Four of the basic building blocks for Full Citizenship for persons with disabilities are:
Additional barriers to Full Citizenship exist for Aboriginal persons with disabilities.
The following sections of this White Paper outline the challenges that exist in each of these areas and describe the policy initiatives the government will undertake in response to these challenges.
Income supports are those non-employment-based financial benefits that are provided by government and private insurance and pension programs. Persons with disabilities can receive income support from a number of different sources including the Canada Pension Plan, private disability insurance, workers compensation, and provincial income assistance programs. Eligibility for assistance depends on a variety of variables: where and how the person became disabled, the nature and severity of the disability, and in the case of Aboriginal persons, residency or status under the Indian Act.
The main Manitoba government income supports are provided to persons with disabilities through its Employment and Income Assistance program. This is a program of last resort: to be eligible for the program applicants are assessed on the basis of their assets and their income. There are limits on the level of outside income that Employment Income Assistance participants can receive and on the assets that they can own and still be eligible for assistance. Currently, Manitobans with disabilities can qualify for Employment and Income Assistance in one of two ways:
A variety of studies have indicated that in the area of income supports there is a need to:
Manitoba's Employment and Income Assistance program currently requires that in order to be eligible for benefits under the disability category, an applicant must be classified by a medical panel as being unemployable. There are a number of problems that arise from this practise. First of all, the medical panel is being asked to answer a question that is essentially non-medical; with technical aids or equipment, specialized training, modified job or adapted workplace, many individuals with disabilities that would have led to their being labelled "unemployable" have gained and held employment. At the same time, individuals whose degrees of disabilities did not, in the opinion of the medical panel, render them unemployable, have for a variety of reasons failed to gain employment.
The unemployability criterion has serious consequences, the most obvious being that the very definition stands as a barrier to a return or entry to the workforce. A person who has been defined as unemployable on the basis of disability is, for example, not eligible to make use of many training and employment resources. In addition, persons with disabilities risk losing income supports by taking on part-time work. Furthermore, they are not allowed to participate in all available work-incentive options.
Other disincentives to seeking employment include:
At one time, disability supports (such as payment for medication or special transportation) were closely tied to the classification of unemployability, and a person with disabilities who returned to the workforce lost important supports. Over time, policies have evolved to the point where this tight linkage between disability supports and unemployability has been reduced and considerably more discretion has been introduced into the system. However, it still is the case that Employment and Income Assistance Disability Category participants are not aware of the possibility of retaining disability supports when these are needed after they become employed and may no longer be eligible for income assistance. Indeed, program staff may often not advise participants of these possibilities and sometimes may not be aware that these disability supports can and should continue to be provided when they are needed. As a result, it is still often the case that persons with disabilities lose needed supports when they take work. Disability supports should not be delivered in such a way that they become a disincentive to work.
The parents of children with disabilities have expressed their concerns to the government over the limitations that are placed on the assets that a disabled Employment and Income Assistance participant is allowed to retain. In many cases, parents who have been caring for their children during their lives wish to settle an inheritance on their child that is to be used specifically to address disability-related issues. Currently, this is not possible. The limits on assets also make it difficult for disabled people to save a sufficient amount of money to acquire many of the physical and human supports needed to maintain their quality of life.
The Manitoba Government has received advice concerning the Employment and Income Assistance program from organizations representing persons with disabilities. Among the advice received were two documents from the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities: The Employment and Income Assistance Program: Removing the Employment Barriers and Disincentives to Work and Two Hundred and Forty-Four Voices. Two of the recommendations made have been acted on: training on disability issues is now being provided to Employment and Income Assistance staff by persons with disabilities, and a self-employment option has been created for persons with disabilities on the Employment and Income Assistance program.
The Manitoba Government will take action in this year to strengthen the government's existing income supports, remove aspects of the income support program that serve as barriers to employment opportunities, and improve access to training.Redefinition of the Disability Category
The Manitoba Government is proposing to redefine its income assistance eligibility requirements for persons with disabilities. The proposed changes:
Draft definitions are proposed as follows:
A person is categorically eligible for DISABILITY LEVEL 1:
A person is categorically eligible for DISABILITY LEVEL 2:
It is intended that regulations, or guidelines established by regulation, would define and provide criteria for the interpretation and determination of:
- "extensive assistance, supervision or other disability supports" required;
- "ongoing assistance, supervision or other disability supports" required, and
- " severe mental or physical impairment."
Level One participants would not have to resubmit medical or assessor forms if they returned to assistance after attempting employment during the period of the medical condition predicted in their medical certificate. This would guarantee rapid reinstatement to program benefits should they enter and exit the labour force, provided they once again meet the needs test for income assistance during the period of their certified eligibility. Once eligibility for Level Two has been established, it would normally continue indefinitely. Level Two participants would not have to resubmit medical or assessor forms if they returned to assistance after attempting employment. This would guarantee rapid reinstatement to program benefits should they enter and exit the labour force, provided they once again meet the needs test for income assistance.
