Disability-rights group finds strengths, weaknesses in province's accessible employment plan

A disability-rights group in Manitoba says the province’s first pass at developing an accessible employment standard is a step in the right direction but still needs work.

Barrier-Free Manitoba says first draft of province's employment accessibility standard needs work

Barrier-Free Manitoba said the province's first draft of a standard for accessible employment leaves something to be desired. (Shutterstock)

A disability-rights group in Manitoba says the province's first pass at developing an accessible employment standard is a step in the right direction but still needs work.

Barrier-Free Manitoba published its preliminary comments on the province's early draft of a proposed accessibility standard for employment on Tuesday.

The 82-page document identified several strengths in the province's draft but argued it wouldn't lead to substantial progress so much as "'inch' us forward."

Oly Backstrom, who sits on Barrier-Free Manitoba's steering committee, said the draft, which was published in November 2016, is "certainly a start."

The province's draft includes requirements for employers to provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities at the workplace and throughout the recruitment process, as well as documented individual plans for accommodation.

"It's focusing on the recruitment, you know, making sure that there's accessible communication during the recruitment process, then after the employment that there's accommodation with employment," Backstrom said.

"But we feel like it could be more robust."

Fully accessible labour market by 2023

According to the province's accessibility legislation, the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, the province needs to develop a plan that will create a fully accessible labour market by 2023.

Backstrom said improving employment for Manitobans with disabilities is a "win-win-win" for employees, employers and the province as a whole.

"It's in the business's best interest to be proactive in hiring people with disabilities," he said.

"People with disabilities had to be deft and think on their feet and think of different ways forward because that's been part of their life, and that's a valuable kind of perspective to bring to the workforce."

According to Barrier-Free Manitoba, just over 56 per cent of Manitobans with disabilities were employed in 2012, compared to 77 per cent of Manitobans without a disability.

Backstrom said closing that gap by half would increase earnings by Manitobans with disabilities by around $260 million.

"If you think about that, you know, not only personal benefit and independence that builds for Manitobans with disabilities, but strictly through a kind of provincial, financial lens, what kind of impact that has on the tax base, what kind of impact that has in people become less dependent on employment and income assistance," he said.

"It could have a really monumental impact on the economy, even if we make a fractional impact with this standard."

Public consultation this week

Barrier-Free Manitoba's commentary identified three "matters of great concern" with the province's draft, including a recommendation the provincial government take immediate action to develop a strong and effective compliance regime.

The others recommend that the province provide funding to disability communities to conduct independent research and that the province commit to providing resources for implementation.

Backstrom said it's important any provincial plan is followed up by surveillance to measure its success. The province's draft doesn't include requirements for employers to document or submit information about people with disabilities they've hired, he said.

"The old adage is you can't manage what you aren't measuring," he said. "So how do we know we're improving?"

Both the province and Barrier-Free Manitoba are inviting feedback from the public on the proposed plan. Feedback to Barrier-Free Manitoba is due by Jan. 28 and feedback to the province is due by Feb. 15.

The province's Disabilities Issues Office is hosting a public consultation on the draft on Jan. 18 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Viscount Gort Hotel 1670 Portage Ave.