Welcome to the Season 2 premiere of SBME Interfaces
In this episode, we interface with Rick Hansen, the Man in Motion and founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation, on building a universally accessible world, resiliency, the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™, the exciting prospect of working with SBME, and more.
All episodes available to watch on our YouTube Channel
Founder, Rick Hansen Foundation
Medalist at Paralympic and Pan Am Games
Companion of the Order of Canada
Recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
Rick Hansen is the Founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation and a passionate supporter of people with disabilities in Canada. Rick is best known as the “Man In Motion” for his epic 26-month, 34 country, 40,000 km wheelchair trip around the world to make the world inclusive for people with disabilities and to find a cure for paralysis.
Since the end of the Man In Motion World Tour in 1987, Rick has dedicated his life to creating a world that is accessible and inclusive for all by removing barriers for people with disabilities through the Rick Hansen Foundation. Rick and his team at the Foundation are dedicated to raising awareness, changing attitudes, helping create accessible spaces, and liberating the amazing potential of people with disabilities.
Learn more about Rick here
Dr. Payam Zahedi
Strategic Planning & Operations Director, UBC School of Biomedical Engineering
Payam is a born problem solver and dot connector who believes that real impact only occurs when everyone is given the means to chase it. He's the Director of Strategic Planning and Operations at UBC's School of Biomedical Engineering and holds a BASc in Biomedical Engineering and an MSc and PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences, from the University of Toronto. He believes we are better together and is an advocate for equity and inclusivity. In his spare time, when he's not chasing his two sons around, he's experimenting in the kitchen, reading crime fiction and untangling the mechanisms of effective leadership.
Communications & Engagement Manager, UBC School of Biomedical Engineering
Miguel is an unflinching optimist. He is a communicator and writer whose work has appeared in literary magazines and on stages around the world. His most recent publications include Harpur Palate, the Literary Review of Canada, Plainsongs Magazine, and Soliloquies Anthology. He believes in authenticity; in doing and saying what you actually believe, and he is an obsessive student of leadership from the biological and anthropological perspectives. You've likely heard him rant about it, and he's not sorry.
[Intro Music] [Narrator] Welcome to SBME Interfaces. Our goal with this show is to introduce you to the people that interface with biomedical engineering from students and faculty to staff and industry, and everyone in between. BME is a broad field that encompasses so many different perspectives, journeys, skill sets and backgrounds, and we are excited to share them all with you. [Payam Zahedi] Today we are interfacing with Rick Hanson. He's the founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation and passionate supporter of people with disabilities. He's known to many as the man in motion for his 26 month, 34 country, 40,000 kilometre wheelchair trip around the world to make the world inclusive for people with disabilities, and to find a cure for paralysis. He's a graduate of UBC with a degree in Physical Education, and was the first person with a disability to attain this degree in that program. He's a medalist at the Paralympic Games and Pan Am Games, and he's received numerous recognition and awards including being inducted as a Companion of Order of Canada, Order of BC, Canada Sports Hall of Fame. He's a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Second Diamond Jubilee Medal, and has been awarded a staggering 24 honorary degrees. It's a great pleasure for both Miguel and I, and the school, to have him on our podcast. Welcome Rick! [Rick Hansen] Thanks Payam, thanks a lot Miguel, I really appreciate you guys taking time to chat to me. [Miguel Eichelberger] Absolutely all right so I would like to get started with this big elephant in the room, the pandemic, it has shifted perspectives and beliefs and systems and changed a lot of things for a lot of people. How has it impacted you and your work? Well it's just unbelievable one minute you know you hear this story coming out of China about you know a virus that's impacting so many people, and you you see it so distant and that won't affect us, and the next thing you know it's in Europe and in the States and then it's uh here, and all of a sudden you know you see a complete almost two-year schedule with major events and meetings and activities that um slowly cancel one by one by one and all of a sudden our staff are not only you know reeling with that they're also dealing with you know what does that mean from a work point of view? You know, the offices are shut down. So you know there's a number of things that had to happen really quickly. One, you know, we had to re-frame and gather as much information as possible to a very fluid and dynamic situation. Tolerance of ambiguity, the ability to transition to work remotely, and then and then to also move quickly to digital on a lot of our programs and services, and once we equilibrated, we started to realize that yes it was difficult, challenging and concerning, but equally uh exciting and uh and filled with opportunity. And you know the idea of still staying in connection and magnifying your connections by