“When we remove barriers and make spaces more accessible and welcoming, we create the optimal conditions for people to tap into their creativity and bring about positive changes in the world.”
These words are from Ryan Peterson, who not only advocates for inclusion but leverages his creative thinking to drive change in the area of accessibility. Ryan, a prominent name in the BC tech industry, and his wife Monica have a passion for inclusion and accessibility. They established the Peterson Family Foundation to champion a world where barriers are removed, creating an environment that inspires creativity and possibility.
Ryan knows the importance of accessibility for all because he has seen it first-hand. Ryan watched his brother, Kevin, struggle with it every day. Kevin suffered from brain cancer as a child, which resulted in a series of strokes during his young adult life. As Kevin’s illness progressed, so did the daily challenges he faced. “At first, small things got a little more challenging, Ryan shared. “Small adjustments needed to be made in order to accommodate him. And then more and more significant challenges arose, and life became harder. As his illness progressed, the layers of support needed increased.” Kevin passed away in 2020, and that prompted Ryan and Monica to start the foundation.
The Petersons saw how Kevin’s experiences in nature, often with Power To Be, brought joy back into his life, and want to ensure that connection to nature is available to others who may otherwise not have access.
“Building bridges for people to the outdoors is important for a healthy society,” Ryan explains. “When people are out in nature, it taps open their imagination.” Power To Be’s Inclusive Adventure Program is one of the key initiatives supported by the Peterson Family Foundation. The program aims to break down barriers to nature and offer positive outdoor experiences for individuals and families facing challenges. These programs offer a diverse range of activities, such as hiking, paddle sports, rock climbing, camping, and more.
Dana Hutchings, Co-CEO of Power To Be, says, “At Power To Be, we are honoured to be supported by the Peterson Family Foundation. Thanks to the Petersons, our Inclusive Adventure Program now has a specific “Nature Access Fund”, which allows us to offer nature experiences to anyone in the community. This allows for quick access to nature experiences for those need it most. Recently, we were able to provide a nature hike using the TrailRider to an individual suffering from ALS. She hadn’t been able to access her love of the forest in over six months. Using this fund, we were able to provide that experience for her along with her family.”
The Peterson Family Foundation also supports the initiatives of The Rick Hansen Foundation with the ambition to establish global standards that governments can follow to ensure that all buildings are accessible. Ryan, who is a board member of the foundation, was inspired by Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion campaign. The campaign saw Hansen travel over 40,000 km in his wheelchair, covering every province and territory in Canada to raise awareness and funds for spinal cord injury research.
“When we build with accessibility and inclusion at the forefront, we welcome people to explore nature, facilities, and relationships with ease, bringing more joy into their lives,” says Ryan. Removing barriers creates an open invitation for inclusivity without the hurdles that can arise, leaving people feeling isolated, frustrated, and defeated.
Inspired by The Rick Hansen Foundation’s building standards, Ryan and Monica are currently building an office that prioritizes inclusion and accessibility within every detail. The office will feature an elevator to the main floor, a heated pathway to the elevator to prevent it from getting icy, and an accessible washroom with a shower that is all one level, among other universal features. “At first, the builders weren’t sure if we were serious about making the space 100% accessible,” Ryan explains. This kind of request was unusual, but Ryan and Monica want that to change. “We hope that by investing in this new office and building to these standards, we can bring attention to the fact that this level of accessibility should be the norm, rather than the exception,” says Ryan.
The Peterson family sees this new space as a living conversation about what it means to be truly accessible and hopes it will increase education and empathy towards those with different needs. They believe it is essential to advocate for all individuals to have a place in society, and are taking action to create a welcoming environment for everyone.