Manitoba is the second province in Canada that intends to make their province accessible for persons with disabilities by developing specific standards of accessibility in a number of key areas.
Accessibility  “is the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the “ability to access” and benefit from some system or entity. The concept is often used to focus on people with disabilities or special needs (such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and their right of access to entities, often through use of assistive technology.”
Many disability advocates believe that only with the enactment of proper laws that require governments and companies to implement accessibility measures will accessibility be achieved. It may be so.
As can be seen with the enactment of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), this form of legislation creates awareness in companies and individuals. The government, experts and advocates are taking advantage of such laws to try to educate and sell accessibility. However, my worry is, can it be enforced? And, I still cannot get my head around the overlap and conflict that is evident in Ontario between the Human Rights Code and the AODA regarding workplace accommodation.
Ok! back to Manitoba…
Manitoba’s new Accessibility Advisory Council has published its initial recommendations for legislation and standards that would help identify, remove and prevent barriers faced by people with disabilities in that province. Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard, minister responsible for persons with disabilities is inviting the public and interested stakeholders to provide comments on the report until October 21.
The council, made up of representatives from the disability community and other stakeholders, has submitted recommendations very similar to what has been done in Ontario under the AODA calling for:
- A process to develop clear, specific and achievable goals
- Accessibility standards for both the private and public sectors
- A central role in the development of legislation for people with disabilities and other stakeholders affected by the legislation, such as businesses and municipalities
- No affect in any way on guarantees contained in human rights codes
- Regular reviews of progress made
Of significant importance, Manitoba proposes that,
- The preamble of any proposed legislation should acknowledge Canadian commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- The preamble of any proposed legislation should state that a systemic and proactive approach for identifying, and removing barriers should be established in legislation to complement the Manitoba Human Rights Code in ensuring accessibility for Manitobans
- The act should define a barrier as anything that interacts with an impairment in a way that may hinder the person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Impairments may include long-term physical, mental, intellectual, invisible, episodic or sensory impairments. This act should have a paramount focus on the barriers to full accessibility, rather than disability. This definition is intended to embody an inclusive, broad meaning of impairment, extending for example, to sometimes overlooked impairments, such as environmental sensitivities
- The examples of barriers listed in the Accessibility Advisory Council Act should be maintained (physical, architectural, information and communications, attitudinal, technological and barriers perpetuated by policies and practices)
- Although municipalities will be included in the definition of organization, they will not be singled out by being required to form prescribed accessibility committees, but will be required to comply with accessibility standards as best suits their organization; different from what is established in Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
- The purpose of the act should be to ensure accessibility by preventing and removing barriers that disable people with respect to the general systems of society, including, but not limited to: education and training, employment, transportation, information and communications, the delivery and receipt of goods and services, and the design, operation and management of the built environment
- Committees of persons with disabilities, affected stakeholders and technical experts will be established to develop accessibility standards for the consideration of the Council. Standard development will be a collaborative effort and committees will involve those most affected by the proposed standard. Committees can also be created to provide any other requisite advice to the Council. Standard development committees should be directly accountable to the Council to better ensure harmonization across standard areas and improved coordination between committees. The need for greater harmonization among committees was a major finding from the independent review of Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
- The act should provide for the establishment of accessibility standards by regulation. Standards should set out measures, policies, practices, or other requirements for identifying and removing barriers, and preventing barriers from being established. Standards should require a person or organization that is subject to the standard to implement those requirements within the time periods specified in the standard. Standards may be developed in areas including, but not limited to: education and training, employment, transportation, information and communications, the delivery and receipt of goods and services, and the design, operation and management of the built environment
- Some requirements contained in a standard, such as filing reports or keeping other documentation on hand, will be applied differently to organizations depending on size and resources. Small businesses and organizations should focus on improving accessibility without being overburdened with administrative requirements
- The act should require that each accessibility standard be reviewed within five years of enactment, and every five years thereafter, by having the Council examine the accessibility objectives and the measures, policies, practices and other requirements in the standard. The review should also examine how well and by whom they are being implemented, after which the Council may develop recommendations to update the standard and submit these to the Minister
- The act should require that, where specified in the regulations, persons and organizations prepare and file an accessibility report containing the prescribed information regarding accessibility and the prevention and removal of barriers. These reports should be prepared in a format prescribed by the minister
- Nothing in this act should diminish the obligations of a person or organization with respect to the Manitoba Human Rights Code. Nothing in the act or standards should prevent an individual from pursuing a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, or from otherwise exercising his or her rights under the Human Rights Code
- The new legislation should specify that a person or organization who fails to file an accessibility report, or furnishes false or misleading information in an accessibility report, or fails to comply with an accessibility standard is guilty of an offense. The legislation should specify that if an organization, including a corporation, willfully commits an offense under this act, that a director, officer, employee, or agent of the organization who has authorized, permitted or acquiesced in the commission of the offense is also guilty of an offense, whether or not the organization has been prosecuted or convicted. The new legislation should also provide that for offenses under the act, on summary conviction, a person would be liable for a fine of not more than $25,000
- Wherever possible, the Minister should be enabled to use existing provincial inspection and enforcement mechanisms to enforce the standards developed under this act. Compliance should be attained through a system of graduated enforcement, involving the use of education and outreach, Director’s orders and finally penalties. The act should provide for the establishment of administrative penalties by regulation for failing to comply with an accessibility standard or other requirements contained in the act
- This act should require an independent review of the act within four years after it comes into force by a person appointed by the Minister. The review should determine the effectiveness of this act, the accessibility standards and the other regulations made under this act and to report on his or her findings to the Minister
The report can be viewed or downloaded at the Disabilities Issues Office website, www.manitoba.ca/dio .