Journey to accessibility

During recent Manitoba Access Awareness Week, delegates gather to discuss accessibility. /DEANNA NG

The Disabilities Issues Office hosted a well-attended discussion earlier this month at the Viscount Gort Hotel on Portage Ave. — all about accessibility in Manitoba, and in Winnipeg in particular — with the common goal of examining accessible legislation, customer service, and employment for people with disabilities.

The various sectors – non-profits, government, educators, and especially businesses — attended the event, with a common interest in making Manitoba a more accessible province. This was just one of several events that were part of Manitoba Access Awareness Week, held June 5 to 9.

Since 1990, there has been much to celebrate in Manitoba when it comes to accessibility. In fact, Winnipeg  recently won the Rick Hansen Accessibility Award.

While we can all be proud the Rick Hansen Foundation chose to honour the City of Winnipeg with a 2017 Accessible Cities Award, it is also important to view this achievement from a broader perspective. There is still much work to do to advocate for the funding earmarked for accessibility in the 2016-2018 budgetBarrier Free Manitoba is calling for the budgeted $425,000 to be used to improve accessibility throughout Winnipeg.

Freelance reporter, Jessica Botelho-Urbanski from Winnipeg Metro, wrote about MAAW by focusing on the importance of public education, and the need to reach more than 34,000 businesses and non-profits before November 2018, so all can become accessible.

To help with this, keynote speaker, Rachael Stafford, Project Director and Director of Business Development from Rocky Mountain ADA Centre in Colorado, spoke on what our neighbours to the south are doing in terms of accessibility and complying with legislation on accessibility.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act ADA has been around since 1990,” Stafford explained. Since 1973, Stafford’s job has been to inform Americans about accessibility and what that actually means.

“The ADA had amendments in 2008 as there were lots of grey areas. It left room for interpretation,” she said.

However, the ADA again had to be expanded in 2013, as there were still even more clarifications needed.

Stafford noted the numerous drive by lawsuits that were common, as businesses were informed they weren’t up to standard, they were audited, and still left with questions; many were getting caught in the details.

“Applying the ADA as well as understanding and implementation of accessibility is best when businesses work together to promote accessibility, to seek help from organizations like ADA centres, or advocacy agencies,” Stafford explained. “Knowing what universal access is will be the key.”

Some examples are things such as definition and respect to service animals, services for the deaf community, and ways that everyone can access your business.

What can we do in Manitoba to prepare to be accessible? Businesses can go to local agencies for more info, as we now have 211 Manitoba,  a searchable online database of government, health, and social services that are available across the province.

There were several other organizations represented at this event. Doris Koop, Executive Director of the Vision Impaired Resource Network – VIRN, had an information booth there.

“We celebrate accessibility and inclusion every day of the year by ensuring all of our events, programs and activities go the extra mile to make people feel welcome and do everything we can do to bring accessibility to the forefront without being obvious,” said Koop. “We refer to this as ‘Seamless Inclusion.'”

On accessible customer service, Koop explained, “[We] do presentations to small businesses, corporations, organizations, schools, etc. on how to better serve and understand how to better serve the community of people who are vision impaired.”

Koop added, “[VIRN also does] website analysis to ensure websites are accessible.”

To help make Winnipeg a more accessible and inclusive city, “[VIRN] took part in many studies and testing with the city, and made many recommendations based on personal hands-on experiences as an organization that is a consumer based organization.”

Thanks to the help of this organization and others, the City of Winnipeg has an accessibility plan.

Following Stafford’s presentation, the panel discussions at the DIO event explored the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, accessible customer service and employment for people with disabilities.

Denis Magotiaux, a Straw Purchase Manager for SWM, an international flax purchasing and processing plant, became interested in the work that StopGap is doing after seeing a Rick Mercer report on CBC.

StopGap is an organization that builds ramps in order to make buildings more accessible.

After proposing a project to his employer to build ramps for businesses, Magotiaux and other employees with SWM have built more than 13 ramps that are used in Carman, Manitoba.

Magotiaux explained, “The labour was volunteer. The ramps are removable. The cost was $40 per ramp.”

StopGap prepares portable ramps for businesses, leading to more customers. /DEANNA NG

The next panel demonstrated an example of inclusive employment practices.

Marvic Abarra and Eileen Manalo, co-owners of Caked with Love shared a common dream. That dream, Caked with Love Co. opened as small cafe/bakery in River Heights in 2015.

Both co-owners are passionate about coffee, cake and people. They serve carefully handcrafted espresso drinks, cakes and a daily dose of encouragement. Their goal is to provide an inviting and welcoming place to relax.

Caked with Love offers coffee, food, and desserts.

This dream lead to the hiring of Karl Anderson. After many applications, and holding a few jobs, he found his dream job. Anderson has been working as the bookkeeper for Caked with Love Company for a year and is happy about the ways he has been accommodated due to his cerebral palsy.

Another booth at the event featured the Winnipeg Access Advisory Committee. They advise the city on accessibility, hear concerns of citizens, and consult in the areas of employment and accessible customer service, as well as other accessibility issues.

Reaching Equality Employment Services – REES  also had a booth at the event. They have programs to support businesses to hire qualified people with disabilities. For example, deaf people or people who are hard of hearing, as well as employers have access to services that have led to many successes.

There are many other service that REES provides including hiring youth, older workers, and matching skilled workers to organizations that need positions filled. Businesses can get more information or support by calling 204-832-7337 or email: info@re-es.org

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act website is updated with new information on the process of the legislation.

Barrier Free Manitoba, an advocacy group on accessibility is active in this legislation. To be updated on upcoming events or notices, you can follow them on social media.

There has been many accomplishments to accessibility in Manitoba and in the city of Winnipeg, but there is still much to do. Following this event, many discussions ensued, focusing on our collective journey towards accessibility.

About

Living with a vision impairment, I use services from CNIB as well as other organizations that have provided resources, services and technology for my education and career.

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