From NAIT alumnus and company founder to recipient of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee medal, Brad Bartko has made it his mission to create more accessible and barrier-free spaces within Edmonton and surrounding areas. As an individual living with cerebral palsy and navigating life in a wheelchair, Bartko has experienced many instances in and around establishments where accessibility was either limited or non-inclusive.
“Where my journey started was when somebody at a bar told me that the reason they don’t have an accessible bathroom was because they don’t get any of ‘my people’ in their establishment. And to me, that needed to change,” Bartko said.
Just over a year ago, Bartko founded his company DisAbility – Accessible by Design (ABD) with his wife Jenn. The duo works as disability consultants helping establishments ensure their spaces are inclusive to all members of the disabled community.
“High tables, low tables, more space, making sure that bathrooms were set up, all that kind of stuff. [Making sure] their [push-to-open] buttons were in the right place, braille menus, and the kind of stuff that people don’t really think about.”
Because of Barko’s negative experience within the hospitality industry, he explains they also offer training to staff so they can better communicate to customers with various disabilities.
“That bar incident was a pivotal point in my life and in my career. We started training staff on better ways on how to, you know, talk to people with disabilities. How to better serve them.”
As a former NAIT student and now an experienced disability consultant, Bartko was able to comment and reflect on the institution’s accessibility when he visited this past winter.
“The building I found accessible; the buttons worked, easy access. Snow removal at that time could’ve been a lot better, so keeping sidewalks clear. It’s the little things that everybody can do that goes a long way to making a difference. But overall, NAIT does a good job. They are a school, so they follow rules and regulations.”
Bartko and ABD have been working on significant projects in the past year, such as helping the city of Spruce Grove design their 130,000 square feet Civic Centre set to open in 2025. According to the city’s website, the Civic Centre Project is “the largest project in Spruce Grove history.”
“We were the disability voice on that job, so we’re really proud of that. We submitted 21 recommendations for accessibility and they accepted 19 of 21. We [were] very honoured and very privileged to [have been] a part of that.”
ABD has also partnered with AdaptAbilities to launch the HOPE Campaign this year, which aims to Help One Person Every Day. He explains that this 365-day campaign is a way to give back and support members of the disabled community with items or services such as ramps for their houses, wheelchairs or gift cards to name a few.
“On day 365, we want to give away a fully accessible house to a recipient. All the money raised will go back to AdaptAbilities to better the community as a whole, and my goal through all of this is education and awareness.”
Bartko’s goal for many of his initiatives is to give people in the disabled community hope and a sense of belonging, and to increase the level of education and awareness for the rest of the world. He explains that there is a massive gap in the education sector around people with disabilities, and states that applying his lived experience in his work is a great way to help try to bridge that gap.
As a result of Bartko’s impactful projects, he was awarded the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee medal this past January, a medal which recognizes Albertans who have made significant contributions to the community.
“I’m very proud of that. I will flaunt that around, I will take that to my grave,” Bartko said.
“That is not a me award, though, that’s a we award. My wife is a massive part of that, the team is a massive part of that, and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t together. It’s a very special accomplishment to be recognized in the disability space, and I’m truly honoured and truly privileged and blessed to be a part of such an amazing group.”
Bartko emphasizes that able-bodied individuals can be the most effective allies and advocates for the disabled community if a proactive approach is taken. He encourages individuals to become educated and surround themselves with people who are disabled to better understand their world.
“You’re going to enter our world, so why not understand it now? We need to be proactive and thinking about the future, and not just thinking about today. Everybody’s going to have a disability at some point […] and we want to be proactive rather than reactive. It’s not about me, it’s all about we. We need to come together to create a better world for ourselves.”