Instead of a panelling process that requires a finding of unemployability, Manitoba would introduce an administrative procedure whereby the department accepts the assessment of disability made by a medical practitioner. The medical practitioner would provide a diagnosis and prognosis and an assessor (such as an occupational therapist or physiotherapist) would determine which extra supports are required.
Clear guidelines could be developed for use by physicians and assessors in interpreting the forms for determining eligibility. Although panels will no longer be required, the department may implement an audit process to ensure appropriate assessments for accountability purposes.
Depending on the expected duration of the disability and the level of support required, persons with disabilities who were eligible for income assistance would be placed in one of the two categories of income assistance eligibility for persons with disabilities. The reclassification process from the current Disability Category to the two new disability categories would be conducted in a manner that maintains continuity of benefits. Steps would be taken to ensure that no person currently enrolled under the Disability Category of the Employment and Income Assistance program would receive fewer benefits under the program due to these changes in definitions for accessibility. Persons with disabilities predicted to last less than six months would continue to be assessed under the general case load criteria.
We will strengthen and improve awareness and operation of the policies that enable Employment and Income Assistance Disability Category participants to benefit from disability supports (e.g. medication, special transportation) independent of eligibility for income assistance. In effect, it is proposed Level One and Two participants would:
It is proposed that:
A work incentive option more similar to that provided to non-disabled participants in the Employment and Income Assistance program will be made available to persons with disabilities on the program. In consideration of the higher costs incurred by persons with disabilities in being employed, the proportion of earnings, after the exempt initial earnings amount available to participants in the program without reduction in benefit level, would be 30 per cent rather than 25 per cent.
In recognition of the additional costs involved in living with a disability, the Manitoba Government is proposing the following two changes in the area the treatment of assets in the Employment and Income Assistance program.
It is proposed that the Government of Manitoba establish a new policy to allow certain types of lump sum payments of up to $100,000 made to income assistance recipients with disabilities without reduction in benefit levels provided that these funds are used for costs directly related to their disabilities. These lump sum payments, such as compensation awards, inheritances and proceeds from life insurance policies up to $100,000 would be distinguished from other types of payments, such as income replacement portions of settlements. This policy could help many persons with a disability better meet their daily living costs and improve their quality of life. The policy could also help parents in estate planning to ensure that their children are able to maintain a reasonable standard of living after the parents'death.
It is proposed that liquid assets exemptions for income assistance recipients with disabilities be doubled. Persons with disabilities could be allowed to have liquid assets up to $4,000 for the first person in a family, $2,000 for the second person, and $1,000 for each additional person, up to a maximum to $8,000. Necessary assets, which are owned or acquired, such as scooters or other mobility aids, a vehicle, or a house used as a residence are not counted in determining these liquid asset exemptions. Gifts from parents, other relatives, guardians and friends could be allowed at the time of application to the program to contribute to such liquid assets exemptions. Increasing these levels would help improve the living circumstances of many disabled persons and allow them to meet unexpected costs.
By breaking down the barriers to fair and equal access to government buildings, services, information and programs, government demonstrates leadership to the broader community in the reduction of barriers to Full Citizenship. Access must be more than access to buildings and services. Manitobans with disabilities must have access and input into public policy making. Such access is a primary right of citizenship.
Action is required in the following areas:
Ensuring that building construction and renovations are done in a comprehensive manner, that takes into consideration up-to-date technologies and concepts, is important in terms of both financial management and planning and quality of life issues for persons with disabilities. Building better access design into new construction and ongoing renovation is less costly than subsequent special renovations for access purposes.
While building codes require a minimum standard of access and have been applied to all buildings at the time they were being built and during major renovations irrespective of ownership, many Manitoba government buildings do not provide a suitable level of access to disabled members of the public. For example, many buildings are not wheel chair accessible, either in terms of entrance or internal facilities and services. The Government of Manitoba needs more advanced and comprehensive access guidelines suited to its public service role. The provincial government, as of November 27, 2000, occupied 104 buildings which it owns and an additional 182 leased spaces.
The Manitoba Government is proposing to adopt the Universal Design Institute's ACCESS: A Guide to Accessible Design for Designers, Builders, Facility Owners and Managers as preferred accessible design guidelines for those buildings where the provincial government has design control through ownership or specific capital funding or leaseholder arrangements. The Universal Design Institute's guide is based on the National Building Code of Canada and on state-of-the-art, best-practice design for access in many jurisdictions. These guidelines are separate from, but complementary to the Manitoba Building Code. They include specific technical information and drawings, necessary to achieve better fundamental accessibility features in the renovation of an existing facility and in any new construction of facilities where the provincial government provides services to the public.
