City: Calgary, Alta.
Occupation: Former para-alpine skier at the provincial and national levels; founder and CEO of Level Playing Field, an accessibility consulting agency offering advice and thought leadership around “universal design” policies to ensure facilities are inclusive
Assets: Ownership position with Level Playing Field; a condo in Calgary; a Registered Disability Savings Plan.
Up close and personal
I retired from para-alpine ski racing in 2004, but I’m still a strong supporter of the sport. I was always a bit of a workaholic as an athlete, and I have put the same determination I had for getting down the hill into other things. I carried that over when I worked for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics. When I was at the Olympics, I could see the struggles even our able-bodied athletes had trying to get their stuff in and out of buildings. I was like, “If these people are struggling, accessibility at the Paralympics is going to be a disaster!” So, after the 2010 games I knew I had to follow my passion and help remove barriers.
I am a born-and-raised Calgarian with mild cerebral palsy. I’ve grown up my entire life with the struggles of somebody with a disability. That means daily mobility challenges trying to get into public places. But accessibility is about more than just that. There are invisible disabilities as well, involving hearing and vision. Nobody’s perfect. The struggle is real. And so I started Level Playing Field to try to mitigate those barriers and make the environment better for everyone.
A problem that won’t go away
Building codes are about 30 years behind how we all live — not just people with disabilities, but everyone. Public policy and the architecture industry need to learn the real challenges people face. Architecture firms bring us on as part of their team for different projects. They see the accessibility issues but it has been a slow evolution. We try to bridge the gap between what they offer and what customers expect.
Some banks are definitely grasping accessibility issues. They have to because they are federally regulated. But there are still plenty of trouble areas. People who are disabled should not be treated as second-class citizens. Financial institutions, money managers, advisors — make sure your clients can access your space and your services. And if you can’t figure out how to do that, get some help.
Help with finances
I was never an expert with money growing up, but you have to figure it out when you own a company. My father was the controller of Hockey Canada. He put me on the straight and narrow in terms of budgets. Even to this day, he’s like, “OK, let’s take a look at your balance sheet.”
As for my own finances, I don’t understand the stock market or anything like that. I just leave it to my financial advisor. When something comes up, we talk it over. I have a lot of trust in him, and he knows it. He helps me with my registered disability savings plan (RDSP) contributions, which are complicated. He takes money out of my account every month and the government matches it. But there’s paperwork involved and he handles all of that. I’m sure I’ll be relying on him when it is time to start cashing that in!
Running a business during Covid
I’m having a blast at Level Playing Field. We’ve got a ton of work and the phone never stops ringing. But it has been a struggle too. It was difficult starting a company when the economy here in Calgary was not doing great. And with Covid, there were new things to worry about. But I’ve surrounded myself with an incredible team, so I have people to rely on when facing things that I’m not personally very good at.