My Vancouver – Then & Now: Rick Hansen

Photo: Rick Hansen Foundation

Photo: Rick Hansen Foundation

My Vancouver – Then & Now Series

As one of the most desirable cities in the world in which to live, Vancouver has played a pivotal role in the destinies of many athletes, performers and creative minds.  Whether as a stepping stone at the beginning of their long careers (Academy Award –winner Jim Erickson); a safe harbour for immigrants to start again (Prima Ballerina, Chan Hon Goh ) or reaching the pinnacle of their life’s work here ( NHL’s ‘Captain Canuck’, Trevor Linden, ) the celebrated personalities of this new Inside Vancouver Series by Laura Goldstein, all have one thing in common:  MY VANCOUVER THEN & NOW is immeasurably in their hearts.


Inspired by the dream of creating an accessible and inclusive world and finding a cure for spinal cord injuries, Rick Hansen set out on a journey that would make history in 1985—the Man In Motion World Tour.

For 26 months, he and his team wheeled over 40,000 km through 34 countries raising awareness about the potential of people with disabilities and need for spinal cord research. They raised $26million and Hansen was heralded as a hero.

“Coming back to Vancouver when the World Tour ended in 1987 is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. It was so special and inspiring to see the entire city in the streets welcoming me back, filling BC Place,” reminisces Hansen, a gold-medal Paralympian. “I was back there again with my family when the BC Lions won the Grey Cup! ” laughs Hansen.

“Vancouver is still the most wheelchair accessible city in the country beginning when the city hosted Expo’86 introducing the Sky Train. Our rapid transit system has continued to be a model worldwide for wheelchair and bicycle accessibility. From my perspective, the Vancouver International Airport has also worked very hard to improve accessibility because, let’s face it – it’s the first thing people visiting the city see and they’ve won international awards because of that.”

With the establishment of the Rick Hansen Foundation in 1988, funding has enabled the Rick Hansen Institute and in 2008 The Blusson Spinal Cord Centre to connect research scientists in Canada and around the world, improving the care and treatment of people with spinal cord injury.

Technology has paved the way for exceptional advances in every field and the Rick Hansen Foundation has developed an innovative web app, planat.com that will impact tourism, business, restaurants and general accessibility for anyone with a disability.

“It’s an easy-to-use, interactive, digital media tool for rating the level of access to buildings and open spaces. Partnering with Richmond, B.C., they are recognized as the first Municipality in Canada to participate in the pilot program and complete professional ratings for 29 city-owned venues and public spaces.” explains Hansen.
Originally launched by the foundation in late 2011 and now available globally, it has more than 13,500 reviews of more than 17,000 venues, from 20 countries around the world.

“My hope is that every public building in Canada will be on planat.com to show the world how truly accessible they are,” says Hansen.

Based on a five-point rating system similar to consumer reviews found on travel websites, planat.com is focused on accessibility features from a mobility, sight, and hearing perspective. Available in English and French it also includes accessibility information from around the world. “At this time, reviews can be submitted and accessed through the web app available on a range of devices,” says Dan DeBeyer, Director of Planat for the foundation.

Tourism Vancouver is currently sharing accessibility information through planat.com.

An accomplished fisherman, Hansen is the Founding Chair of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society. In fact, some of his earliest memories are of fishing adventures with his grandfather, father, uncle and cousins. At the age of 15, Rick sustained a spinal cord injury on his way home from a fishing trip. Following his injury, fishing proved to be therapeutic and helped him realize that he was still an adventurer.

“When I visit the Vancouver Aquarium, says Hansen, “I’m blown away by the sturgeons’ prehistoric look- they’ve survived two ice ages- that’s worth preserving!”

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