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Karin Mertins (right), Chair of Grand Erie’s Accessibility Committee, welcomes Rick Hansen Foundation ambassador Mike Greer (foreground) and the Foundation’s regional consultant Diane Talbot-Schoenhoff.

Partnership with Rick Hansen Foundation School Program Brings New Resources to Classrooms

“I’m not disabled; the built environment is disabled.”

Mike Greer, an ambassador with the Rick Hansen Foundation, made this statement during a recent presentation to Grand Erie administrators, and it’s a reality he’s reminded of on a regular basis. Greer has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) and uses a wheelchair to give him more independence. He gets around just fine – it’s the rest of the world that is working to catch up with him through building design and urban environments which allow all citizens access.

“We have a long way to go to be a truly accessible world, and not just in terms of design and architecture,” he notes. “We also need to change the thinking around accessibility and ensure we’re all part of the same conversation.”

Greer is a natural ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, which envisions a world without the physical and social boundaries that can prevent Canadians with disabilities from participating fully in their communities. Hansen is famous for his Man In Motion World Tour, the 26-month, 34-country, 40,000 kilometre wheelchair trip around the world. Completed in 1987, the tour raised awareness of the potential individuals with disabilities, and funds SCI research, cure and care. Greer got to see Hansen on that famous tour and continues to be inspired by his powerful message.

“It’s a timeless message that we can do anything we want as long as the environment lets us,” he said.

Greer’s visit to Grand Erie kicks off an exciting partnership which brings a wealth of resources to the classroom. Grand Erie schools now have access to curriculum-linked lesson plans that teach students about different abilities, accessibility and inclusion. Teacher toolkits include ideas for implementing “barrier buster” projects that are hands-on and empower students to make a tangible difference. Schools can also connect with RHF Ambassadors like Greer to arrange presentations that help bring these concepts to students in a powerful, thought-provoking way. As added professional development, the resources also include instructional materials and guidelines for teachers based in Universal Design for Learning to engage every student through supporting diverse learning needs.

“The Rick Hansen Foundation School Program (RHFSP) supports critical thinking, and examining problems from different angles to find solutions that work for everyone,” said Diane Talbot-Schoenhoff, regional consultant with the RHF School Program who has been assisting Grand Erie’s Accessibility Committee in bringing the partnership to the Board. “The ripple effect is more empathetic thinking as we look at things through new lenses.”

Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan includes Equity as one of its pillars, and the partnership with RHFSP supports accessibility practices which help students, families and staff feel safe, welcome, and included. Teachers can access the resources through the Rick Hansen Foundation’s website, using school-specific logins.

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