Small businesses shouldn't have to report their accessibility findings, review finds
Documenting policies too onerous, report finds, but advocate says it's needed to enforce compliance
The rules around reporting on compliance with Manitoba's accessibility guidelines are too onerous for small business owners, an independent review says.
The study, which was commissioned by the province and released publicly on Wednesday, says businesses with 20 to 49 employees should not have to document their policies and procedures for reducing barriers for people living with disabilities, nor be forced to make those guidelines publicly available.
Businesses with fewer than 20 employees are already exempt, and the review suggests the threshold should be extended to all businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
The report says the Accessibility for Manitobans Act will only succeed with the "goodwill and support of the wider community" and "creating undue hardship on small businesses would likely not advance this objective."
But disabilities advocate Carlos Sosa says there's no way to know whether a business is complying if there's no documentation.
"The recommendation effectively lets even small businesses off the hook," making enforcement efforts against these businesses nearly impossible, he said.
The Ontario government made a similar change after receiving complaints that small businesses don't have the employees or resources to document their policies.
The province said in a news release Wednesday that it intends to adopt many of the report's recommendations, though it didn't specify which ones.
Not practical, retail advocate says
The Retail Council of Canada has lobbied the Manitoba government to focus on implementation over documentation, just like Ontario, said John Graham, the council's director of government relations in the Prairies.
"Small businesses just don't have written documentation or written training on any of the things that they do," Graham said. "It's just intuitive and they react more spontaneously."
Implementation of Manitoba's new accessibility standards is still in its early stages; the customer service standard is the first of five to be put in force.
The customer service regulation, which came into effect for private businesses last November (it was already in effect for the provincial government and large public-sector organizations), requires every business and organization to provide goods and services in a barrier-free way.
The regulations cover everything from training staff to the built environment, but don't prescribe specific measures, such as installing ramps at raised doorways.
The report's author, Theresa Harvey Pruden, described her review as limited because there are still four accessibility standards that haven't been put into effect, but she found several areas for improvement.
Harvey Pruden recommended more support for small municipalities and businesses, better promotion of future accessibility changes and calling on other government departments to assist the small office behind accessibility reforms.
The report also found there is confusion among smaller organizations as to what brings them into compliance.
Jonathan Alward, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the federation's members are willing to do their part.
"All the small business owners we've talked to see this as an incredibly important issue and want to improve accessibility for all of their customers," he said. "Ultimately, this means more access to more customers."
Alward said the province did not communicate the accessibility changes as broadly as it could have, but he's seen signs of improvement.
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act became law in 2013. It outlines a process for preventing and removing barriers that affect people with disabilities.