Nova Scotia becomes 1st province to adopt Rick Hansen Foundation school program

·2 min read

In Leah Fumerton's Halifax classroom, the issues of inclusivity and accessibility are regular topics of conversation.

Part of her young students' daily routine includes learning about compassion, empathy and showing understanding for what someone else might be going through.

That's why Fumerton, who teaches grades 1 and 2 at Fairview Heights Elementary School, was celebrating the news Tuesday that the Nova Scotia government has agreed to adopt the Rick Hansen Foundation's new school program.

The series of free online materials for grades primary to 12 can be incorporated into teachers' lesson plans to help make students more aware of accessibility and inclusion issues.

"For me, the void it's filling is that it's accessible for the teachers, it doesn't cost money for the teachers, and it's something that will beautifully mesh with existing curriculums and enhance it," Fumerton said during a news conference Tuesday.

'A multigenerational challenge'

Rick Hansen earned celebrity status in May 1987 when he completed a 26-month marathon around the world in his wheelchair.

Much of his life has been dedicated to making the world more inclusive and accessible, and yet the longtime advocate said there is still much work to do and barriers to overcome.

That was one of the main motivations for creating the program, he said.

"I think being able to create a framework where teachers have the ability to present that as just such an important, normal part of society, and we all have differences, we all have challenges, and what really counts is to treat people with respect, dignity, quality, and then find the barriers [and address them]," he said.

Aside from making people more aware of the prevalence of people with disabilities in society, Hansen said another major barrier to inclusion is the lack of harmonization when it comes to how new buildings and spaces are constructed.

He's hoping his foundation's school program, especially if it's adopted across the country, will help change things.

"It's a multigenerational challenge," he said, "and there was no question that what we needed to do was start to mobilize the next generation to really get up front on the attitudinal perspectives to normalize the way in which they viewed people of difference."