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AODA Alliance Makes Presentation to Standing Committee of Manitoba Legislature on Need for Strong Accessibility Legislation

June 30, 2011

SUMMARY

On the evening of Monday, June 13, 2011, the AODA Alliance made a 15-minute presentation to the Human Resources Standing Committee of the Manitoba Legislature on the need for strong, effective accessibility legislation. On quite short notice, the Standing Committee was holding public hearings on Bill 47, entitled “The Accessibility Advisory Council Act and Amendments to The Government Purchases Act.” The text of our presentation, and of Bill 47, is set out below.

Manitoba has benefited from the hard work of a superb non-partisan Manitoba-based community coalition, “Barrier-Free Manitoba.” It has been advocating for several years for a strong and effective Manitobans with Disabilities Act to make Manitoba a fully-accessible province. That coalition is trying to get Manitoba to learn from Ontario’s experience, both benefiting from what we’ve done right, and improving on areas where we’re falling short. You can learn more about them by visiting: http://www.barrierfreemb.com/

To see feedback we have received in the past from that coalition, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06082010.asp

That Manitoba coalition had hoped that in the lead-up to this fall’s Manitoba general election, the Manitoba Government would bring forward an actual Disabilities Act. It did not do so. Instead, after having consulted on such legislation over the past two years, the Manitoba Government brought forward Bill 47.

Bill 47 is far less than a full Disabilities Act. All it includes is the following:

* It requires the Manitoba Government to appoint an “Accessibility Advisory Council” within three months. Within twelve months that Council must make recommendations to the Government of Manitoba, on what a Disabilities Act should include and what other strategies should be adopted to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities.

* It requires the Council’s recommendations to be made public. The public then has 45 days to give feedback to the Government. Ninety days after that the Manitoba Government must respond to the Council’s recommendation and feedback received.

* It amends Manitoba legislation on purchases made by the Government. These changes provide for the Government making guidelines on barrier-free purchasing. It provides that whenever possible, purchasing must comply with these guidelines. This implements the strategy we have been urging in Ontario that public money never be used to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities, e.g. by government purchasing of inaccessible goods, services or facilities.

Because time lines for action on Bill 47 were so extremely tight, our presentation focused on limited changes to that bill in very short order to try to get more out of it for Manitobans with disabilities. We did not have the opportunity to discuss at large what a good Manitobans with Disabilities Act should include in any detail.

The Manitoba Legislature passed Bill 47 a few days later. We very much appreciated the Manitoba Legislature agreeing to our request to be able to make our presentation over the phone. This avoided the cost and time associated with travelling to Winnipeg to make this presentation. We appreciate as well that our views are valued beyond the borders of the Province of Ontario, where our advocacy efforts are focused.

We congratulate Barrier-Free Manitoba for its impressive leadership efforts. We encourage Barrier-Free Manitoba to keep up its tenacious efforts at moving forward towards strong accessibility legislation, and to use Bill 47 to that end. We know only too well that in the short run, progress can seem painfully slow, but in the long run, these efforts can compound towards real progress.

You can find our presentation to the Manitoba Legislature’s Standing Committee, and all the other presentations before that Standing Committee on that evening, by visiting:
http://www.gov.mb.ca/legislature/hansard/5th-39th/hr_02/hr_02.html

*****

MANITOBA LEGISLATURE HANSARD

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mr. Chairperson: Good evening, Mr. Lepofsky. My name is Rob Altemeyer. I’m Chair of the committee tonight. We wish to extend a warm Manitoba welcome to you. Are you there?

Mr. David Lepofsky (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance): I’m here, and I want to thank you very much for both inviting me to present and allowing me to present through this unusual method. Do you hear me clearly?

Mr. Chairperson: You are most welcome. You have 10 minutes to present to us, and then if there are questions from committee members, after the 10 minutes is done or after your presentation is done, we have an additional five minutes available for that dialogue to happen.

So please begin your presentation, and thank you for being with us tonight.

Mr. Lepofsky: It’s an honour to be able to present to all of you. I am the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. We’re the voluntary, non-partisan, community coalition that’s advocating for the implementation of our–the strong and effective implementation of our accessibility legislation in Ontario, and we are the successor to the coalition that fought and won that legislation over a 10-year period.

