Rules Only Work if Enforced

Passing laws removing barriers great in policy, but needs to be put into practice too
By Harry Wolbert ,For the Winnipeg Sun
Posted: Thursday, December 05, 2013

What good is a law or government policy if it’s not enforced? In my opinion, it’s worthless and doesn’t benefit anyone. This brings to mind Ontario.

Ontario, which passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, is often held up as a model for others to follow. Eight years later, we are learning that Ontario isn’t paradise for people with disabilities. It’s not even close to being barrier-free.

A recent Globe and Mail editorial said Ontario’s legislation has “accomplished very little” within the business community. It referred to the Act as nothing more than “whimsical window dressing” because the vast majority of businesses aren’t complying with its basic rules. It also took dead aim at the Ontario’s Liberal government when it said “To make matters worse, the government has done nothing to enforce those rules. It’s a sham!”

I hope that Manitoba’s disability community will learn from Ontario’s experience and not repeat the same mistakes. We would all like to live in a “barrier-free” society. While I’m a strong supporter of accessibility legislation, the disability community needs to be realistic about what a piece of legislation can, or will, accomplish. An educational component must accompany legislation.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act received Third Reading and Royal Assent on Dec. 5. It’s one piece of legislation which is supported by all political parties. Advocates, like myself, have always maintained that disability issues are not a political issue. I want to thank all three political parties for working together to pass this important piece of legislation.

So, what’s the next step? In a press release, Jennifer Howard, minister responsible for persons with disabilities, said that the legislation “will lay out a framework to guide the development and implementation of accessibility standards to improve the independence and social inclusion of Manitobans “¦” It is the implementation or “enforcement” of these standards which will ultimately determine the success or failure of this legislation. Will our government provide all of the resources necessary to enforce these standards or will we follow in Ontario’s footsteps?

An inclusive and accessible Manitoba isn’t just good social policy. It’s the right thing to do. Approximately one in six Manitobans has a disability and this number is expected to grow. This is due in part to an aging population. The concepts of inclusion and accessibility can no longer be seen as just “disability issues.” They affect all Manitobans.

Some businesses in our province aren’t waiting for new legislation or standards to be enacted. For example, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is setting new Canadian and world standards for universal accessibility. It has taken great pains to make its facility accessible to everyone.

I also want to applaud the CMHR’s attitude towards disability. In a letter to my wife dated February 26, 2013 the CMHR’s CEO Stewart Murray indicated that “disability will not be treated as a special condition, but as an ordinary part of life that affects us all.” It’s my fervent hope, and that of the disability community, that one day all Canadians will treat disability as a normal part of life.

— Harry Wolbert is a disability/anti-poverty advocat

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