amplifying your digital solutions uh was not only the best way to deal with navigating through you know the pandemic, but it's something that would be there you know as a long-term platform to accelerate exponentially the progress and the outcomes based on your vision and mission. And so you've had an incredible life and journey, and I know you're not done but what set you on the journey of advocacy, support and championing people with disabilities? Comes from the uh the long school of hard knocks. And, you know there's nothing like being 15, thinking you have the world by the tail and all of a sudden, uh you know you have an accident. You know hitchhiking home from a fishing trip, the truck crashes, my back's broken, my spinal cord is damaged and the doctors tell you you'll never walk again. The first big hurdle was overcoming the attitudinal barriers that I had; the stigmas and stereotypes that were very limiting, archaic and outdated. I thought if you had a disability you'd be you have to be pitied and there was no opportunity. There was no information age, no technology to push a button and find out information, it was all about word of mouth, mentors, person to person. And I had to repopulate that view, cast out those old barriers and stereotypes; repopulate them with new progressive possibilities, and create a whole new canvas filled with possibilities of my new life. Recognizing I was still the same personI loved athletics, I loved to be an adventurer, and ultimately I wanted to be a coach and a teacher. And so fortunately, role models helped help me think about that, but then I also engaged and I found that fundamentally there were unbelievable barriers in society; attitudinal ones towards me, and and also physical barriers that didn't have to be there. And so that became in many ways my rally cry to be able to to be able to say well you know not only do i have to be responsible for my own attitude about my life, but also, and that resiliency, but also to be able to help uh shift that that landscape socially um and uh and physically so that people with disabilities could actually live a better life and be whole as human beings. And yet still dream one day for the future that maybe when a young person uh or an older person has a spinal cord injury, uh that it there will be hope for a full recovery after paralysis. [Payam] That's well said, feeling whole as a human being that's that's really. [Miguel] Yeah this, this speaks to what I would think is... like to achieve all that you've achieved, and to come around that, uh that event in your life to get to that place; that's an uncommon, resilient and, resiliency and mindset. Now you talked about mentors, you talked about role models and things like that, um is that something that was inborn in you or did you, did you get it from these role models and these these mentors. [Rick] You know i was always a young kid you know who loved the adventure. I was always thinking about a new fishing trip or a hike or... I love sports and and I was surrounded by family who uh who nurtured that, so the social dynamic of you know of of that family network the uh, and the friends in common endeavor; helped shape and uh and and ingrain your nature. And they say that you know a lot of your you know your nature and life is formed in the first six years of life; and so those first six years for me were idyllic. And then athletics kind of came in behind that as uh in many ways a discipline, and there's lots of different disciplines in life, uh you know but athletics is one where you know there's a great way to sharpen up your resiliency, to you know to set goals, to to be uh persevering through obstacles, to to define success and to know that you're working with an amazing team to continue to get better with each moment as you strive to be the best you can be with what you have. And so I think that's kind of where the uh the sense of resiliency happened. But at the end of the day I was the kind of person who also you know was a bit of a generalist. You know I could, I could like lots of things and if things got tough I could always kind of you know, kind of you know re-shift it all and uh and and try to do something else. It wasn't until my injury you know that there's no way I could avoid the fundamental gauntlet of what that represented. I had to focus and drive through all the, all the hard tough work to come through the other side. Otherwise life would not be worth living, and so that's when I really realized you can believe anything's possible, but you know focus is the key. And, and you know the old adage of ten thousand hours to excellence is uh definitely borne true in something like, that I had to just grind and grind, and, you know eventually started to think of my situation very differently thanks to that opportunity. It became became the greatest opportunity in my life, and I'd never trade that experience now for the use of my legs for sure. [Payam] So you've taken this opportunity, Rick, and in almost four decades done great things with it and brought voice to those that may not have, what are some of the biggest successes you feel you've had during this journey? Well i think just first of all, just to be able to number one, make that previous statement, you know to really authentically believe that you know that I wouldn't trade my life for the use of my legs. I have no regrets and, you know I couldn't have said that in my, in my first few years after my injury. It was, it was nasty. So you know there's quite a quite a transformation, and again not only can I say that that's my own um responsibility, but I'm so grateful for all the you