Building an Inclusive Economy

Is your building or business really accessible?

When Sean Crump goes out for dinner or drinks, he’ll always call ahead to confirm that the venue is wheelchair accessible. But even when the reply is “no problem,” he’ll often discover on arrival that there’s a step or two to get in the door, that all the tables are high, or there is no accessible washroom or the washroom is located down a flight of stairs. “That kind of puts a damper on the night,” says Sean, 32, who is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair.

A competitive swimmer, avid canoeist and outdoorsman before he broke his neck in a diving accident at the age of 19, Sean recalls that after the accident, universal design became the only thing that mattered, in terms of his social life. “It played a huge role in my ability to engage with the community,” says the head chair and CEO of Universal Access, a Calgary-based consulting company that certifies locations for accessibility based on universal design standards used around the world.

Once a business is certified, Universal Access markets that certification out to the community and to organizations that serve older adults and people with disabilities. The company also offers training to certified businesses’ staff members on engaging with people with disabilities, because “accessibility isn’t just the built environment, but also how somebody feels within that environment,” says
Sean, who worked as an accessibility consultant before founding Universal Access nearly a year ago.

He believes that Calgarians with disabilities and older Calgarians should be able to go anywhere they want. He started his company because he thought “it was really important to ensure the community knew there were these businesses that were trying to take that extra step and ensure they were truly inclusive,” he recalls, noting that Canada is one of the few developed countries without a universal design standard for buildings and spaces such as park pathways and outdoor playgrounds. (Canada is now in process of developing a design standard under the direction of Kent Hehr, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities).

Universal Access works with a  number of strategic partners. One such partnership is with Snap Squad, which offers 3D imaging that allows people to take virtual tours of spaces and see their accessibility features before they go there. Currently, Universal Access is working toward a partnership with Tourism Calgary and Travel Alberta to create accessible travel itineraries for travelers with disabilities, listing hotels, restaurants and other venues, “to ease the burden of trying to figure it out for themselves.”

While Universal Access is not quite one year old, the company is already making its mark, winning the REAP Community Economy Leader Award, presented by Thrive at the REAP Calgary (Respect for the Earth and All People) Be Local Awards last week ‘to a REAP member that is building a thriving, resilient and inclusive economy for all.’

As a community leader, “we’re paving the way to create a more inclusive community, where everybody can enjoy the community they are a part of – they can now do it with confidence,” Sean says. “It creates a more inclusive community for Calgary, not only as a tourist destination, but for Calgary’s entire population to be living a fuller life. We  are extremely honored not only to have won and been nominated for this award – it’s something we strive for. What the award represents, is the reason we exist.”

Universal Access plans to expand throughout Alberta in 2018 and into other provinces by 2019. Eventually, Sean is looking to take his company international “as experts in international universal design standards.”
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