The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (the “Act”) became law on December 5, 2013. The Act is intended to promote accessibility for all Manitobans, whether impaired by disability, age, illness or otherwise.

Beginning in 2016, and every other year after that, the Act will require Manitoba government, public sector organizations and private businesses to prepare accessibility plans that address the identification, prevention and removal of barriers.

Gradually, the Act will establish accessibility standards for:

  1. Customer Service, which addresses business practices and training requirements to provide better customer service to people with disabilities.
  2. Employment, which details practices related to employee recruitment, hiring and retention.
  3. Information and Communications, which will address barriers to accessing information – including information provided in print, in person, on websites or in other formats.
  4. Built Environment, which will deal with access to those areas outside the jurisdiction of The Manitoba Building Code, such as sidewalks, pathways, parks and other aspects of the environment that we design and construct.
  5. Transportation, which will apply to public transportation to address barriers Manitobans might encounter while getting to work or school, shopping, socializing and other aspects of daily life.

The Accessible Customer Service Standard was the first standard developed, and is the only accessibility standard currently in force. It is intended to enforce business practices and training that will provide better customer service to people with disabilities.

The Customer Service Standard requires organizations to identify and remove barriers to access for any individual who may enter their location or use their services, or to ensure that their business or service is accessible if the barriers cannot be removed.

Different types of organizations have been given different timelines to impose policies that meet the customer service standard.

The Manitoba Government was required to meet the customer service standard by November 1, 2016. The public sector was given two years to comply, and had to meet the standard by November 1, 2017 (public sector organizations include colleges, universities, and hospitals). By November 1, 2018, private and non-profit organizations must comply with the Accessible Customer Service Standard.

How Do You Meet the Accessible Customer Service Standard?

The standard was drafted broadly to cover off impairments including:

  • Mobility
  • Dexterity
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Communication
  • Understanding
  • Mental health

The Customer Service Standard Regulation sets out the following guidance for establishing policies to meet the standard:

4(2) In establishing and implementing policies and practices, an organization must

(a) identify barriers to accessible service that exist respecting the goods or services it provides;

(b) seek to remove the existing barriers it is responsible for, so that all persons reasonably expected to seek to obtain, use or benefit from the good or service can do so using the same means;

(c) ensure that a fee or charge relating to accommodating a person who is disabled by a barrier is imposed only if the organization cannot reasonably accommodate the person otherwise;

(d) if an existing barrier cannot reasonably be removed, seek to ensure that persons who are disabled by the barrier are provided access to the good or service by alternate means, whether on a temporary or permanent basis; and

(e) seek to prevent new barriers from being created.

An organization’s actions must be consistent with the purposes and principles of the Act and its obligations – including the obligation to make reasonable accommodations under the Human Rights Code.

When you think about making your business accessible, it is important to be aware of both visible and invisible barriers, and to think globally about potential barriers in your organization.

The province has identified many sources of potential barriers, including:

  • Architectural or structural barriers, which may result from the design of a building, such as stairs, doorways, the width of hallways or aisles and even room layout
  • Information and communications barriers; examples such as small print size, low colour contrast between text and background, confusing design of printed materials and the use of unclear or complex language are all things that can prevent people from accessing information
  • Technology (or lack thereof), which can also prevent people from accessing information
  • Systemic barriers can occur through policies and procedures – for example, denying access to an individual with a service animal would be a discriminatory policy

The province has also identified “attitude” as a key intangible barrier they want organizations to be aware of and address. Many people struggle with knowing how to communicate with those who have disabilities. They may worry they offend the person with a disability by offering help or responding inappropriately. Some may find it easier to ignore or avoid people with disabilities altogether. Others may misinterpret a “no animals” policy as applying to service animals. These are concerns organizations should be proactive in addressing with staff.

The Act has included a section on training for staff to ensure that organizations address staff responses to persons with disabilities.

Training should be provided to any employees, agents or volunteers who provide services to the public or another organization, including staff members responsible for developing and implementing the organization’s policies. It should incorporate a review of the Human Rights Code, the Accessibility for Manitobans Act and the Accessible Customer Service Regulation.

Training must include instructions on how to interact and communicate with persons disabilities by barriers, including how to interact with persons who us an assistive device, support person, or service animal. If a business provides equipment or assistive devices, training on how to use those devices should also be provided.

Training also must anticipate and cover off what employees, volunteers or agents should do if a person disabled by a particular barrier is having trouble accessing a good or service.

The Accessible Customer Service standard may include elements of service provision that some businesses have never considered before or had to address. If you are an owner, manager or involved in policy development for a business, it is a good idea to begin considering what changes need to be made in your business prior to the November 1, 2018 deadline for compliance. There is no penalty for complying early.

Under the Act, failure to comply with an accessibility standard may result in a fine of up to $250,000. The Act also enables the Compliance Director to order a contravention be remedied within a specific time period.

What’s Next? Accessibility in Employment

The Government of Manitoba has released a Proposed Accessible Employment Standard Regulation, which is available for public comment.

The Accessible Employment Standard will address paid employment practices relating to employee-employer relationships, including recruitment, informing employees of accommodations that are available, hiring and retention policies and emergency response practices. The emergency response practice is currently proposed to come into effect immediately once the regulation is enacted, as it is a potentially life-saving measure.

If you are an employer, it is worthwhile to take the time to review the standard and provide feedback before it is enacted as law.

After the public review phase ends, the Advisory Council will consider the feedback and finalize the Accessible Employment Standard, which will then be submitted to the Minister of Families for review. The Minister will decide whether to recommend that it be enacted as a regulation – either in whole, in part, or with changes. Once the standard is enacted as a regulation, it becomes law.

The deadline for public feedback on is Friday, January 12, 2018. All electronic comments, submissions and briefs can be sent to access@gov.mb.ca.

This article first appeared in Communication Journal, a publication of Pharmacists Manitoba.