With election coming, advocacy groups say more needs to be done to implement Manitoba’s Accessibility Act Chelsea Kemp , CBC News
Posted: Sep 17, 2023
When Phillip Emmerson travels on the sidewalks in southwestern Manitoba’s biggest city, it takes constant vigilance to ensure his wheelchair doesn’t catch on any obstacles.
His journeys in Brandon are full of impediments.
At one point he wheels over an uneven railway line before hitting a piece of raised sidewalk. He speeds up before the crossing to ensure he has the momentum to cross it – but he risks crashing if his front tires catch where the street joins the sidewalk.
“It is awful,” Emmerson said. “There are moments where I’ve crashed and I lay there for a second because I’m taking the impact and checking how much blood is coming from my elbows.”
Emmerson, 42, has been living in downtown Brandon for most of his adult life. He says over the last 30 years, little has been done to make the city’s streets more accessible.
He wants to see the city better follow the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, which sets out standards for removing barriers affecting people with disabilities – including standards for municipal responsibilities like sidewalks and curb ramps.
“I really want people to see the struggle because maybe change will happen,” said Emmerson. “There are definitely situations and spots that should not be the way they are.”
Pushing politicians for action
Earlier this year, the advocacy group Barrier-Free Manitoba issued a report card giving the province an overall “D” grade for its implementation of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act.
And this past week, in the lead up to the Oct. 3 provincial election, the Disability Matters Vote public awareness campaign hosted a debate attended by representatives from the Progressive Conservative, New Democratic, Liberal and Green parties.
CBC’s Emily Brass was at the Disability Vote Matters debate Thursday, where candidates answered questions about their parties’ policies on the needs of people with disabilities. She also spoke to voters in the audience about the issues they most want to see addressed by Manitoba’s next provincial government.
David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, says Disability Matters Vote has pushed governments to fully enforce the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, which was enacted in 2013, under an NDP government. That government was defeated in 2016 by the PCs, who have held power since.
“The problem is the built environment hasn’t been done yet. The standard for that and the regulation hasn’t happened yet,” Kron said.
“We’re trying to … educate all politicians at all levels how important it is to implement their laws that are on the books.”
Better adherence to the act would make it easier for people like Emmerson to keep their independence, said Kron.
“Accessibility is more than a ramp.- It’s ‘how do I travel through space with the lowest amount of barriers possible?'” he said.
“It’s a human right to be able to navigate in your community without having all those barriers.”
To eliminate them, municipalities need to look at their infrastructure with an accessibility lens, Kron said, which includes talking with community members about the challenges they encounter.
Emmerson says accessibility is something everyone needs to think about and make a reality.
“We’re part of society too, and it’s time that people see that. Every human being that is breathing and alive is a part of society and deserves the same mobility freedoms – as anybody else.”
Accessibility a priority: city manager
For Emmerson, who has cerebral palsy, one of the most dangerous parts of his journey to and from work is crossing the busy intersection of Victoria Avenue and 10th Street.
He carefully watches as the lights change and tries to time it just right to race across before the pedestrian right of way ends.
But when he can tell a driver making a right-hand turn hasn’t seen him, he’s forced to wait and misses the light.
Once he gets onto 10th Street, it’s a 10-minute trip home, but he can’t use the sidewalk because it’s too rough. Instead, he has to navigate the road, diving between parked cars to avoid traffic.
“People need to be held accountable” for the lack of infrastructure maintenance, he said.
“It’s been years. Years of no maintenance, or almost zero maintenance.-It’s just so discouraging.”
Patrick Pulak, Brandon’s general manager of operational services, says accessibility has come a long way in the 30 years he’s been with the city.
For example, over the last 10 to 15 years the city has focused on installing ramps to access sidewalks, he said. There are only five or six left to be added on the city’s 265 kilometres of sidewalks.
The city has also worked on accessibility for people with visual impairments, like adding rumble strips and pads to sidewalks so people can feel where they are and loud audible signals at intersections indicating when it’s safe to cross.
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But upgrades to meet the Accessibility Act mainly have to be paid for with the city’s capital funds, which are limited, said Pulak.
“We have to address those kind of in a priority basis,” he said. There’s a demand, but “there’s only so much money to go around.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chelsea Kemp is a multimedia journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is based in CBC’s bureau in Brandon, covering stories focused on rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback with firstname.lastname@example.org.