I want to begin by saying that it’s, in any legislature in Canada, it is very rare that the door gets opened to our community for an opportunity for a full and open debate on a comprehensive new strategy to tear down the barriers that face us, and I want to commend your Legislature for opening that door. Now, with the door open, I want to offer some very practical ways to strengthen Bill 47 to most effectively use this opportunity to advance the goal–the non-partisan goal of a fully accessible province.

I’m going to – before I offer specific recommendations, I’m going to encourage you to learn from the Ontario experience, but I’m not here as an Ontarian to simply brag, look at what we’ve done. I encourage you to critically look at what we’ve done. We’ve done some things that we can be very proud of, but, on the other hand, there are some things you can learn from us that would show you how to do things better than we have.

* (18:20)

I encourage you to learn not only by looking at our legislation, but look at the four-year–the independent review that was conducted on government direction four years after the legislation was passed. We asked for that review to be built into the law so we could learn about how things went and see if any things need to be improved. You, as well as we, could learn from that. And from the website of my coalition, you can tap into all the key developments from the day this law was passed right up to today.

So I encourage you to treat Ontario as sort of a self-serve buffet where you can choose certain things and on the other hand say certain things don’t look so palatable; let’s try doing something differently.

Let me jump right into recommendations because time is scarce. I want to suggest to you that there are – that you should see this bill or encourage you to see this bill as something like a down payment. It’s not, of course, the actual remedy to the barriers we face nor does it pretend to be, but rather it’s intended to kick off a process that will lead to effective measures to get rid of the barriers facing Manitobans with disabilities and to prevent new ones from being created.

I encourage all members of this committee and indeed all members of the Legislature to view this as a non-partisan issue. I’m proud that in Ontario, when the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act passed in 2005, it was supported unanimously by all three political parties: Liberal, Conservative and New Democrat, and they rose with a standing ovation to applaud its passage. They hadn’t always agreed on issues about it over the years, far from it, but when it finally came to its finished product, there was that strong support. I encourage you to do the same and I’m going to offer some ways that you can make the down payment that this bill offers to people with disabilities in your province a more generous down payment, and I’m going to suggest that that more generous down payment won’t cost you an extra dime of the public’s money.

So what should you do? First, I want to encourage you to shorten the timeline for the accessibility advisory committee to report. Our government started from complete scratch in 2003 and had a complete bill written and in the House for first reading within a year. Our independent review was able to do a full review of that legislation, consulting with the stakeholders on all sides, and have a report written really within about six or seven months. You’ve got the work product of all of that, so while your bill says up to a year, I’m going to encourage you to say six months. People with disabilities deserve some prompt action, especially because the government, as I understand, has already done a significant amount of consulting on this up to now.

I’d like to suggest as well that one of the things that’s good in this bill – though we think that people with disabilities need a lot more than what’s in the bill – one thing that’s good in the bill is that you’re giving the accessibility advisory committee some marching orders of things that are taken as a given. I want to encourage you to add to that list. That committee shouldn’t have to prove to the government or to any party – whichever party is going to be implementing it after the next election – that committee should not have to prove to them that people with disabilities face too many barriers. That should be a given and that should be stated in the legislation. Who could dispute that? Those barriers should be removed and new ones should be prevented along reasonable timelines. That should be a given.

The law should – the bill, we would recommend, should indicate that there needs to be a timeline within which the province should become fully accessible. If you don’t want to predetermine that now – Ontarians gave themselves 20 years, but you could ask the advisory committee to come back with a figure. That timeline, that deadline in our legislation is one – is a very important part of what makes it work and lets people not put things off indefinitely or, at least, if they try to, lets us raise that with them.

It is very important, we believe, from our experience that any accessibility legislation has to have effective enforcement that doesn’t require people with disabilities to fight barriers one at a time through individual human rights complaints. That’s not to say we should lose the power or weaken the power of our human rights complaints, but the legislation needs to include effective enforcement, and, therefore, I encourage you to add on the list of things you’re sending over to the advisory committee to advise on this how to do effective enforcement.

