Accessibility for disabled, backlog on adoption records, daycare waiting list named By: Larry Kusch
The provincial government must beef up resources to improve accessibility for those with disabilities or risk failing to meet timelines set out in Manitoba law.
The warning was raised as one of 32 “urgent issues” flagged by the bureaucracy for rookie Families Minister Scott Fielding after the Progressive Conservatives were elected April 19.
Families Minister Scott Fielding was unavailable to talk about issues that need attention.
Also laid out for the new minister were concerns about a lack of staff to deal with welfare claimants, a seven-month backlog in accessing newly opened birth and adoption records, a 12,000-child waiting list for licensed day care, and growing wait lists for early intervention Autism Spectrum Disorder services.
The briefing note on the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, passed in 2013, said increased staffing and funding are needed to meet government obligations.
“The (act) prescribes specific implementation timelines. Without additional resources, Manitoba may fail to meet the timelines set out in the act,” the note states.
The government, Crown corporations, regional health authorities, municipalities and post-secondary institutions and school divisions must submit accessibility compliance plans by December. Smaller municipalities, agencies and boards have until the end of 2017 to comply.
The province has created a Disabilities Issues Office to support the rollout of initiatives in the public sector, but the office is understaffed, advocates for disabled persons say.
The province is tasked with developing new accessibility standards in five different areas. One governing customer service was launched Nov. 1, 2015.
Government must comply with the new standard within one year, public-sector organizations within two years and the private sector within three years.
Four other standards are still on the drawing board. They include commitments on employment, transportation, information and communication and the ‘built environment’ buildings and such things as parks and parking spaces.
Fielding was unavailable for comment Monday.
A government spokesman said in a statement, “After 17 years of NDP overspending, which failed to achieve either results or value for taxpayers, the challenges facing our province are significant.”
Patrick Falconer, a consultant to Barrier-Free Manitoba, said the group has been aware for some time of the lack of resources to improve accessibility for disabled persons.
“Before the election, we raised it as a significant issue,” he said.
Manitoba patterned its accessibility legislation on an Ontario model. At this point in its implementation in Ontario, there were 33 government staffers working on the issue.
In Manitoba, there are only six or seven, Falconer said.
He said his group is heartened by the fact the PCs made “very firm commitments” before the election to speed up implementation of the act in its first term in office.
Advocates for disabled persons had a positive meeting with Fielding in June, he said.
The province will need to back up that commitment with resources so the government and the private sector are given the tools to implement accessibility plans in a timely fashion, Falconer said.
“For legislation of this importance, that is this sweeping, you need to be able to put substantial resources to enable people to address their human rights obligations,” he said.
According to the ministerial briefing notes, the Disabilities Issues Office is “challenged” to provide adequate implementation support.
“(There is a) lack of funds for a public awareness and marketing campaign and a lack of staff to respond to training requests (and) do outreach with private sector organizations that must comply with (the act) by 2018,” civil servants say in their briefing notes.
More resources are also needed to create a “compliance regime” for the new rules, the notes say.