How an Edmonton man is helping businesses become more accessible

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Brad Bartko, was born with Cerebral Palsy and has spent his entire life using a wheelchair.

Twelve years ago, he went to the washroom at a bar which he describes a “glorified storage closet.” Wet floor signs, tables, chair and mops all littered within what was supposed to be the restroom. At the back, hidden behind all the storage, was the toilet.

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Bartko went to the staff manager and asked him how he was expected to get into the washroom with his wheelchair due to all the clutter, and secondly, how he was supposed to safely get on and off the toilet since there was no bar.

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“He looked at me dead in the eye and said, “it’s not my problem that I don’t get many of you people in my establishment,” Bartko said.

The incident was pivotal for Bartko, who says he has experienced accessibility challenges his entire life.

Along with his wife, Jennifer, the two created disAbility — Accessibility By Design, a consulting company that works with other businesses and organizations to make events and spaces more inclusive to those who have disabilities.

The company has been up and running for two years now, and at first they began working with bars and restaurants providing recommendations and staff training to 36 establishments — and it has only snowballed from there.

Aspects of staff training focus on using better and more inclusive language, providing recommendations to make spaces accessible, having proper signage or preventing tripping hazards for those who are visually impaired.

“It’s my lived experience. I got 31 years in this wheelchair.” Bartko said. “This is all I know and I’m not just some random guy coming to talk to you and saying “you should do this because its good for the community.” It’s not just a business to me. It’s a life. If I can make changes now that will benefit and impact generations, I will.”

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Bartko said oftentimes business owners believe these changes are costly, but it comes down to being more cognizant of those in the community with different needs. A part of Bartko’s work includes promoting understanding of the various types of needs when it comes to accessibility.

“Although mindsets have changed when it comes to disability, we have a long way to go,” Bartko said, adding it’s not strictly those in mobility aids who may require ramps or assistance bars, but perhaps those who are hearing impaired and may require attentive listening or something as simple as having closed captions on a TV screen.

Bartko worked as the lead consultant at Edmonton’s K-Days festival in 2023 providing recommendations to aid with accessibility and said they are in early talks with the Calgary Stampede for 2024.

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