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Brad Bartko’s mission to make Edmonton accessible one business at a time

By Admin User on December 13, 2022

A recent study shows that almost 22 per cent of adults aged 15 and older have a disability, and this number continues to grow as the population ages. One in five has at least one disability that limits activities of daily living. But one Edmonton-based company has made it their mission to make the world a more inclusive place for all. Disability – Accessible by Design is a consulting agency that provides feedback on the accessibility issues of an establishment. Their founder and owner, Brad Bartko has been in a wheelchair all of his life and has made it his goal to create a more accessible world for all.

Q: For those who don’t know, what is Disability – Accessible by Design?

A: Officially, it’s a consulting agency. I work with bringing education, bringing awareness, and bridging that gap of inclusiveness when it comes to restaurants and bars. But even bigger than that when it comes to municipalities, buildings, or how we design things. You know, it’s 2022, and we’re still not very accessible. Edmonton claims to be an accessible city- they’re not really. They’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m hoping that I can come in and bridge the gap a bit and be a different voice, bringing a different lens to things. Really that’s, in a nutshell, what we do.

Q: What inspired you to begin this mission?

A: Well, I’ve been disabled all of my life. I was given 24 hours to live. I had twenty-plus surgeries when I was born. I was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. My mom was 16 when she had me, and she really didn’t know where to go. When it came to support and government funding, the government told her I wasn’t disabled enough to get any of that. She was on her own. It really struck a nerve with me, even more when I became an adult. I entered a bar downtown, and I needed to use the bathroom like anybody else. I asked a waitress if they had an accessible bathroom, and she said no. The only bathroom they had was down nine stairs, and I obviously couldn’t do that. She grabbed a manager, and they lead me to basically a glorified storage closet, and there was a toilet in the very back. I said, “how do you expect me to get in here? It’s full of stuff, there’s no grab bar.” And he looked at me and said, “Well, it’s not my problem that we don’t get many of you people in my establishment.” And that sparked something in me. I knew there needed to be a bigger voice, and I knew there needed to be change, so here we are.

Q: What are some difficulties that people with disabilities may face that others may not realize?

A: Man, there are lots. Let’s start with how we’re a winter city. Maybe you noticed coming in, but they plowed all the snow into the curb cut-out. For a guy like me, it’s tough to get down. So what that does, is if you aren’t as outgoing as me, it creates isolation. It makes people stuck in their houses, they don’t want to go outside, and they don’t want to do anything. It can create depression, the isolation. Even going to your favourite coffee shop if there are stairs and no ramp. How do I go get a coffee? A lot of us are surviving on Skip the Dishes and staying at home. That’s not what we want. We want people with disabilities out in the community, so the rest of the world can see that we’re here. 

Q: What was the very first project that you worked on?

A: With our consulting firm, there are really two sectors to it. We do a structural walkthrough to make sure they’re up to code. That the doors are wide enough, they have accessible bathrooms, they have buttons for the door, and just being inclusive for everybody. So the first ever restaurant that I worked at was Hudson’s. They heard about my story, I have friends in that industry. And they wanted to be the first that we worked with. What they also wanted, which has been our bread and butter, is specialized staff training. So we go in and train the staff with real experience. 

Q: What do you go over in this staff training?

A: We train them on better ways to interact with people. Showing them different language and different ways to connect and communicate. If they have someone with a different disability, let’s use a whiteboard, let’s use an iPad, and let’s use different technology to communicate. Let’s work to help everybody. Let’s bridge that gap.

Q: How has this kind of specialized training, in turn, help businesses?

A: If you’re more accessible, that person is more likely to come back, spend money, tell their friends, and now you’ve got a customer and potentially a whole demographic that you never thought of, that you’re now catering to.

Q: Who have you worked with so far?

A: Already twelve months in, we’ve done thirty to fourty bars and restaurants. And to have municipalities coming to us and realizing that change needed to be made is amazing. Our biggest project was done in the city of Spruce Grove. We were hired as the first-ever disability consultant on a brand-new building. We were able to make suggestions on things that maybe they wouldn’t see, things they would miss because they’re not in my position.

Q: What do you think a lot of businesses in Edmonton overlook as far as accessibility goes?

A: I think they overlook accessibility as a whole, really what accessibility and inclusion mean. Accessibility means being open to everybody, not just people in wheelchairs, not just seniors, but everybody. If a blind person walks into your bar, you have something for them. Really the biggest feedback we receive is, “I didn’t think of that.” What you don’t know, you don’t know. So it’s so important to educate and get in front of as many people as you can to share your story.

Q: Do you have plans to work with any businesses coming up?

A: Yeah! We’re always doing training. Our next one is Local Public Eatery. We went in and addressed some issues, and they were more than open to making changes. So that is on the horizon for sure. I’m hoping there are some more government projects that we can get involved in. That more cities will engage in that conversation. Really I want to become the voice for my community. 

Q: What are some goals you’re hoping to accomplish with this movement?

A: My goal over the next five years is to hire a hundred people with different disabilities to do what I do all across Canada. I want to create that movement, not just here. But all across the country and all across the world. 

Our biggest project ever coming up is the HOPE Campaign. For us, HOPE stands for helping one person every day. There are over two billion disabled people in the world. We’re all going to become disabled in some way, shape or form. So for 364 days, starting in January, we’re going to give something away to the disabled community. A ramp, gift cards to the restaurants we’ve worked with, pay a bill. On day 365, our goal is to build a fully accessible house and give it away. All the money raised beyond the house will go back to a local charity that benefits people with disabilities. 

Q: What can others do to help the city become more accessible for all? How can more people become involved?

A: Speak up. You know, if it were another minority, there would be protests on the streets. There’s nothing like that for us. So we need the rest of the world, the rest of the community, to stand with us. So when you see stairs and no ramp, when you see an inaccessible bathroom, when you see sidewalks not shovelled properly, when you see someone being rude to a person with a disability… Speak up. I live by a saying, it’s not about me. It’s about we. We need to come together and create the change that we want to see. This will affect not only us but the generations after us. So what we do today will impact many people. We all are going to become disabled in some way, shape, or form, so we need to make changes now. 

Q: What do you hope to see in the future for accessibility?

A: I hope to see a fully inclusive world. Where it doesn’t matter what kind of disability you have. Wherever you go, there is a space for you.

To learn more or get involved with Disability – Accessible by Design, you can check out their website, their Facebook page or follow them on Instagram.



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