I want to suggest that there are a few other things that you could build into the law. A lot of them the bill points to but I suggest needs some teeth. You talk in the bill about the strength, about setting up guidelines to ensure that government money when it’s used for procurement buys accessible products, and that’s good, but we go a step further.

We’d suggest that you build in the law a requirement that no – not a dime of public tax money ever be spent again to create or perpetuate or exacerbate a barrier against people with disabilities. Who, from any political perspective can say, no, that’s not good, we should spend our money creating new barriers. We encourage you to build that into the law as a commitment now and to ask the advisory council how to implement it, but, in the meantime, a proclamation of commitment in the legislation that no – not a dime will be spent on creating or exacerbating or perpetuating new barriers. That would be a tremendous message to the public service and to anyone who seeks government money, whether it’s capital grants or procurement spending or infrastructure spending; all of that would be very useful.

Let me say just one or two other quick recommendations and then a quick conclusion. I’d like to suggest to you that it’s important that your law guarantee that it will supersede anything that guarantees less protections for people with disabilities, but that nothing in a disability act that your Province passes should take away any rights that – or dilute any rights that people with disabilities have.

And, finally, I encourage you to ask the advisory committee to include in its mandate developing specific strategies for accessible elections for voters and candidates with disabilities. Now, we’ve done a lot of work on this in Ontario and we could give you some good solutions to consider, some our Legislature’s adopted, some the opposition’s proposed and the government didn’t adopt, but they’re all really important topics worth looking at.

Let me turn to conclusions. I think that when you raise the subject among some, some get a little nervous, what’s this all going to cost. The good news is, the Ontario government funded the Martin Prosperity Institute to do a study on the long-term financial implications of providing accessibility, and its conclusion was that accessibility is a net money-maker for the province, that is to say, we’re better off, financially, with it. So not only is it the right thing to do as a matter of equity and equality and justice, it’s financially appropriate.

The other thing that we have found, and, I think, others who’ve worked on this issue in the United States to push accessibility forward, find that when you tear down barriers that impede people with disabilities, it actually helps everybody. As one example, I had to sue the Toronto Transit Commission; not once, but twice, to get them to announce all bus and subway and streetcar stops, for people like me who are blind. It happens that most of the positive feedback I get about those announcements are from sighted people who like the announcements because they can’t see through a crowd on a bus or through a blizzard outside the bus.

Mr. Chairperson: Mr. Lepofsky, you’ve got about 20 seconds left.

Mr. Lepofsky: So, if I could conclude by just saying I – we would be delighted to give you any assistance we can as you think through this – work through this legislation.

Mr. Chairperson: Thank you very much, Mr. Lepofsky, for your presentation. I see the minister has a question for you.

Hon. Jennifer Howard (Minister responsible for Persons with Disabilities): It’s Jennifer Howard here, David. Nice to hear from you again. I enjoyed our meeting in Toronto a few years back and I know you’ve also been to Winnipeg and shared your journey in Ontario.

You touched a bit on the Martin Prosperity Institute study, and we had someone come from there – I think one of the authors – to present. And I think the other part of it, if you could maybe speak to it for the committee, was the impact, particularly, I know, on the tourism industry in Ontario, of the accessibility legislation. I don’t know if you could speak to the kind of positive impacts on the private sector and business of increased accessibility.

Floor Comment: There’s several –

Mr. Chairperson: Honourable – sorry, just a second – honourable – Mr. Lepofsky.

Mr. Lepofsky: There’s several benefits from the tourism perspective. Right now, if you’re wanting to locate a conference, an international conference in a city, you’ve got a lot of money to spend, and you want to go to a city that’s got the infrastructure that will be able to accommodate conference attendees with disabilities. Any city that does not have the infrastructure, the public transit, the accessible restaurants and places for entertainment is going to be an extremely unattractive destination, so – which is why it’s very important for the benefit of tourism in your community to provide accessibility.

The other thing is that it’s helpful to think about this as not simply what is the private sector going to do or – for themselves – pardon me, or what is the public sector going to do for itself? When you make public transit accessible, and that’s a public sector thing, that makes it easier for tourists and students and employees and others to get around, to spend money in your stores, to visit your tourism sites, to go to your workplaces, to study in your schools. So a public sector investment in things like accessible public transit can have payoff for the private sector.

