The Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities says it may be forced to close after repeated attempts to ask the province to restore its core funding, which was cut in December 2017, have been unsuccessful.
"We’ve done everything we can do, except close the doors, to get by," said treasurer Fred Dugdale. "You just don’t replace $50,000 overnight."
The organization has advocated on behalf of Manitobans with disabilities for more than 45 years. It has lobbied governments on issues such as accessible transit and having Braille ballots during elections. It also conducts accessibility assessments and training for organizations.
In order to stay afloat, Dugdale said it has cut staff, downsized its offices and staff members have volunteered their time. It has also created a social enterprise model to charge organizations for accessibility programming.
"The whole point of (our) existence is to create equity," said Whitney Hodgins, the league’s provincial council secretary.
Both Dugdale and Hodgins said the organization needs base funding in order to pay its employees.
Its members said they have contacted the provincial families minister for the last two years, but has faced repeated problems setting up meetings. The government has encouraged the group to pursue other avenues of funding, said Dugdale, who has a disability as a result of a brain injury he suffered in a motor vehicle accident.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement that the league’s revised proposal is under review.
"We recognize the league’s long-standing value to the disability community and history of service," Stefanson said.
Dugdale has spent a great deal of time looking over the organization’s finances. "We’re pretty much out of money. There’s no way we could keep it going," he said, adding he remains hopeful about a funding decision after the Sept. 10 election.
Karen Velthuys, executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba, said she was sad to hear the league could close.
"I would hope then that for learning disabilities, that our organization would be able to step into that role a lot more," Velthuys said.
While Dugdale said there will always be accessibility advocates, he said the league has the ability to mobilize many activists and organizations for broad and individual accessibility issues.
He said its work will become more critical as the population ages.
Statistics Canada data show one in five Canadians has at least one disability. Seniors make up the largest percentage of that population at 38 per cent. The most common disabilities are pain-related, followed by flexibility, mobility and mental health-related disabilities.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.