New rules that require Manitoba businesses and organizations to be more accessible to customers with disabilities are now in effect, which a local advocate says will help open new opportunities.

A new accessibility standard came into effect on Monday, requiring all public and private organizations in the province with one or more employees to identify and remove any barriers to accessible customer service, or find alternatives to benefit clients with disabilities.

The regulations are part of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, which was established in 2013.

"I think there's a lot of good examples of people who want to provide positive customer service, but they just might not have the tools or know-how," Allen Mankewich, an advocate in Winnipeg, told CBC News on Monday.

Allen Mankewich

Allen Mankewich, a disability-rights advocate in Winnipeg, says upcoming physician-assisted death legislation will put vulnerable Canadians at risk. (CBC)

"Under this legislation, it will mandate training for all employees and things like that, so I think a lot of positives will come out of it."

Government agencies will have one year to meet the new standard, public-sector organizations will have two years, while private enterprises and non-profit organizations will have three years.

"If a business has stairs in the front, they have to try to offer another way to access their services," said Mankewich, who uses a wheelchair because of spina bifida.

"I have a company that I deal with and they have stairs at their premises, but but what I do is when I get there I call them, they come out, they assist me and take my payment and I go on my way. And you know, that's a reasonable accommodation for an inaccessible premises."

Mankewich said he hopes there won't be resistance to the new standard.

"I like to believe that people want to do the right thing and provide services to the widest range of customers possible," he said.

Job opportunities to come?

Under the act, the province will set accessibility standards in four other areas: employment, information and communication, transportation and the "built environment."

Mankewich said the province's standard on employment for people with disabilities could lead to more job opportunities — a major change from the frustration he's had to deal with in the past.

"I have a communications background. When you first get out of school, there's a lot of communications companies or different arts organizations that are based in, you know, inaccessible spaces — when you think about some of the places in the Exchange District, things like that — so those options weren't there for me," he said.

"You always have to think about … 'If I apply at a place, will I even be able to get in the door for an interview?' Some of that stuff is very frustrating, obviously."

He added that while unintended barriers exist, part of the problem involves some people believing that people with disabilities cannot work at the same level as others.

Mankewich recalled speaking to the senior vice-president of a "very large Winnipeg-based company" during a conference last month about improving accessibility not just on the job, but in the hiring process as well.

"If you have an online application process, can people who use screen readers apply for your jobs?" 
Mankewich said, referring to software that help blind read from computer screens.

"I give the example of screen readers and he said to me, 'Well, we don't have any jobs that blind people can do.' And this is a Winnipeg-based company that employs over 10,000 people."

Mankewich said the employment rate is 50 per cent among working-age people with disabilities, and he hopes the new provincial law will help boost that number.