Brad Howcroft, chair of Guelph’s Barrier Free Committee (GBFC), says when it comes to accessibility, his community is definitely headed in the right direction.
The GBFC recently celebrated its Access Recognition Award (ARA) winners, those groups or individuals who go above and beyond to help create an accessible city.
“Everybody is working towards the goal of an accessible city and an accessible province,” Howcroft said. “I strongly feel that we’re getting there, but there is still work to do.”
The groups and individuals acknowledged by the GBFC have all demonstrated a willingness to go the extra mile when it comes to accessibility.
Waterloo-Wellington Regional Aphasia Program Participants and Care Partners was recognized for its Outstanding Contribution of a Group of Individuals, while The Guelph Enabling Garden Board of Directors and MyLife Counselling Guelph brought home awards for Outstanding Contribution of a Business.
Heidi Torreiter and Maddy Workman also won GBFC awards for their Outstanding Contribution of an Individual.
All in all, Howcroft said these awards not only show appreciation for the winners, but also demonstrate to the larger community that accessibility is something worth building towards.
“There’s been continual improvement,” Howcroft said. “But we need to continue at that scale of improvement.”
And that’s where the GBFC comes in.
The group works to help attain inclusion, equality, access, and independence for all persons with disabilities residing in or visiting Guelph by seeking ways of sharing potential solutions that are integrated, raise awareness, and effectively build healthy Barrier Free communities.
Howcroft, who lives with cerebral palsy, said even with the challenges he faces, a disability isn’t enough to keep him from participating in the community, and the GBFC helps ensure that everyone can participate.
But that relies on taking into consideration a lot of different perspectives, not to mention a wide range of support from colleagues.
“One person can’t do it alone,” Howcroft said. “It’s got to be a team effort.”
And that team speaks from experience, Howcroft said.
“Everybody on the committee has a different type of disability,” he said. “And sometimes in the past we’ve had caregivers on the committee, so they knew the other side of accessibility.”
The committee is able to bring its experiences and knowledge to the table when it comes to recognizing who in their community is making a push towards barrier-free living.
That includes things that might escape the public’s eye, like railings, or wheelchair ramps for those who need mobility assistance.
“When I go into a restaurant, it can be accessible for me,” Howcroft said. “But that same restaurant for someone in a wheelchair is a different story.”
“I’ve been in the game long enough, I know what to look for.”
And it’s an encouraging sign that so many businesses are putting accessibility at the forefront.
Ontario’s Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says that 2.6 million people in Ontario live with a disability. That is 24 per cent of the population.
But businesses who commit to accessibility sends a strong message that people with disabilities are welcome, making them more likely to attract those people – and their families.
The end result, the Ministry says, citing a 2018 report by U.S-based Accenture, is that companies that championed accessibility outperformed others. Revenues were 28 per cent higher, net income 200 per cent higher and profit margins 30 per cent higher.
If the economic benefits weren’t enough, Howcroft said these companies and individuals can also take pride in knowing that they helped make someone’s day a little brighter, and eased a bit of their burden.
“Anybody can put up a sign and say ‘our business is accessible,” Howcroft said. “But the ones that go the extra mile, those are the businesses and people that we give awards to.”
For the full list of winners, and to find out more about the Guelph Barrier Free committee, visit the GBFC website by clicking here.