The Government of Manitoba will monitor the use of these guidelines. As the guidelines demonstrate effectiveness in enhancing access, the Government will further strengthen its policy.
Because it is not economically possible to immediately renovate all existing public buildings that are not accessible to people with disabilities, there is a need for interim measures. Interim Accommodation Procedures have been developed in consultation with the disabilities community to ensure that government services and government-funded services are available to people with disabilities. Until now these Interim Accommodation Procedures have not been adopted by the Manitoba Government.
The Manitoba Government is proposing that the Interim Accommodations Procedures be used as internal policy to be followed by all departments. The procedures are practical and are of a common sense nature. Examples of requirements are that:
An action plan for the implementation of the Interim Accommodations Procedures is currently under development.
While the interim accommodation procedures are to be followed as policy by all departments, the document would also serve as a useful resource guideline for public schools, colleges, universities, health-care facilities, public housing projects, Crown corporations and organizations providing government-funded services.
It is proposed that the Government of Manitoba monitor the use of these Interim Accommodation Procedures. As the Interim Accommodation Procedures demonstrate effectiveness in enhancing access to provincial services, the Government of Manitoba will make any needed changes in government policy and further strengthen its policy in regard to these procedures.
Government places a strong emphasis on print information to communicate its programs and services to the public. However, approximately 14 out of every 1,000 people are unable to use regular print because of disabilities such as impaired vision. As a result, many persons with disabilities remain unaware of or unable to use many government services. Furthermore, government documents are often written in a style that is too complex or obscure for persons with learning or cognitive disabilities to fully understand.
The Manitoba Government's Guidelines on Access to Government guarantee persons with print handicaps reasonable access to provincial publications. However, these guidelines have become outdated in light of the development of new forms of electronic communications. For example, while audio tape and Braille were included in the Manitoba Guidelines on Access, electronic media such as the internet or text files provided by e-mail or floppy disk were not. In large measure the Manitoba Government has adapted its services as technologies changed, however this adaptation is not uniform: it is time the guidelines were brought up to date.
The Manitoba Government's Guidelines on Access to Government require that meetings and hearings sponsored by government be reasonably accessible to disabled members of the public. The guidelines make recommendations on a number of strategies that can be employed to improve accessibility. However, they have not kept pace with technological developments, such as the new technology of computerized note taking.
The Manitoba Guidelines on the Access to Government is currently being updated.
The communications revolution brought about by the development of the internet and home computing has opened up many opportunities for persons with disabilities. Public access to government services is continually being increased through the development and deployment of web-based technology that is available anytime and anywhere there is telephone access. New developments in computer hardware and software make it possible for more persons with disabilities to make use of computers. For example, persons with impaired vision can use readily available software to display text in large print versions. For blind persons, specialized software and hardware components can voice out text or create a tactile Braille message rather than displaying information on a screen.
However, Manitobans with disabilities may be frustrated in their efforts to benefit from this new technology if their needs are not taken into consideration when web-based information is created for the Internet. The usefulness of these specialized technologies depends largely on how information has been made available on the Internet. Regrettably, a good deal of the information available on Government of Manitoba web pages is in formats that are difficult or impossible for these specialized disability access computer technologies to process. It is important that new internet-based information and service systems offered to the general public are either made initially accessible or are re-engineered to become accessible to persons with disabilities. In addition, access depends on access to computer hardware, software and an Internet service provider. Given the economic disadvantages faced by many Manitobans with disabilities, one cannot assume that they have ready access to computer services.
Through a program called Community Connections, it is proposed that the Manitoba Government will establish over 440 new public Internet access sites this year. These will provide effective Internet access for Manitobans without home computer equipment and will allow them to create community homepages, on-line community databases, and gain access to e-mail. Community Connections will also work with a number of communities of interest, including the disability community, to provide access to these services to community members.
It is proposed that Community Connections will fund adaptive technology at access sites identified by the Persons with Disabilities Community Resource Network. Currently, consultations are ongoing with the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies, the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities, Work Inc., Women's Disability Network (Brandon) and other disabilities community organizations.
With the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies, Community Connections will promote further research on adaptive technology.
The provincial government Office of Information Technology (OIT) oversees the use of information technology to provide better and more accessible government. In co-operation with provincial departments, OIT is increasing public access to government services through the development and use of web-based technology solutions.
It is proposed that the Manitoba Government will implement a Policy of Universal Accessibility for individuals living with a disability that allows the use of the Internet as a means of communication for all Manitobans accessing the services of the government. It is further proposed that existing Internet sites will be brought into compliance with the Policy of Universal Accessibility.
Manitobans with disabilities are a part of our population requiring employment opportunities. While many persons with disabilities require simple access to employment opportunities, many also require some job accommodation, and developmental experience and support.
