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More has to be done to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, the provincial government was told Tuesday by presenters.
Tuesday night a number of presenters told a legislative standing committee how the government can tighten up its Accessibility for Manitobans Act so that it properly defines "disability" and puts more onus on politicians to follow up on what they preach about accessibility.
"We want to see wording that is much more inclusive of all disabilities," Janet Forbes, spokeswoman for Barrier-Free Manitoba, said Tuesday. "There are some disabilities that are not visible and some are episodic. When they refer to it being a long-term disability, we’re concerned about that."
The province introduced Bill 26 last April to be a framework for regulations that sets out new accessibility obligations in both the public and private sectors. Its introduction followed five years of lobbying by persons with disabilities and their organizations, including Barrier-Free Manitoba.
It’s estimated more than 15 per cent of Manitobans, about 200,000 people, have a disability.
Forbes also said Barrier-Free Manitoba wants the province to set a deadline to have the legislation and its accompanying regulations in-force.
"They need a grand deadline to make sure that it happens," she said.
Finance Minister Jennifer Howard, minister responsible for persons with disabilities, said the government is aware of those concerns and will bring forward two amendments.
The first will see the minister — whoever that person is — be responsible to ensure that there is significant progress towards accessibility by 2023. The second will strike out the words "long-term" and "impairment" and replace them "disability."
"We want it clear that we’re including everyone whether you have a disability that comes and goes, like some people who have multiple sclerosis, whether you have a disability that’s related to a disease like cancer or whether you have a disability that’s been with you your while life," Howard said.
Howard added while accessibility to buildings and various services, like transportation or eating in a restaurant, is a human right under the human rights code, it’s mainly been enforced through complaints. About half of the human rights complaints filed are related to disability issues or accessibility.
"We think that if we sit down and have a conversation about how to make things more accessible, put in place some standards that everybody can understand, we’re going to have fewer of those complaints," she said.
Progressive Conservative MLA and persons with a disability critic Leanne Rowat said the Tories supported the legislation, but with a few tweaks.
Rowat said what has to be spelled out clearly is that accessibility rights will continue to be a priority long after the legislation becomes law.
"It can’t just get lost in the abyss," she said, adding that includes the minister publicly explaining why the government may not be acting on recommendations from its own Accessibility Advisory Council.
"We want the minister to have an timeline and an obligation to respond and to indicate why."
Highlights of areas in Bill 26 that need improvement:
1. Restrictive definition of disability: Needs to be changed to reflect an inclusive approach to disabilities.
2. What’s the goal and target date? Government needs to establish the goal of reaching full accessibility and set a target date. The timing of implementation should also be moved to 2014-15 instead of 2015-16.
3. Inadequate penalties for non-compliance: Bill 26 must have sharper teeth to make it less expensive to meet accessibility standards than to not comply with them.
4. Non-application to legislative assembly: The bill must ensure accessibility standards also apply to the
Manitoba Legislative Assembly.
5. Private residence exclusion: No group should be categorically excluded from possible accessibility standards. If government feels it must exclude existing single or duplex housing, this must be clearly stated.
Source: Barrier-Free Manitoba