The concept of National Access Awareness Week was originally developed by Rick Hansen after his Man-In-Motion World Tour. The idea is to bring together in a spirit of partnership voluntary organizations of persons with disabilities, business, labour and governments to affect meaningful changes in the daily living of persons with disabilities. There are now 23 National Partners and 8 corporate sponsors participating in National Access Awareness Week. The corporate sponsors not only commit financial resources, but are also committed to employment issues, access to goods and services and portrayal of persons with disabilities in their advertising. The objectives of the Week are to: 1) assess the accessibility of services and facilities, 2) set measurable goals, 3) make practical improvements, and 4) celebrate achievements.

Harold Mathes from Vancouver, BC, believes National Access Awareness Week has great potential. “I get very excited when I set businesses like McDonald’s and Esso involved. It makes me think ‘Wow, there is hope for change’.”

The Week is not a fundraiser. It is a grass roots oriented tool for social change. It is locally and provincially based and supported by a national executive committee. It is a time to look forward and ask “What can be done to ensure the integration of persons with disabilities in Canadian society.”

The main focus is on the issues of education, Transportation, Housing, Employment, and Recreation. National Access Awareness Week is intended to raise public awareness of the barriers, to encourage communities to assess the level of accessibility in their jurisdiction, and to plan for the removal of barriers. “Access” means more than just removing physical barriers; it means changes in attitudes and support that allows all people with visible or invisible disabilities to be part of community life. People with learning, developmental, and psychiatric disabilities or other invisible impairments should not be forgotten when we strive for equal access.

The work to remove barriers must continue year-round. Tangible accomplishments such as improved transportation services or increased employment occur when there is long-term strategy to address them. A progress reporting system was established to assess movement forward and to create challenging goals for the upcoming years.

In 1989, over 400 communities participated in National Access Awareness Week activities. Equal access and full participation for everyone CAN be achieved if all segments of the community including business, the service sector and school boards work together toward the goals of National Access Awareness Week.