know family, friends, role models, teachers, mentors who surrounded me and gave me the opportunity to, to learn and to grow. I think the second thing is, is that I've really kind of recognized that your greatest accomplishments are, are, are often the things that are most, you know, most human. For me it's, it's marriage to my wife Amanda. My family. Being a father with my three daughters, and you know and, and being a grandfather to three grandsons, and what a, what a privilege and a joy, and I also look at the learnings from that too; the, the ability to stay curious. To, to grow, to recognize how unique and individual everyone is, and, and they all are perfect in the journey that they're on; and, and, and to be there to try to encourage them, uh when when needed, and, and then just to be with them when you can. The other side of it is, is to be able to then, when you do have that space in what you are passionate about, is to know that yeah, you've been able to make a difference. And I think one of the things that we've been able to do, I mean while the Man In Motion World Tour was, you know a physical achievement and a bit of a beginning of a social movement, I, I really believe being able to spend in 30 somewhat years past that as being a founder and CEO of my organization, of the foundation, and then now be the Founder and have a Board of Directors, you know a wonderful CEO and team, and, and know that it's poised to, to keep pushing down the road and do way more than I could have ever imagined myself because of their talent. But the magnitude of the movement and the team, uh no longer one Man In Motion; it's many, and uh and that's uh really satisfying. [Miguel] That's funny you say that, I'm, I am somewhat a product of your, your Man In Motion Tour as well. I was there in EXPO '86, three years old, and yeah you're, you were a big deal in my family at the time, so your impact goes well beyond what you think. So from where you sit right now you have a really interesting perspective especially after all that you've done, so in your own view, in a grand societal sense, what do you see as some of the biggest barriers facing people with disabilities today? [Rick] You know it's still number one awareness of the magnitude of how big a deal it is. Like, because people are often fragmented in their view of disability, they would often see just someone in a wheelchair or they'd be aligned to maybe their family member has had a stroke or have a blindness or, or a low vision or hearing disability, that was based on medical diagnosis. Or you know the, the classification of an issue, or where people are either in the health system or in the transition throughout, all the way to the community, so that massive 1.3 billion people that live on the planet today is, is not really understood and, and aggregated as a whole. Plus the trend for aging boomers and, and now COVID long-haulers coming through and, and just amplifying that, that huge community and it's uh, it affects everybody. And so it's no longer just a human right, you know to ensure that you know the world is accessible and inclusive, it's a cultural and economic imperative to be able to know that, that by bringing that community fully into society that the value add of the, of the incredible contribution to economic and cultural richness of life is, is going to lift us up and bring us, and propel us into the future. Let alone the ability to re-imagine, how to architect out barriers that not only help them achieve, and achieve that that re-entry, but it then, if you can do it for them it can probably affect and help everybody. So anybody who's in the entrepreneurial innovation space, to be able to see that, you know you stop looking at the low ball compliance issue, which we should have in our heart anyway, but but we should really push up and well beyond. [Payam] So looking a bit more focused, can you tell us a little bit more about the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification? [Rick] Yeah you know what, talking about how to, how to really attack, and uh, and amplify you know, the importance of disability, we decided that what we would do is being like almost like a social innovation entity, we, we look at big barriers that can have the most impact on the most people with varying disabilities, and then we look for solutions. And what we're finding is that, they're all around the world buildings were being built or renovated, and yet they were not thinking of accessibility, and so they were in many ways re-engineering all these barriers so you're discounting the value of every investment, and we were asking ourselves well why was that happening is because it was always being subjugated downstream, to the quote pseudo-disabled community and the advocates, or the technical experts there. But the whole development system in the, you know in the build and design field in industry was completely devoid of the real qualifications needed to build buildings for people, and to be inclusive for everybody. And so that was a huge problem, and so we recognized that there had to be other things that were happening, models to, to look at and coincidentally in BC for energy, uh there was something called LEED and it was, you know it was basically a bunch of advocates pushing for making buildings more energy efficient, building a standard, and then you know, and you know, a training accreditation program and then a certification. We thought, and what, they got policy, and eventually pushed everything upstream, and, and then now buildings are you know really more innovative and way well past those minimum standards. So