Manitoba makes life in a wheelchair difficult, Alex Lytwyn writes

In Manitoba, if you’re disabled and hungry, you’d better be good at sitting still and catching flies, because that’s all they want a disabled person to do or eat, writes Alex Lytwyn.

Provincial organizations intended to help people with disabilities cause 'hardship, anger and stress'

Alex Lytwyn says the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities throws roadblocks in the way of people who wish to be independent. (Courtesy of Alex Lytwyn)

When a person has a broken leg they go to the hospital, or when a person is hungry they go to the store or soup kitchen. In Manitoba, if you're disabled and hungry, you'd better be good at sitting still and catching flies, because that's all they want a disabled person to do or eat.

There are two provincial organizations that, at first glance, you would think would provide accessibility. In actuality, all they do is provide great hardship, anger and stress.

The Society for Manitobans with Disabilities must be fixed.

After months of planning, my support worker and I recently took my power chair to Winnipeg to get it fixed.

SMD used to make rural trips to repair wheelchairs, but they've been cut. They visited Winnipegosis, the west-central Manitoba village where I live, once a year; then they started only travelling to Dauphin, 55 kilometres away.

Now I have to travel 275 kilometres southeast to Winnipeg every time I need my wheelchair fixed. I have to line up all the details and staffing for the trip. That's fine; at least things will get done in a timely fashion — but it would be nice if the people on the other end of the appointment could extend an olive branch instead of be a hindrance.

I'm on employment and income assistance, and I get $686.50 per month to live on. EIA said they would pay for my home-care worker's and my meals, gas and hotel for the trip. EIA rates for medical meals, per person, are:

  • Breakfast — $3.60.
  • Lunch — $5.30.
  • Supper — $8.30.
  • Daily total — $17.20.

How is a person supposed to buy meals with that much money? They call these the provincial rates. Does an MLA or everyone else who gets money from the province for meals and mileage get the same rate? The answer is no!

For mileage, I received 23 cents per kilometre ($156 for an 800-kilometre drive) for my medical trip. I'm told that's also the provincial rate. However, is it the same provincial rate that all other people in the provincial system receive? A provincial rate for meal allowances and mileage should be the same for all in the province, right? This should be the case, but it's not.

Manitoba MLAs who get "provincial rates" for meals and mileage receive 40 cents per kilometre, according to a provincial government schedule that outlines 2011-12 mileage and meal rates. For meals they receive the following:

  • Breakfast — $6.85.
  • Lunch — $8.85.
  • Supper — $15.70.
  • Daily total — $31.40.

After I sent a letter to my MLA, I received a phone call from the jobs and the economy minister's office. He agreed with me that the amounts for meals and mileage for persons on EIA were very low. But he also said nothing could or would be done until EIA's policies change.

So the question remains: Why is it that the people who are in more difficult financial circumstances receive less money for meals and gas (a difference of $14.20) than those who actually have a job? This has to change!

Unable to move

Even though I could not afford to buy meals or gas for the trip, we still went to the appointment. Hungry and having to really keep an eye on the gas gauge, we arrived at the hotel to realize that I was not booked into a wheelchair-accessible room. This made for pretty much impossible living quarters.

You would think my EIA worker would realize that I need a wheelchair-accessible room, since I have a disability and the whole purpose of the trip was to get my power chair fixed.

After my worker took my chair to SMD for repair, it was a very long day for me, because of all places that you would think would have a backup power chair, SMD does not.

I was stuck in a manual chair and hotel room for the day, unable to move. The organization's name — Society FOR Manitobans with Disabilities — does not live up to the billing.

When I picked up the chair, the mechanic assured me that all was fixed. Oh, how I wish that was true.

The next day, my so-called completely repaired chair was unable to move, leaving me stranded again. The only thing to do was to take the chair back to Winnipeg, so my dad forfeited a hard day's wages to do that. Upon arriving at SMD, my father, who had called to say he was bringing the chair back, found out the technician had no idea it was coming. A little communication between employees would have been a major time-saver.

Turns out the problem was the second motor on my wheelchair needed to be replaced. The technician told my dad he thought the motor needed to be replaced when he did the first the other day. So why wasn't it? I have no idea. You'd think people whose job is fixing clients' mobility aids would understand that power chairs and other aids are our only avenues to daily independence. These SMD employees should leave the rolling of dice to a game of Monopoly.

After $160 in gas, a day of lost wages and another 9½ hours of me not being able to move, I had my chair back. Maybe SMD should be responsible for reimbursing the gas money and my dad's wages. Or maybe it should be the government, since the money SMD receives is from the government.

In our own unique ways, we must come together as one, to show that no matter how high the wall or how many roadblocks are put in the way, we will not stop until the government shows it has the ability to provide accessibility!

Alex Lytwyn, 30, is from Winnipegosis, Man. He has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, but he has not felt limited by his disability. A graduate of the business administration program at Assiniboine Community College, Lytwyn has written two books in the past three years.


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