Luke Anderson, Founder of StopGap Foundation, on Accessibility and Unconscious Barriers
Excerpted from In-Person Interview, Toronto, Canada
I had these questions in my mind, like, “What does life look like from this point forward?” “What am I to expect?” “Where am I going?” “Am I going to regain any movement in my hands, and am I going to be able to walk again?” When I left the takeoff platform I essentially left my life as I knew it, because I didn't make the landing. I crashed, I came up short. I flew over the handlebars and I landed headfirst on the other side of the gap, breaking two vertebrae in my upper spine, instantaneously causing a spinal cord injury. I was living a dream, and that was now gone, and I was in a completely new physical situation where there were all these unknowns and that was really dark. So, getting up and being in a funk was kind of how things were going during that time. And I remember waking up one morning, closer to the end of my time in rehab. I was working with my nurse and she was helping me brush my teeth and we talked about choices. We talked about how we can choose our outlook on our day from the moment we wake up. That concept was new to me at that time, but I remember that day choosing to be positive—choosing to have a positive outlook on my day—and it worked. I’ve carried that with me from that day forward. It’s something that’s a practice; that I do every day.
I put together a resume and I sent it out to different engineering firms around Toronto and ended up getting a job with a really renowned firm—but there was a big issue with the building that the office was in. It had three steps in order to get from the sidewalk level to the elevator lobby level. Every time I wanted to get in and out of the office, I had to rely on somebody to help set up this big, heavy, folding, aluminum ramp at least twice a day for eight years. Yeah, for eight years I had to deal with this situation and it frustrated the heck out of me. It just built on the frustration that I was already harbouring around not being able to access space equally.
A really amazing thing was happening when that ramp was out; everybody loved using it. Everybody wanted to use it, as well: delivery people getting into the building bringing big heavy packages on carts, parents pushing strollers, people with temporary disabilities due to an injury or an illness going to one of the clinics on the upper floor of the building. It really made me realize that when we put something in place to help empower and make life easier for someone with a disability, everybody benefits. That’s what really inspired the StopGap Initiative.
We’ve been working really hard at addressing physical barriers and raising awareness about how a stepped entryway can be a barrier for someone who uses a wheelchair; it can be a barrier for someone pushing a stroller or bringing packages into a building. These barriers that hold people back from reaching their full potential—these physical barriers that prevent someone from being fully engaged in their community—it’s really important work to raise awareness about these issues in the physical realm. But, you know, we have barriers inside each and every one of us that holds us back as individuals from reaching our full potential. And I feel like, under this umbrella of removing barriers, we can remove barriers in our external, physical environment and our internal, personal environment. These unconscious barriers that hold us back from reaching our full potential. That’s where I see the initiative going.