les Canadiens handicapés? J’ai quelques idées sur ce qu’elle signifie pour moi.

Premièrement ­– l’accessibilité veut dire donner des choix aux gens.

Lorsque les Canadiens s’impliquent dans leur collectivité ou dans leur milieu de travail ou communiquent avec leur gouvernement – ces interactions devraient être conçues pour tenir compte des besoins de tout le monde. Les obstacles à l’accessibilité limitent le choix : « Je ne peux pas… », « Elle n’est pas en mesure de… », « Ce serait bien s’il pouvait… »

Je crois que les Canadiens ne devraient pas avoir à surmonter des obstacles pour faire partie d’un monde que la société considère comme la normalité. Tout le monde devrait se sentir membre à part entière de la société et avoir des options pour participer de façon égale. Si je veux conduire un autobus – entrer dans un immeuble par la porte avant – ou consulter un site Web – c’est mon choix. Et je veux avoir la possibilité de le faire.

Deuxièmement – l’accessibilité veut dire éliminer les préjugés au sujet de l’incapacité – notamment pour les Canadiens ayant une incapacité qui n’est pas apparente pour tout le monde. Nous devons nous concentrer sur le potentiel et la contribution des gens – pas sur leurs limites. Changer les perceptions est une dure bataille – mais je sais que nous pouvons relever le défi.

And lastly—I want all Canadians to see accessibility and inclusion as the keys to productivity. Accessibility is good for business. Barriers are bad for business. That might be a good hashtag?

Canadians with disabilities are an untapped resource who can offer so much to our communities and our economy. The Government of Canada is committed to supporting Canadians with disabilities and helping to create environments where they can be independent and participate equally in their communities and workplaces. Removing barriers and creating opportunities for a more active and prosperous society is good for our collective health and for our economy.

When I was growing up—my world was not as accessible as it is now.

I can tell you that I learned some of the most important lessons in my life by considering my choices. I learned that I had a right to be accommodated. I learned that asking for help was not a weakness—in fact it was a strength.

And I learned that there was always another way of doing things if you couldn’t do something the way that it had always been done. Today we call this innovation.

Who better to inspire innovation than people who innovate every day of their lives?

Designing the physical environment, programs, products and services in a way that accommodates people with varying needs can only lead to bigger and better ideas.

That’s what I think about accessibility. But that’s just one small voice—I want to hear from our innovators here today, I want to hear from all of you—and from all Canadians.

As many of you already know—in July we launched our online consultation at Canada.ca/AccessibleCanada. To date—we have received close to 700 responses, ranging from stakeholder organizations, employers, families and people with disabilities themselves. And the rate of participation continues to grow.

Les Canadiens ont hâte de raconter leur histoire et nous avons hâte de les entendre.

Aujourd’hui, nous franchissons un autre grand pas dans notre discussion sur l’accessibilité.

Augmenter l’accessibilité est non seulement la bonne chose à faire – mais cela présente aussi des avantages sociaux et économiques pour tous les Canadiens.

Le Canada est en bonne voie de devenir un chef de file mondial en matière d’innovation dans la prestation de services – la technologie et la conception universelle. Ensemble – nous transformerons la réalité des Canadiens handicapés.

And today I’m here to celebrate the launch of our in-person consultations on accessibility legislation.

These consultations will be starting soon in cities across the country and continue throughout the fall. And I am looking forward to hearing from all Canadians.

On November 1st — I’ll also be hosting a one-day national forum for young Canadians with disabilities and those involved with disability and accessibility issues. This will give young people a chance to share their ideas on accessibility—to showcase their accomplishments—and to inspire other youth.

The bottom line is our government is eager to get your input. So I’m asking you and all Canadians to join the conversation.

You can participate online or find a session near you at Canada.ca/Accessible-Canada.

We need your ideas, your insight and your advice.

Together we will reshape the legislative landscape for Canadians with disabilities.

Together we will make history!

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