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New Institute Publication: Accessing Canada Scan

Posted March 5, 2024


The following text is an excerpt is from the Final Thoughts [New Tab] section of our latest publication Accessing Canada: A Scan of Issues, Trends, System Dynamics and Innovations in Accessibility.



The Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen observed that most modern societies suffer from “conceptual conservatism” - a kind of smugness that prevents them from changing their conceptual models of economic wellbeing and socio-economic justice to incorporate disability.[1] To Sen, this was surprising, given how central addressing accessibility ought to be in creating a just society. As this scan reveals, accessibility - or in fact any measure related specifically to people living with disabilities - eludes the gaze of international, national and even local measures of wellbeing and community prosperity. Ubiquitous and deep-rooted ableism makes such gaps commonplace.

Despite this, we appear to be on the cusp of an “inclusion revolution”. Or, more vividly and excitingly, a “universal access and disability pride revolution”. Many overlapping and intersecting popular movements have contributed to this revolution, and across many ideological, politico-linguistic and tactical divides, from the Paralympic and other inclusive sport movements to employment equity movements to citizen-led social justice efforts and arts-based futures movements. All these and more have played a vital role in changing the status quo, revealing exclusion, and demonstrating the powerful human rights and equally compelling business and innovation case for radical inclusion.

There have been remarkable technological advances, as well as shifting practices in the private, public, and community sectors, new movements, social enterprises, storytellers, and even policy advances that have pushed accessibility more and more into the spotlight. An aging society, a sandwiched generation of caregivers, and a heightened awareness of equity, diversity and inclusion have all contributed to this, not to mention a pandemic that accelerated broad based societal empathy and awareness of the need for accommodations in the workplace and in educational settings.

Accessibility is a universal human right, as confirmed by more governments than any international concord in history. But, as the frame has flipped from the medical to the social model, it is not the presence of disability that limits access, but rather the flaws in our systems, institutions, built environments, public policies, commercial and community practices. These are the things that create barriers to access.

The best designers in our society - from planners and architects, to software engineers, service designers, and policy analysts - have added to their toolbox a ladder of participation, where human-centered, inclusive, and universal design frameworks are increasingly the default specs, where persons with disabilities are more frequently the primary agents (and increasingly designers and co-designers) of the new world we are struggling to create.

As Sami Schalk, author of Black Disability Politics (2022) opines “I want us to prepare for disabled futures, not fear them.”[2]
 We all have a stake in creating a radically more accessible world, not merely because even able-bodied (or more precisely not-yet-disabled) people already experience situational and temporary disability, but because it will catalyze economic, technological, and social innovations.

Drawing on the best research, the lived experience of persons living with disability, and mobilizing our collective imaginations, we hope that this scan at least points us in some tantalizing directions. Directions that give us a richer sense of the layers we still need to peel away, the promising practices available to adopt and adapt, and a more vivid picture of what this accessible 21st century world could be.

We are all differently-abled, and we are all only temporarily able-bodied, as each pandemic, and each stage in our life’s short journey on this planet reminds us. We have the frameworks and grand goals - a "full human experience" mindset, universal design, an empathic civilization, an inclusion revolution. With tenacity, political courage, informed allyship, and outlier organizations - public, nonprofit and commercial - leading the way and showing what is possible, the future can (and must) arrive sooner than we might expect.





Accessing Canada is the latest in our work in field-scanning and trend-scanning, and seeks to mobilize knowledge from those working to enhance accessibility in many realms to inform a broad general audience. This scan, created in partnership with ATCO, was also an opportunity to reflect on our own practices including the way we create and distribute research. We are pleased to offer multiple versions of the report, including PDF, Ebook, and EPUB, all of which are available on the Accessing Canada Scan webpage.





  1. Amartya Sen. (2010). The Idea of Justice [book]. London: Penguin
  2. Sami Schalk. (2022, November 30). Tweet. @DrSamiSchalk. https://mobile.twitter.com/DrSamiSchalk/status/1597949012346540033?cxt=HHwWgsDQoaKKh60sAAAA [New Tab]