May 17, 2018 – On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the Government of Canada announced its commitment to helping more Canadians with disabilities participate in the digital economy.
Panelists at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre discuss how barriers to technology can be removed for people with disabilities. From left: Dr. Gary Birch, Minister Navdeep Bains, Minister Kirsty Duncan, Mr. Bill Barrable, Dr. Jaimie Borisoff.
The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities highlighted Budget 2018 funding of $23.6 million to support the Rick Hansen Institute's efforts to achieve breakthroughs in spinal cord injury research and care. The ministers also announced more than $3 million in funding for the Neil Squire Society through the Government of Canada's Accessible Technology Program.
The announcement was made during a panel discussion on improving accessible technology for Canadians with disabilities, held at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre – home to the Rick Hansen Institute, ICORD, and Vancouver Coastal Health's Brenda and David McLean Integrated Spine Clinic. The panel discussion was moderated by Neil Squire Society's Executive Director, Dr. Gary Birch and included Minister Bains, Minister Duncan, ICORD researcher Dr. Jaimie Borisoff and RHI's CEO, Mr. Bill Barrable.
The panelists discussed the key issues that hinder access to new technologies by Canadians with disabilities, including spinal cord injury.
Workforce participation among Canadians with disabilities is only 50%, compared to 80% in the general population. Minister Bains emphasized the importance of improving workforce participation in the digital economy and enabling people with disabilities to maximize their potential. Dr. Birch added that the government's funding to the Neil Squire Society would enable them to continue development of their open source technology LipSync, which enables people with little or no hand movement to operate a touchscreen device.
When asked what else the Government is doing to make sure all Canadians have the opportunity to participate in the digital economy, Minister Duncan underscored efforts to table accessibility legislation, based on the "largest consultation conducted in Canadian history" that included feedback from more than 6,000 Canadians.
From the Institute's perspective, Mr. Barrable highlighted two Canadian-based companies it is working with that have real potential to improve quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries through innovative health technologies. These include MyndTec Inc., founded by a Toronto-based mechanical engineer who developed a non-invasive device which promotes lasting recovery of hand and arm function, and Human in Motion Robotics Inc., founded by Simon Fraser University researchers, which aims to develop the world's most advanced exoskeleton. Both technologies provide individuals with SCI improved ability to live more independently, and participate more fully in their communities and in the economy.
Dr. Borisoff commented that research has shown that reducing barriers to people's ability to participate in their community has a huge impact on their quality of life. He then spoke about an invention he developed that enabled him to use his wheelchair on the beach with his family – providing one example of a simple technology that enabled a meaningful experience.
Watch the panel discussion at @ISED_CA.
Read the press release from the Government of Canada.