Access is a Right and Good Public Policy

By HARRY WOLBERT, For the Winnipeg Sun
Last Updated: May 4, 2010 12:00am

On May 30 the Province of Manitoba will kick off Manitoba Access Awareness Week (May 30 to June 5).

The week will be a celebration as well as a chance for the disability community to highlight accessibility issues.

At its core access for all Manitobans means equal opportunity for people with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of community life. It is
also referred to as full citizenship.

A number of activities have been planned including the presentation of the Manitoba Access Awareness Achievement Awards which will honour the efforts and dedication of individuals, organizations or businesses that have worked tirelessly to enhance or create opportunities for community participation by persons with disabilities.

Access and accessibility are no longer just disability issues. And access means more than just the building of ramps or the sloping of sidewalk curbs. With an aging population and seniors who wish to age in place, access and accessibility are issues which benefit us all and not just persons with disabilities.

We will be hearing a whole lot more about the concept of “liveable communities” in the coming months.

And while progress has been made, many Canadians with disabilities continue to experience barriers which prevent their full and equal participation in society.

We have a long way to go before Canada is truly barrier-free. An inclusive and accessible Canada is one where persons with disabilities receive all of the necessary supports and services to fully access and benefit from all that this country has to offer. This would include women with disabilities, aboriginal people with disabilities, people with disabilities from visible minority communities as well as those from other marginalized communities.

Vision is not enough, we need action.

Canada’s disability community calls upon federal and provincial governments to update their building codes to ensure that universal design principles are not only respected but guide all of their infrastructure program initiatives. We are asking for safe, affordable, and accessible housing in our own communities.

One of our goals is to have a transportation system that is accessible to all Canadians. Sadly our national rail service VIA Rail still isn’t fully accessible
for those who use a wheelchair. We are hoping that VIA would become fully accessible by 2012.

Closer to home, it’s my understanding that the government of Manitoba will be introducing accessibility legislation in the not too distant future. This
will make us only the second province in all of Canada, after Ontario, to have such legislation.

Accessibility is a right and it’s also good public policy that benefits everyone.

We may never be totally barrier-free, after all no system, program or society is without its flaws.

Canadians believe in fairness, equality and justice.

So, on behalf of the Manitoba Access Awareness Week steering committee, I want to extend an invitation to all Manitobans to join with the disability community as we celebrate our past accomplishments and seek to raise greater awareness around access and accessibility issues.

— Harry Wolbert is the co-chairperson of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities.

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