Disabled Need Access, Not More Promises

By HARRY WOLBERT, For the Winnipeg Sun
Last Updated: December 8, 2010 10:59pm

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission’s 2009 report once again confirmed that discrimination based on disability is the foremost human rights issue facing this province.

Complaints based on disability accounted for 46.6% of all the human rights complaints filed with the MHRC in 2009.

A growing concern among disability advocates centres around having access to all of the supports and services they need.

I continue to hear from those who’ve had access to a service either denied or cut back. I’m of the opinion no person should be denied access to the supports and services they need.

Recently, the Selinger government released a discussion paper for made-in-Manitoba accessibility legislation and is now calling for some public input which will help in the design of it. Expectations are high.

Groups such as Barrier-Free Manitoba have spent the last two years trying to convince our provincial government that access legislation is the road which will ultimately lead to nirvana for persons with disabilities.

Can a piece of government legislation really do all that for us?

So far, only one Canadian province has enacted accessibility legislation. In 2005, Ontario introduced the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
Act. And they still aren’t barrier-free.

In our quest to remove barriers and create a more just society, we need to be realistic about what legislation can and cannot do.

In study after study and survey after survey, people’s attitude towards people with disabilities continues to be the No. 1 barrier.

The concept or idea of accessibility legislation is a good one. However, we still don’t know what it will all encompass. And how will groups such as those
with a developmental disability or a mental illness benefit.

When most people think of the word “access,” they often think in terms of accommodating someone with a physical disability. These are things to consider in the development of legislation.

In order for any such bill to be worth the paper that it is written on, it must contain the following: the purpose or intent of the act should be clearly
outlined in its preamble. It should contain an accepted definition of disability. Just who exactly is the legislation meant to serve or protect?

Terms such as access and barrier also need to be clearly defined. Are we talking about having access to employment, housing, or a service? Confusion over terminology is the last thing we need.

And the legislation must contain an enforcement mechanism. Enforcement will be a key determinant of the success or failure of the act.

I have been told there will be little money in the provincial budget going towards the enforcement of this bill. I find this unacceptable.

Our provincial government says it is committed to the concept of a more inclusive and accessible Manitoba. If this is true, then it should lead by example.

Will access legislation make any noticeable difference in the lives of Manitobans with disabilities? The jury is still out.

However, if the Ontario experience is any indication, I may be pushing up daisies before I ever reap any of the legislation’s benefits.

— Harry Wolbert is a disability rights advocate.

Reproduced from http://www.winnipegsun.com/comment/2010/12/08/16475416.html