that's, we thought that's a perfect example modified for our needs and for the times so we decided the most important thing was get a world-class curriculum on universal and inclusive design, make sure that we then put together great, you know pedagogy and uh, and focus for being able to learn, teach and measure, and then designate, get out engineers, architects, city planners, developers, advocates, get hundreds and thousands, and then hundreds of thousands of people around the world starting to, to be accredited in this professional designation, and then get policy from business and government and agencies to say we're not going to take any proposals unless you've got an accredited professional who's going to check the box, and a provisional rating to ensure that it's at least Gold, well past the minimum standard in law, because we want our buildings to be optimally functioning and we also know that today's standards could be tomorrow's handicaps, and innovation is going to be the key. And so keep on the innovation cycle. So we're very fortunate that we've got this accessibility certification program in place. We've got about 1300 ratings now across Canada. Seven different academic institutions teaching the course including Athabasca University which is an online global network, and you know in teaching university, and so we're well on our way to starting to create a national and then a global standard that will take everybody past the legislative requirements and low ball expectations. So that's how we'll create a, a movement and we'll accelerate progress and make accessibility normal in the built environment in the future. [Miguel] I love this. That is such a great example of changing education to change policy to change behavior. That is a perfect arc of influence. [Rick] Exactly. And then of course you know coming back to my alma mater at UBC or universities and colleges all around the world, you know it really starts you know when, when you're being taught. When you come in and you take your curriculum courses you know it should, we think accessibility and inclusion should be a horizontal discipline that should be engineered into every, every curriculum and that people should be thinking about how to apply the subject matter in that field, and they should come up with that, come out with that qualification as a matter of normal course. And that's going to be, it's very exciting to be working with a university like UBC that's interested in ultimately achieving that goal one day. [Miguel] Absolutely. So on that note, as you know, the School of Biomedical Engineering at UBC, we're relatively, new we're expanding rapidly, with a new building to be completed over the next three years; so what excites you about the school and its potential, its potential to impact people with disabilities? [Rick] Well first of all you know, brand new school and, and uh you know, and a new building, one that's gonna be Accessibility Certified Gold I'm sure, and uh and ultimately though it's, it's what happens inside the building. And what I'm excited about is, is you know when you think about you know the biomedical field and, and people with varying disabilities whether it's at the acute side or or the chronic, there's so much potential for innovation to increase the quality of people's health and increase the quality um you know and effectiveness of our society. And that, that's magic. And the key is to, is to get the ability for you know the staff, you know faculty and students to be exposed to real-life circumstances whether it's in the OR in the medical world, or whether it's out in the community, where are the barriers, and get minds starting to think out of the box and, and bring in different disciplines to be able to engineer solutions. It sounds a lot like what I do every day and, and what our foundation does as a thought leadership organization and not for profit, but to get a, you know a school in the University of British Columbia, bringing hundreds of people together to be able to do that every day. I'm just gonna I'm so excited about what could come out of that. [Payam] It's great to have your support and for sure we'll be certified, we're working on that in the background. [Rick] Looking forward to it! [Payam] So we have a few minutes just maybe some more light-hearted questions, um you're extremely busy and you mentioned your family, but beyond that, how do you recharge? The end of the day, we all need to. [Rick] You know, for me, one of the things I do regularly is I meditate. You know I, I've recognized if you, if you lead a busy life, first of all is you value, you value your time. Business shouldn't be uh a frenzy; it should be just busy meeting this full, and and fully doing the right things. So I like to, I like to make sure that I carve time off for my, my ability to settle, and meditation, it embeds that time, both in the morning and uh and in the evening to be able to do that. The second is I make sure that my health you know is invested in as a top priority not, not just in terms, it's not necessarily in terms of total time, but it's definitely a top priority because life is not a sprint it's a marathon and unless you can bring it, and maintain your health, you know your ability to do other things that you aspire to do can quickly dissipate if you're not careful. And then the third thing is I set my priorities and uh you know and and manage you know manage over time in a disciplined way how I do place my time on the things that are important. And one of the things I love to do with family is just chill out you know, and we watch a lot of crazy series, uh especially during