As a major employer, the Manitoba Government is committed to an Employment Equity Policy intended to create a civil service that is representative, at all levels, of various groups in the population, including persons with disabilities. When the policy was established in 1983, the goal was to achieve 7 per cent representation of persons with physical disability in the civil service by 2003. At the last count in 2000, there were 368 persons with disabilities, representing only 2.88 per cent of the Manitoba civil service.
Instead of demonstrating and facilitating the economic integration of Manitobans with disabilities in our workforce, these small numbers indicate that persons with disabilities remain excluded. Unfortunately, the virtual lack of experience with persons with disabilities as fellow workers leaves the civil service ill prepared to recruit and see applicants with disabilities as the productive employees they wish to become.
As an employer, the Manitoba Government has the duty to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee's needs when the needs are associated with any characteristic that is protected from discrimination by the Manitoba Human Rights Code. This duty to provide reasonable accommodation in employment is particularly important for persons with a disability.
A review of the numerical goal of 7 per cent representation for the disabilities sector in the civil service is required, particularly since current demographic information shows a greater incidence of disability in the working age population. Such a review is also called for as the disability designation has been broadened since 1983 from "physically disabled persons" to be "persons with disabilities."
The Manitoba Government proposes several measures to improve persons with disabilities' access to government employment.
- recruit candidates with disabilities into the civil service; and
Accommodation in employment for persons with a disability would be provided in the measures proposed. This would mean adapting work conditions, work assignment or workstations where necessary to adjust to the disability-related needs of the individual.
Accommodation in employment assists persons with a disability to perform assigned work and to meet the productivity and performance standards established by the manager. The duty to accommodate applies to all aspects of employment-selection, training, working conditions, etc. Meeting disability-related needs only becomes unreasonable when the proposed accommodation creates an undue hardship or where it places an undue burden on other employees.
Accommodation related to disability can include:
It is also the intention of the Manitoba Government to review numerical goals for civil service representation for target groups, including persons with disabilities.
The disabilities community of Manitoba has a long history of organizing to represent its point of view and make recommendations to the public as well as to policymakers. The Government will continue and strengthen the broad array of consultative processes that have been developed and used by the disabilities community. It will also establish a new regular consultative process to identify, discuss, and prioritize and disability issues.
There are many who are seen to speak for the interests of Manitobans with disabilities. However, at the centre of this array of organizations are Manitobans with disabilities and their families, and the organizations they have formed to represent themselves. It is important to distinguish these voices that speak directly from experience, from the other voices that have long spoken on behalf of Manitobans with disabilities.
The organizations formed by Manitobans with disabilities and their families are a critically important resource for policy makers and managers faced with the challenge of transforming our institutions and infrastructures. Such organizations are hard-pressed to fund their operations from a membership that is, for the most part, economically disadvantaged. There is, however, no doubt concerning the value and importance of supporting these organizations.
Today, Manitobans with disabilities correspond and communicate directly with policymakers concerning issues of importance to them. Organizations representing persons with disabilities frequently meet with decision-makers in government. There exists a broad array of established consultative committees advising government in various areas of policy and program design and delivery. One example of this is the Joint Community and Government Consultation on Disability and Employment Issues. This body has representation from the organizations representing Manitobans with disabilities and their families, disability services providing organizations, and government. The disabilities community is resourced by government through reimbursements for costs incurred in developing advice for this committee. Other examples of the many existing consultative mechanisms include disabilities community representatives on the Social Services Advisory Committee and on the Home Care Appeal Panel.
However, it is clear that there is a need for a more structured process to complement the ongoing array of advisory and consultative processes.
It is proposed that an Annual Roundtable on Disability Issues be held to complement the ongoing array of advisory and consultative processes already in place. The Annual Roundtable would be reserved for issues of a broad fundamental or controversial policy nature requiring medium/long-term planning and response. More short-term or detail program issues should be dealt with in as direct and timely a manner as possible and not deferred to the new annual consultative process.
The process proposed would provide the following features:
- Organizations whose governing bodies and membership are comprised of at least a majority of persons with disabilities or their families;
- Organizations whose main function is the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities;
- Other community organizations interested in discussing disability issues; and
- Individual persons, with and without disabilities.
Roundtable plenary discussions could identify priorities for action within the issues identified during Roundtable discussions.Follow-up on Roundtable Recommendations
It is proposed that an Annual Roundtable on Disability Issues Report be prepared after the Roundtable discussions have been concluded. After consideration in Cabinet and early in the Manitoba Government's annual budget estimates process, a White Paper or Draft Action Plan for the coming fiscal year would be issued by the Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities based on this Report. In the following spring, at the start of the next year's Roundtable on Disability Issues the Minister would make a report describing and evaluating actions taken by the Government of Manitoba on the Roundtable's recommendations of the previous year.
This proposed annual cycle is summarized as follows: