Consultation, Not Mandates, Focus of Proposed New Accessibility Law

Portage la Prairie News
By PAUL TURENNE, QMI Agency
November 8, 2010

Winnipeg — .A new accessibility law now in the works in Manitoba won’t mean requirements for wheelchair ramps on every building or a mandate that businesses train their employees to accommodate people with disabilities. Not yet, anyway.

Labour Minister Jennifer Howard, who is helping to draft the new law, said the idea is to set up a framework of goals and ideas for making sure the province has as few barriers in place as possible that would prevent seniors and people with disabilities from fully participating in society.

“What the legislation is, is a way to bring people to the table to come up with a plan on how we build an accessible Manitoba,” she said. “What we’re not
talking about is that we’re going to force businesses to build ramps everywhere right away.”

Howard said enforcement and mandates could be coming down the road, but suggested most sectors of society want to co-operate with the plan.

“The idea isn’t to come down heavy in the beginning,” she said. “The approach we’d like to take is that enforcement and penalties are way down the line.
The first phase is education.”

Both the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the opposition Tories say they’re supportive of a new accessibility law and of the public consultation process that recently started, which is meant to gather ideas about what should be contained in the bill.

“The disability community has been looking forward to legislation for some time now and I think the best way to go is through consultation,” said Bonnie
Mitchelson, the Tory critic for disability issues. “We want to make sure we’re not putting onerous restrictions on businesses.”

Howard noted accessibility rights are already enshrined in law through the Manitoba Human Rights Code, but said the weakness in that law is that the only way to enforce those rights is through a complaint.

“A complaints mechanism isn’t going to get us to the goal of having an accessible Manitoba,” she said.

Manitoba’s law will be partly modelled on one recently introduced in Ontario, where the legislation targeted five areas for the removal and prevention of
barriers: employment, transportation, communications, customer service and “the built environment,” which relates to physical structures like buildings.

Howard said she’d like to bring in the new bill as soon as possible, but couldn’t say whether it would be ready to introduce by next spring’s legislative
session, which will be the last one before the 2011 election.

“We want to bring it in with a very high consensus,” she said. “We don’t want a cloud hanging over it.”

To comment on proposals for the new law, visit www.gov.mb.ca/dio.

Article ID# 2835086

Reproduced from http://www.portagedailygraphic.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2835086