New Brunswick has made a lot of progress since it first observed Disability Awareness Week in 1987 – but there is still a lot more work to be done.
That was the message Tim Petersen, WorkSafeNB VP of Corporate Services, shared with employees and members of the public at the annual Walk and Roll Challenge, held June 1 at WorkSafeNB’s Rehabilitation Centre.
Petersen said part of the challenge is shifting commonly held perceptions of what a disability looks like.
“It surprised me to learn that New Brunswick has the second highest rate of disability in Canada at 16.4%. That’s because disabilities are not always obvious. Many disabilities – whether mental, sensory, neurological or physical – are invisible.”
These disabilities can include but are not limited to hearing loss, learning disabilities, anxiety disorders and physical pain disorders such as fibromyalgia.
The Walk and Roll Challenge gives participants a chance to walk – or roll – a kilometre in someone else’s shoes to get a first-hand glimpse into what it’s like to live with a disability.
It was certainly an eye opener for the summer students who took part event. Brandon Sloot, a clinical OT student with the Work Recovery Program found out how much upper body strength is needed to effectively navigate a wheelchair.
“The Walk and Roll really exposed me to the challenges that a person in a wheelchair faces every day. Something as simple as a curb becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle.”
Kendra English, a summer student with Compliance and Regulatory Review, said the experience added to her perspective on the topic.
“It helps you empathize and look at things in a new light by questioning whether a building or other public space is truly open to everyone.”
Petersen said he is encouraged that young people want to talk about barriers to inclusion and accessibility right from the start.
“The goal is an inclusive New Brunswick where we have an equal opportunity to succeed in our workplaces and communities. If we can make this dialogue a priority instead of an afterthought, we’ll be much closer to achieving that goal.”