This is part one of a two-part series that previously ran in the print edition of Automotive News Canada. The stories focus on Paralympian Rick Hansen’s message about making the auto industry more accessible to those with disabilities.
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. — The leaders of two of Canada’s new-vehicle dealer associations have pledged to work with automakers to make showrooms more accommodating to people with disabilities after Paralympian Rick Hansen delivered an impassioned appeal to do what’s right, and in the process, take advantage of “an opportunity.”
“The opportunity can be serving their customer base the next time they’re looking for someone to work with them,” Hansen said at a roundtable discussion at the recent Automotive Conference and Expo, which attracted retailers from across Ontario.
“There’s a half a million people in this country that are ready, willing and able to work that happen to have a disability. In a dwindling labour market pool in this country, I’d say that’s a huge opportunity.”
The three-time Paralympic gold-medal winner is best known for his Man in Motion World Tour. From 1985 to 1987, Hansen circled the world in his wheelchair with the hope of raising awareness for people with disabilities. He leads the Rick Hansen Foundation, an organization dedicated to that cause.
During the conference, organized by the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA), Hansen met with leaders such as John White, president of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), and TADA Executive Director Todd Bourgon.
Hansen, who delivered the keynote speech at the event, urged dealers to determine how accessible their stores are and take steps to boost accessibility. He said that doing so would advance both the bottom line and human rights.
According to the Hansen Foundation, about one in seven Canadians has a disability. That number is projected to increase to one in five adults by 2036 as the population ages.
Dealerships focused on accessibility open their stores to customers who otherwise would not consider the dealership, and better accessibility paves the way for potential employees.
The Rick Hansen Foundation has an accessibility certification program, based on LEED certification for green design in a building, that Hansen said dealers could use to make improvements to their stores. Many changes are small, including reducing clutter and installing voice recognition technology in computers.
The auto industry has been “in many ways key early adopters for mobility solutions with people with disabilities for a long time,” Hansen said. “You’re involved in the community. You do so much great work. You do so much as a dealership in being able to provide products and services that are important to have that quality of life.
“This tool can help you access those emerging demographics but also be a leader in a sector that needs some energy to show us moving forward.”
DEALERS CAN LEAD THE WAY
Dealer leaders signaled they would work with automakers to update their image standards to increase accessibility.
“Normally, with the new standards, there are some accessibility standards that are required at a base level,” said CADA’s White. “But I think there might be an opportunity to talk about this with the head of the manufacturers’ associations ... and it’s something that we could help facilitate.”
Hansen said “there has never been a better time” for dealers to take the lead on accessibility issues, and TADA’s Bourgon agreed.
“This is a business opportunity as much as it’s the right thing to do,” Bourgon said.
Businesses are often unaware of the economic benefits of updating their stores, Hansen said, adding that increasing awareness about those benefits was crucial to making progress.
“Aging [baby] boomers are here, and people are starting to pay attention at another level,” he said.
“Not that they shouldn’t be paying attention to the humanrights component of this issue of accessibility, but you need all four legs on a table of change. You need the charitable sector, you need the human rights sector, you need the economics sector, and you need the cultural sector.”