* (18:30)

And so there’s benefits across the board in these kind of activities. And to the extent that we don’t invest in, and provide for accessibility in things like tourism, public transit, public services and so on, we lose the tourism dollars of tourists, conferences and so on, who decide to go elsewhere.

Mr. Chairperson: Very good.

Mrs. Bonnie Mitchelson (River East): And I just want to thank you, David. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet you. It’s Bonnie Mitchelson, and I’m the critic for Family Services and Disabilities. And I just want to thank you for your very well-thought-out presentation, very easy to follow and understand. I have taken some notes and, you know, I think we all agree that it’s time that Manitoba moved forward, and it’s nice to hear some of the experience from Ontario. And I think, you know, as we move through this process there’ll be some valuable information that will come from what you’ve been through. So thank you very much.

Mr. Lepofsky: Well, thank you. One of the things I mentioned earlier, is that this legislation, and this issue, is really one that is above and beyond partisan politics of any sort, and we’ve – that applies not only to the province of Ontario. You go to the United States and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is different from the law that we passed, was proudly supported by the Democrats and the Republicans. And it was President George Bush, Sr. that signed it into law proudly, and Bob Dole, was the Senate house leader who brought it through the Senate. So it’s not something that you – one needs to think of as either a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue. It’s an everybody issue.

Mr. Chairperson: Seeing no further questions, we thank you very much, Mr. Lepofsky, for your time with us this evening.

Mr. Lepofsky: Thanks so much for affording us the opportunity to address this. Bye-bye.

Mr. Chairperson: No problem. Take care.

*****

Bill 47

THE ACCESSIBILITY ADVISORY COUNCIL ACT AND AMENDMENTS TO THE GOVERNMENT PURCHASES ACT
________________________________________

Table of Contents
Explanatory Note

(Assented to )

WHEREAS under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada ratified in 2010, member states are expected to take appropriate measures to ensure accessibility and independent living;

AND WHEREAS the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that every person has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on age or mental or physical disability;

AND WHEREAS most Manitobans will confront barriers to accessibility at some point in their lives;

AND WHEREAS achieving accessibility will improve the health, independence and social inclusion of persons disabled by barriers, and of seniors;

THEREFORE HER MAJESTY, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, enacts as follows:

INTRODUCTORY PROVISIONS

Definitions

1 The following definitions apply in this Act.

“barrier” means a barrier described in section 3. (« barrière »)

“council” means the Accessibility Advisory Council established by subsection 4(1). (« Conseil »)

“minister” means the minister appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council to administer this Act. (« ministre »)

“organization” means any organization in the public or private sector and includes an unincorporated association, partnership, sole proprietorship or trade union. (« organisme »)

Purpose

2 The purpose of this Act is to enhance accessibility by identifying barriers that disable people and the ways in which those barriers can be prevented and removed.

What is a barrier?

3 (1) For a person who has a long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, a barrier is anything that interacts with that impairment in a way that may hinder the person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis.

Examples of barriers

3 (2) The following are examples of barriers:

(a) a physical barrier;

(b) an architectural barrier;

(c) an information or communications barrier;

(d) an attitudinal barrier;

(e) a technological barrier;

(f) a barrier established or perpetuated by an enactment, a policy or a practice.

ACCESSIBILITY ADVISORY COUNCIL

Accessibility Advisory Council

4 (1) The Accessibility Advisory Council is hereby established.

Appointment of members

4 (2) The council is to consist of at least 6 and not more than 12 members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

First appointments

4 (3) The Lieutenant Governor in Council must make the first appointments to the council within three months after the coming into force of this Act.

Members to be included

4 (4) In appointing members to the council, the Lieutenant Governor in Council must include

(a) persons who are disabled by barriers or representatives from organizations for persons who are disabled by barriers; and

(b) representatives of persons or organizations that have the ability to prevent and remove barriers that disable people.

Term of office

4 (5) A member of the council is to be appointed for a term not exceeding three years.

Appointment continues

4 (6) A member whose term expires continues to hold office until he or she is re-appointed, the appointment is revoked or a successor is appointed.

