The world would be a different place for people who have disabilities if Toronto lawyer David Lepofsky has his way.
Lepofsky said the biggest changes would happen if governments could be convinced to create better laws to guide accessibility.
"What we’re trying to do is fix society," Lepofsky said on Thursday.
"The world has been designed as if the only people living in it successfully are people without disabilities. The buildings around us, public transit, stores, education systems, are all designed like people said, ‘Let’s design things so people with disabilities can’t use them.’
"Our challenge is to get people to stop doing this. To design a world where public transit and living and education are fully inclusive."
Lepofsky, who has impaired vision, said governments across the country need to write laws on accessibility standards, allow plenty of time for businesses to meet them, and include fines only for those that refuse to make changes.
He said not only does it make sense for private businesses to create more accessibility for people living with disabilities, it also makes business sense.
"There are four million-plus Canadians with disabilities," Lepofsky said.
"I say that’s way bigger than (the population in) a lot of provinces in Canada right now. Around the world, there are a billion. In Ontario, one out of every six students has special education needs.
"Those numbers are huge, but not the whole picture because everybody gets a disability someday. Do businesses really think they don’t need them as customers? That’s not a formula for business success."
Lepofsky is in Winnipeg this week to speak during Manitoba Access Awareness Week. He spoke on Wednesday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights about accessibility rights legislation and he is speaking at West Kildonan Collegiate today about accessibility in education.
Lepofsky has advocated for the rights of people living with disabilities since the late 1970s.
He won two landmark human rights cases which resulted in the Toronto Transit Commission having to implement the announcement of all subway, streetcar and bus stops to help people with impaired vision.
Lepofsky has been chairman of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance since 2009 and was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1995 and the Order of Ontario in 2007.
He said it was a good step for Barrier-Free Manitoba to provide comments earlier this year on the province’s proposed accessible employment standard.
Barrier-Free Manitoba has made 19 recommendations to strengthen the standard as the province moves towards its goal of making the labour market fully accessible by 2023.
These include having the accessible employment standard come in force by 2019 for the provincial government, the year after for designated public-sector organizations and the third year for all other obligated organizations, and that all companies which employ 20 or more people have in place in writing its policies related to accessible employment.
Lepofsky said businesses shouldn’t fear changes that need to be made to help people living with disabilities.
"Do it right, and businesses make more money and government makes more taxes," he said.
"We don’t want to regulate the hell out of everyone. We just want to make it better."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.