Reform to Disability Laws Touted

Followup on premier’s vowed new legislation
By: Kevin Rollason
4/12/2009 1:00 AM |

Manitobans with disabilities say the changes they want to provincial laws will also be important to the many others who could become disabled later in life.

“If you are not disabled now, you soon will be,” said David Steen, executive director of the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities.

Thirty per cent of people over 65 have a disability. Almost four million Canadians were seniors in 2001, but that is expected to grow to about 7.7 million by 2020.

Participants in a forum Wednesday on the province’s long-term disability strategy suggested Manitoba could follow Ontario’s lead and create a law for accessibility standards or amend the province’s building codes or Human Rights Code.

Steen hopes the public forum will lead to changes in the province’s building code to encourage accessible and visitable housing.

“When you start applying universal design, you have to look at more than the housing stock. You have to look at, where are stores located? Do you have curb cuts? Do you have a parking system that is accessible?

“This public consultation is a positive first step in support of our new premier’s commitment to disabilities legislation.”

During the NDP leadership race, then-candidate Greg Selinger announced he wanted to impose a deadline for the province to become fully accessible to Manitobans with disabilities.

Last June, the Manitoba government released its Opening Doors discussion paper, intended to build upon a 2001 policy that dealt with income support and employment. The new strategy includes rights and justice, housing, gender and diversity and accessibility.

Yutta Fricke, acting director of the province’s disabilities issues office, said the forum was the third and final one for the general public following similar consultations in Brandon and Thompson. The next three forums will get feedback about disability issues from women, aboriginal people and francophones.

Don Ament, who uses a wheelchair, also hopes the province puts accessibility into its building code.

“You have to get in the front door and the back door,” Ament said. “You have to have an accessible bathroom. You have to have doors wide enough to get in.”

Alfred Spencer, director of the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, said his province became the first in the country in 2005 to create comprehensive accessibility standards for customer service, transportation, buildings, parking and entrances.

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