30 May 2019

UAD Brings Wheelchairs into the Wilderness

This week (May 26-June 1) is National AccessAbility Week, so Canadians across the country are celebrating and promoting initiatives related to accessibility and inclusion. Although we have a long way to go to make our built environments fully accessible, we know it’s important to celebrate the work that is being done to make daily life more accessible for all.

The work of Stan Leyenhorst and Universal Access Design Inc. (UAD) is definitely something to be celebrated. Stan is the CEO of UAD and is an entrepreneur, an innovator, and a change-maker. Before founding UAD, Stan worked for the Rick Hansen Foundation for two years.

Stan is paralyzed from the chest down, meaning he faces the daily challenges of living in an environment that has been built for able bodied people — or Temporarily Able Bodied (TAB) people, as he reminds us.

Through UAD, Stan has turned his lived experience into consulting expertise and has been providing accessibility audits, design, and training services through his company for almost two years. Our team first connected with Stan in 2018 and supported him in launching UAD as a social enterprise. Read more about the early months of UAD’s and Urban Matters’ relationship here.

Building a team of accessibility experts

Since 2018, UAD has grown significantly. Stan has shifted from being an owner-operator to a manager of four sub-contractors and two employees. He has brought admin and logistical support onto his team and created strong working relationships with a number of highly qualified Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility CertifiedTM (RHFAC) professionals across the country. These RHFAC contractors support UAD on a project by project basis. UAD’s growth over the past year means its capacity to increase accessibility in the built environment while maximizing its social impact is expanding.

Urban Matters has supported UAD’s growth along the way. For Stan, UM’s support has allowed UAD to accelerate its vision for universal accessibility. He explains,

“UAD benefited from a strong partnership with UM to get the business built on a solid foundation in the first year. With this new acceleration effort, UAD is moving at a much faster pace towards achieving our vision of ‘Access for everyone, everywhere, all the time’. It has been so exciting to work with a visionary partner that sees possibilities for innovation when others only see barriers.”

As UAD’s team grows, so does its reach. Stan has been working with municipalities across Canada to create mobility master plans and he has led accessibility assessments in various communities and with a number of companies.  In addition to continuing to service a wide range of municipal clients, UAD has now provided accessibility assessments and advice that will make university campuses, non-profit service providers, and outdoor recreation facilities more accessible to people with disabilities

Most recently, UAD has moved beyond urban spaces, into the wild.

Braving the wilderness.

In early 2019, Stan was hired by BC Parks to do accessibility audits on campgrounds and day use areas throughout British Columbia. In the first few months of 2019, Stan led the development of a data capture application for the assessment teams to use.

Through the summer of this year, the assessment team will be visiting over 250 front-country campgrounds and day use areas around the province. The data capture work will lead to recommendations for enhancements and will feed a robust set of accessibility information for the BC Parks website so that visitors can know what level of accessibility to expect on arrival.

By bringing Stan into BC campgrounds, BC Parks is taking a lead in prioritizing accessibility. Leyenhorst explains why this is so important,

“It has been encouraging to work with BC Parks and see their proactivity in wanting to improve access in our parks. With Canada’s rapidly aging population, the number of people with disabilities is skyrocketing. It is so important for quality of life for people to be able to continue to enjoy outdoor recreation activities and be included when their family and friends go out to enjoy parks.”.

By improving the accessibility of BC campgrounds, BC Parks is moving in the direction UAD has envisioned: access for everyone, everywhere all of the time.

Another recent job had Stan assessing the Sea to Sky park and gondola near Squamish. Although this newly built facility already has a lot of great design features, Stan and his crew were engaged to help them find an even higher level of accessibility so that people with a full range of abilities can enjoy this special place.

Collaborating for Accessibility

Urban Matters’ Social Venture Developer, Jerome Lengkeek continues to learn through collaborations with UAD. Lengkeek reflects,

“It’s been an amazing journey with UAD. Our work together has helped Urban Matters to innovate and adapt how we work with social ventures. We get closely involved with them and spend the time needed to understand their individual needs. The model for what type of support is needed and on what schedule can vary significantly based on the entrepreneur. By meeting them where they are at our time is spent much more effectively and we can prepare the venture for rapid growth in both business success and social impact. This customized support is helping to drive lasting change. ”

UAD is doing important work and innovating along the way. It will continue to make both the urban and wild environments more accessible, in ways that will benefit people of all ages and all abilities.

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