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Passing grade on accessibility not good enough

Sometimes, a passing grade is considered a satisfactory result — the product of sufficient preparation and effort to allow for an outcome that qualifies as success even though it may have flirted with failure along the way.

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Opinion

Sometimes, a passing grade is considered a satisfactory result — the product of sufficient preparation and effort to allow for an outcome that qualifies as success even though it may have flirted with failure along the way.

In other words, just enough to be good enough.

When it comes to the midterm report card issued to the provincial government by Barrier-Free Manitoba (BFM) for the implementation and enforcement of its accessibility-standards legislation, a “barely passing” grade should be regarded as a cause for concern and immediate remedial action rather than reason for anything resembling celebration or self-congratulation.

When it comes to the midterm report card issued to the provincial government by Barrier-Free Manitoba (BFM) for the implementation and enforcement of its accessibility-standards legislation, a “barely passing” grade should be regarded as a cause for concern.

BFM is a non-profit cross-disability initiative formed in 2008 to lobby the province to enact “strong and effective legislation that requires the removal of existing barriers and prevents the creation of new ones.” Its mock report card offers an assessment of the current Progressive Conservative government’s success (or failure) in bringing into force the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA), which was passed into law in December 2013 by the province’s previous NDP government, promising “significant accessibility progress” by 2023.

With the 10-year implementation timeline ticking toward its end, BFM’s most recent assessment gives the government an overall “D” grade for fully setting in motion the legislation aimed at affording Manitobans with disabilities the opportunity to fully participate in all the province has to offer.

Most glaring in the report card are the numerous subject areas in which the government received “F” grades — including the recognition of accessibility as a protected human right, honouring the true intention of the AMA, repairing the burdensome complaint process faced by persons with disabilities, and ongoing efforts to protect Manitobans with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those failing marks were offset by barely satisfactory “D” grades in the areas of enforcement of the AMA, leadership in removing barriers, and providing opportunities for meaningful engagement. The sole positive score, a “B+” grade, was given to the government for its commitment to implement 21 of the 22 recommendations provided by its Accessibility Advisory Council.

The sole positive score, a “B+” grade, was given to the government for its commitment to implement 21 of the 22 recommendations provided by its Accessibility Advisory Council.

The lone recommendation that remains unendorsed, related to a demand to lower the staffing threshold for businesses to be required to meet customer-service accessibility standards, is a significant sticking point. BFM wants standards to apply to all businesses with more than 20 employees, as the current benchmark — 50 employees — “effectively exempts 95 per cent of organizations in Manitoba from this requirement.”

Given that the province, under successive ruling parties, has had a full decade to implement and begin effectively enforcing the long-overdue AMA, the “barely passing” grade in the BFM assessment is alarming. It’s well past time for government, regardless of political stripe, to do everything in its power to ensure all Manitobans have equal access to such fundamental aspects of daily living.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Families Minister Rochelle Squires, who along with Premier Heather Stefanson was provided with the BFM report, said this week the PC government intends to meet its commitment to fully enact the AMA by year’s end.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires, who along with Premier Heather Stefanson was provided with the BFM report, said this week the PC government intends to meet its commitment to fully enact the AMA by year’s end.

“We are a leader in the space in many regards,” Ms. Squires told the Free Press in a telephone interview, “and we’ve done a lot but we recognize more needs to be done. And we’re going to continue working with all partners to ensure that we remove barriers.”

One hopes she and the government she represents are true to their word. On this very straightforward issue, continuing to do just enough is nowhere near good enough.

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