Advocacy group Disability Matters launches vote campaign

Disability Matters has launched its campaign to highlight issues for Manitoba's disabled people and their families as the provincial election looms in the fall.

Hundreds attend rally to pressure politicians on services and rights for the disabled

Disability Matters organizers say at least 275,000 Manitobans have a disability and need a voice in the coming election. (Rudy Gauer/CBC )

Amid impassioned calls of "Who matters? We do!" a crowd of hundreds in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park kicked off a campaign to energize disabled people to vote and politicians to listen to their issues.

Organizers of the non-partisan advocacy group Disability Matters say there are 275,000 Manitobans with disabilities, or about 20 per cent of the population.

Allen Mankewich sat near the the front of the large crowd Thursday waiting to hear if politicians would make some concrete promises. Disability Matters first got active in the 2016 election and Mankewich is looking for progress as Manitobans head to the polls Sept. 10.

"Not sure how far the needle has moved since [2016], so I think we're hoping for more action this time around," Mankewich said.

Few promises that match group's concrete goals

Born with spina bifida and using a wheelchair all his life, Mankewich knows all too well the issues of access and inclusion for the disabled. He also sees more specific concerns, where bureaucracy and poorly crafted existing programs provide little help.

"Its not just, oh, they should a put ramp here, or put a ramp there, but there are entrenched government policies that don't make sense. Just having an eye out for that," Mankewich said. 
Allen Mankewich says people with disabilities are under-represented in the workplace, in media and in politics. (Rudy Gauer CBC)

The event at saw politicians from the main parties acknowledge the need to improve the lives and rights of disabled Manitobans, but there were few specific policy promises to meet the goals set out by Disability Matters. 

Those include:

  • Timely access to services for the disabled.
  • Higher wages for people who work with adults with intellectual disabilities.
  • A boost in employment.
  • A dignified income for the many disabled people who live below the poverty line.
  • Existing accessibility legislation put into practice much faster.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act passed in December 2013, but its implementation has been slow. Families Minister Heather Stefanson promised the crowd the legislation would be fully in force by 2020.

James Beddome from the Green Party, Wab Kinew from the NDP and Dougald Lamont from the Liberals all made very broad commitments to support and extend rights to the disabled.

'I think they heard the crowd today'

It was Scott Smith who provoked the chants of "Who matters? We Do!" from the crowd.

His nine–year–old son, Ryder, has cerebral palsy, and completed Grade 4 at JB Mitchell School this spring. The Smith family is encouraged by slow but steady progress on access in the school and efforts by teachers to help Ryder. 
Scott Smith, left, with his family including his son Ryder, says Disability Matters has momentum and politicians are starting to listen. (Rudy Gauer CBC)

Scott Smith knows there is still a long way to go, but sees the Disability Matters campaign as a big part of delivering that message.

"The hope is that in the future that they bring out more promises as this election continues over the summer," he said. "That there is deeper and more clear commitments toward the important points of the Disability Matters vote."

The event included mock polling stations to educate people on how and where to vote. There were also lawn signs distributed bearing the Disability Matters Vote slogan.

Smith looks at the rally as a success and thinks political types are starting to listen.

"I think we got some ears. I think they heard the crowd today," Smith said.


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