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Manitoba Disabilities Issues Office

Full Citizenship:
A Manitoba Strategy on Disability

Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities
A Disability Access and Inclusion Lens
Disability Issues Office
Manitoba Human Rights Code Compliance


Accountability for Access and Inclusion

The Action Plan that we have outlined commits the Manitoba Government to important initiatives that will move us closer to a society in which persons with disabilities participate as full citizens. Members of the disabilities community have heard such fine words before. Now, they have a right to expect action. And they have a right to expect to be able to measure that action. Finally, they have a right to expect the Manitoba Government to develop tools that ensure that future government initiatives do not undermine their rights to Full Citizenship.

In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues provides a vision of an accountability framework in the form of transparency and public participation to recognize the growing public demand for greater democratic engagement.

In response to In Unison, 13 national organizations representing the interests of people with disabilities throughout Canada issued a document entitled A National Strategy for Persons with Disabilities: The Community Definition. This document made more detailed proposals concerning accountability and called for effective mechanisms to monitor whether citizenship rights for persons with disabilities are being respected, and to provide redress where they are violated. Among the mechanisms recommended are:

  • A Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities;
  • An access and inclusion lens (discussed later) that is directed systematically at the identification, prevention and removal of barriers that face persons with disabilities;
  • A Centre of Responsibility for the Coordination of Disability Policy to operate independently of departments providing programs to persons with disabilities. This Centre would apply an access and inclusion lens to all government programs and to initiatives;
  • Effective and meaningful consultation on a regular basis with representatives of the community of persons with disabilities as part of the mandate of the Centre of Responsibility; and
    A comprehensive annual report to Parliament/Legislature by the Centre of Responsibility describing in detail the steps taken during the year to ensure access and inclusion for persons with disabilities.

It is largely the responsibility of individual governments at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, to act upon recommendations of this sort. This White Paper makes the following observations and proposals on issues related to accountability and inclusion.

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Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities

A Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities has already been designated in Manitoba. The Minister's mission is to foster the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in all segments of society within the framework of public policy, programs and legislation which fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.

The Minister:

  • Ensures communication with the community to identify issues affecting persons with disabilities;
  • Coordinates the development and implementation of policies across government departments to remove barriers and create accessible programs and services;
  • Promotes positive attitudes and raises awareness of disability issues; and
    Represents the needs of Manitobans with disabilities with the federal government and other provincial and municipal jurisdictions.

A number of mechanisms are proposed to support the role of the Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities. These are a Disability Access and Inclusion Lens, a Disability Issues Office, Manitoba Human Rights Code compliance mechanisms, and an Annual Roundtable on Disability Issues (discussed earlier).

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A Disability Access and Inclusion Lens

A disability lens is a tool for identifying and clarifying issues affecting persons with disabilities used by policy and program developers and analysts to access and address the impact of all initiatives (policies, programs or decisions) on persons with disabilities. It is also a resource in creating policies and programs reflective of the rights and needs of persons with disabilities. The Government of British Columbia has developed such a lens.

The lens is, in essence, a series of questions that are posed about government initiatives. The questions could be focussed (as they are in British Columbia) around some primary impact areas intended to ensure that legislation, policy, programs and services:

  • Are inclusive of persons with disabilities;
  • Respect the rights and needs of persons with disabilities;
  • Avoid unintended negative outcomes; and
  • Reflect the goals of government for equity and fairness for all.

The seven primary impact areas in the British Columbia Disability Lens are:

  • Consultation and data collection;
  • Accessibility and appropriate accommodation;
  • Systemic, indirect discrimination and legal obligations;
  • Economic status, education, training and employment;
  • Communication;
  • Safety and protection from victimization; and
  • Health and well-being.

The Disability Issues Office (discussed below) would coordinate the use of the Disability Access and Inclusion Lens throughout government to identify, prevent and remove barriers to Full Citizenship for persons with disabilities.

In keeping with the history, values and needs of Manitobans, our own Disability Lens would be developed through consultation with Manitoba's disabilities community. A variety of principles could guide the development of our Disability Lens. (See Appendix 1)

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Disability Issues Office

The Disability Issues Office would report to the Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities and would serve as a centre of responsibility for the coordination of disability policy, independent of provincial departments providing programs to persons with disabilities. It would not be directly involved in the delivery of programs or services.

The Disabilities Issues Office would support and monitor the use of the Disability Access and Inclusion Lens in all provincial programs and new initiatives, not just those which are disability specific. The Disability Issues Office would use the Disability Access and Inclusion Lens in such a way as to systematically identify, prevent and remove barriers that face persons with disabilities.

The Disability Issues Office would ensure regular, effective and meaningful consultation with representatives of the disabilities community. This consultation would cover all aspects of government programs. The Disability Issues Office would:

  • Develop and coordinate the Annual Roundtable on Disability Issues;
  • Prepare the Annual Roundtable on Disability Issues Report;
  • Coordinate consideration of Roundtable recommendations in the Manitoba Government's annual budget estimates process;
  • Develop the annual White Paper or Draft Action Plan on Disability Issues; and
  • Coordinate the development of a report describing and evaluating actions taken by the Government of Manitoba on the previous year's Roundtable recommendations.

The Disability Issues Office would address issues of importance to children and youth with disabilities and to seniors with disabilities, as well as families and caregivers. It would recognize the double disadvantage faced by women with disabilities, Aboriginal persons with disabilities, and visible minority persons with disabilities.

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Manitoba Human Rights Code Compliance

In the past, access policies with respect to disability have been just that: policies or statements of general intent without any clear means of enforceability, and without the same sense of commitment often associated with statutory or regulatory legislation. As such, any government initiative toward full inclusion may be undermined by the absence of mechanisms which convert the concepts developed in this paper into more tangible and, where appropriate, enforceable formats, to ensure that good intentions are translated into concrete action.

Recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada have emphasized the need for a more pro-active approach to the issue of accommodation, to ensure that procedures are in place to assess accommodation issues that may arise in the delivery of government services. The requirements for service providers, including governments, are stronger as a result of two recent Supreme Court decisions. There is a clear expectation following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Grismer v. B.C. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles and the Attorney-General of B.C., that "This decision stands for the proposition that those who provide services subject to the Human Rights Code must adopt standards that accommodate people with disabilities where this can be done without sacrificing their legitimate objectives and without incurring undue hardship."

We propose the use of institutions and mechanisms such as the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Code to enhance the accommodation process in the context of government services. This may entail the creation of a regulatory process, or a system of enhanced guidelines, coupled with a monitoring function. It should be noted that this would not replace the existing complaint-driven structure under human rights legislation.

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