Nov. 1 marked a historic day for accessibility legislation. While there are questions about its implementation, the Customer Service Standards of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) establishes a potentially powerful precedent.
Patrick Falconer, a consultant with Barrier Free Manitoba (BFM), says the AMA has been in the works for 10 years. He says the AMA is based largely on the Accessibility for Ontarians Act, which is similar to the AMA but includes additional areas of application.
The Customer Service Standard requires businesses to correct barriers if they receive a complaint or provide “equitable public service” to those who cannot access the business.
Falconer says there are two ways to think about AMA: First, as “a matter of creating a society in which all people are welcomed and are able to contribute and play roles in our communities.” And second, to ensure that legal protections for people with
disabilities are being enforced.
Currently, people who register complaints about accessibility with the courts or Human Rights Commission can face expensive, drawn out processes and their solutions may only address a specific business rather than creating a systemic
“The AMA was groundbreaking in that it doesn’t simply say that it’s the responsibility of those who are discriminated against to be able to complain and seek change, but that society, the government will take responsibility for providing proactive measures for identifying and removing barriers,” Falconer says.
While the AMA establishes an important framework for developing a better system to address barriers, Falconer says implementation of the AMA has been “slow and weak.”
The AMA entered law in 2013, but its first total application to the field of customer service took five years to be put into practice. The NDP government committed to implementation by 2023, and the current government has committed to having all of the standards in place by 2020.
While Falconer appreciates their commitment, he is concerned that “now they’re looking at playing catch-up, and there are dangers that that gets done too quickly without thorough consultations with people with disabilities.”
Falconer theorizes that the customer service standard was implemented first because it includes a “strong educational component” and compared to the other standards, is relatively easy to implement.
The AMA has four other areas that accessibility standards will be applied to: employment, information and communication, transportation, and built environment standards, which Falconer clarified does not cover buildings, but rather every part of an area besides buildings, such as sidewalks.
Inga Johnson Mychasiw, director of student support services for the University of Winnipeg, says as a public institution, the university has been bringing itself in line with the sustomer service standard since Nov. 1, 2017 and is now becoming compliant with the employment standard.
While she says it can be occasionally challenging to make old buildings accessible, “if people (working in non-accessible buildings) are creative, even if they have a physical barrier in their building, there are ways that they can still provide service
She says from her perspective, as a result of the legislation “in general, people are a bit more aware than they used to be about accessibility needs and how, in most cases, it’s not really that hard to provide an
Falconer is optimistic that most people will try to comply with the standards but notes that many institutions do not take scrutiny well. He also says compliance with the standard does not protect a business from a complaint, and the standard will be reviewed and updated every five years to gradually bring it to a level that is as accessible as possible while still being reasonably implementable.