Chair and vice-chair

4 (7) The Lieutenant Governor in Council must designate one member of the council as chair and another member as vice-chair to act if the chair is absent or unable to act.

Meetings

4 (8) The council must

(a) meet at least six times each year; and

(b) meet with the minister at least once every 12 months.

Establishing committees

5 (1) Subject to the approval of the minister, the council may establish one or more committees and assign to them the functions that it considers appropriate.

Committee membership

5 (2) Members of a committee are to be appointed by the council and may include persons who are not members of the council.

Remuneration and expenses

6 (1) The minister may approve the payment of remuneration and reasonable expenses to the members of the council and a committee of the council.

Departmental support

6 (2) The minister may provide resources from his or her department to support the work of the council or a committee of the council.

MANDATE OF THE COUNCIL

Mandate of the council

7 (1) The council is to advise and make recommendations to the minister respecting

(a) provisions that may be enacted by legislation or regulation that, once enacted, will put in place a process for the systematic identification, prevention and removal of barriers that disable people;

(b) other measures, policies, practices and requirements that may be implemented by the government to improve accessibility;

(c) long-term accessibility objectives for furthering the purpose of this Act; and

(d) any other matter relating to accessibility on which the minister seeks the council’s advice.

Accessibility principles

7 (2) In carrying out its mandate, the council must have regard for the following principles:

1. Access: barriers should not prevent a person from accessing places, events and other functions that are generally available in the community.

2. Equality: barriers should not prevent a person from accessing those things that will give the person equality of opportunity and outcome.

3. Universal design: access should be provided in a manner that does not establish or perpetuate differences based on a person’s impairment.

4. Systemic responsibility: the responsibility to prevent and remove barriers rests with the public or private organization that is responsible for establishing or perpetuating the barrier.

Advisory council must consult

7 (3) In preparing its recommendations, the council must

(a) consult with

(i) persons who are disabled by barriers or representatives from organizations for persons who are disabled by barriers, and

(ii) representatives of persons and organizations that have the ability to prevent and remove barriers that disable people; and

(b) have regard for

(i) the nature of the barriers that the measures, policies, practices and other requirements are intended to identify, prevent or remove, and

(ii) any technical and economic considerations that may be associated with identifying, preventing or removing a barrier.

Timing of recommendations

7 (4) The council must

(a) make its initial recommendations to the minister within 12 months of the day this section came into force; and

(b) after the initial recommendations are made, make additional recommendations whenever the council considers it appropriate to make additional recommendations.

Recommendations to be by consensus

7 (5) The council must attempt to achieve a consensus among its members on the recommendations made to the minister, but one or more members may submit separate recommendations if a consensus is not achieved.

Recommendations to be made public

8 (1) The minister must make the council’s recommendations available to the public by posting them on a government website and by any other means the minister considers advisable.

Public comments

8 (2) Within 45 days after the council’s recommendations are made public, a person may submit written comments about the recommendations to the minister.

Response of minister

8 (3) Within 90 days after the period for public comment ends, the minister must provide a written response to the council about

(a) the council’s recommendations; and

(b) any written comments received by the minister in respect of those recommendations.

Council to submit annual report to minister

9 (1) The council must submit to the minister an annual report of its affairs and activities at the time specified by the minister.

Annual report to be included

9 (2) The minister must include the council’s annual report in the annual report of his or her department.

AMENDMENTS TO GOVERNMENT PURCHASES ACT

C.C.S.M. c. G90 amended

10 (1) The Government Purchases Act is amended by this section.

10 (2) The following is added after clause 7 (1) (b):

(b.1) whenever possible, purchases must be made in accordance with the barrier-free purchasing guidelines, if such guidelines are prescribed by regulations made under this Act;

10 (3) The following is added after clause 17 (c):

(c.1) establishing barrier-free purchasing guidelines for the purpose of clause 7 (1) (b.1);

C.C.S.M. REFERENCE AND COMING INTO FORCE

C.C.S.M. reference

11 This Act may be cited as The Accessibility Advisory Council Act and referred to as chapter A1.7 of the Continuing Consolidation of the Statutes of Manitoba.

Coming into force

12 This Act comes into force on the day it receives royal assent.
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