this COVID period. And you know I love going on adventures you know over to the cabin at Gossip Island, or for me uh I love the outdoors in, in really remote wilderness areas so I'll get out on a float plane in Northwestern British Columbia and go out to a remote lake surrounded by you know wild salmon and grizzly bears and, and nature and, and just you know be able to hear your heartbeat and uh and feel the energy of the interconnectedness of us all. [Miguel] If you could give your 20 year old self any advice at all, what would it be? [Rick] Oh buckle up, you're in for a hell of a ride and but I guess the other thing would be, you know just, just first of all looking back you know I'm thinking you know, good on you. You, you, you hung in there on the important things, don't be afraid to keep learning, and, and and don't ever get to a place where you're, you're afraid of failure and think failure is somehow a failure. You know, I mean that's a big part of learning, and just make sure that you stay curious and keep following, following your passion and take some take some calculated risk. Don't be reckless but take some calculated risks, and you know some of your best learnings come from failure. And, and that's, that's a good sign that you're uh that you're still open and ready to reach out. [Miguel] All right so uh last question, I ask everybody this, are there any initiatives or projects or endeavors you're overseeing right now that you are really really excited about and you think we should be excited about too? [Rick] Yeah well you know first of all I've got these uh bucket list, uh you know things that, every time I get a chance to talk about it I, I say you know like let's think about some things that, seem to be impossible and let's see if we can get people together to make it happen. And number one: let's see if we can actually get a group of amazing people to come together, to see if they can support the ideathe dreamof a person with a spinal cord injury being able to summit Mount Everest. And hopefully that person is a Sherpa who's had a spinal injury and from Nepal who, the Sherpa community spent all decades helping people from around the world achieve their own personal dreams by getting up to the top of Everest, but wouldn't it be phenomenal if the world came together to help a Sherpa that had had a misfortune, to have the re-energized dream that is possible, you know, that a person in a wheelchair you know who's had a spinal injury could actually summit Mount Everest. What would it take to make that happen? The, the, the engineering solutions to be able to put together a, a core pod you know in a hand crank propulsion unit to be able to climb a vertical rope system and, and to be able to have the the interchangeability of that pod so that first of all it had the heat solution in place, and then underneath it you had various design solutions for you know, undulating through uneven rocks and terrain and still be able to crank your way through. Or when you got onto the snow terrain. And at the end of the, when you get to the top, you just put on the you know, the wheels to be able to take that iconic photo and show that this is possible. And, and then you know the skin sensors for making sure that you, you know you thermal regulated, and, and you, you had the cardiovascular considerations and the autonomic dysreflexia and you timed it out you know and you put together the team and everybody came around and made that happen. It's possible and, and I, I really would love to see that as a, as a big bucket list outcome. And just think of the millions of people around the world that would be inspired and the good that can come for the people of Nepal who have done so much for the world. The second is that I'd love to be able to see a person with spinal cord injury leave the wheelchair behind and go up into space and be in the International Space Station, and circumnavigate the world multiple times in a day and broadcast to billions of people that there are no barriers on this world or beyond that can't be crossed if we set our minds to it. And think about the research and the learnings being in zero gravity, so many incredible opportunities and, I think it would have again a powerful statement that the future of space is for everyone not just the elite astronauts who are currently occupying it. [Payam] Those are both extremely inspiring and would have of course big impact and I must say you do sound like an engineer at times Rick. So I think there's an engineer in you. [Rick] Well it's engineers that actually helped me catapult myself into winning a Paralympic gold medal at UBC. They, they helped me build a chair and, and that chair was state-of-the-art at the time with a special moulded seat so mechanical and chemical engineers got together. You know the human kin guys got together and they all helped me get to the podium. And I, I love looking at problem solution; it's the only way we were able to complete the Man In Motion World Tour and anytime you can get a chance to think about making things better it gets you all jazzed up and yeah that's why I love talking to you guys about this. [Payam] It's it's great. We're at time. We thank you so much Rick. It's an inspiration to talk to you and learn more and your inspirational words and wish you all the best on this uh journey that's still going to continue for many years to come. [Rick] Thanks very much and congratulations on all the work you're doing and I look forward to working with you on some of those cool solutions in the future. [Payam] Great thank you. [Miguel] Thank you so much. [Rick] Take care. [Music Plays]