A non-partisan, cross-disability group that has been one of the leading voices in efforts to convince the Manitoba government to enact and implement meaningful and effective accessibility rights legislation will soon wind down its efforts.
Barrier-Free Manitoba was formed in 2008 in response to concerns that the provincial government had made limited progress regarding promises it made as part of its Full Citizenship: A Manitoba Provincial Strategy on Disability and needed to be held accountable.
The loosely organized group, which includes representatives from a wide range of organizations including Abilities Manitoba, the Children’s Coalition and the Manitoba Supported Employment Network, is scheduled to wrap up its work sometime in December.
Patrick Falconer, Consultant to Barrier-Free Manitoba’s steering committee, says the group was always meant to have a finite mandate and the 10th anniversary of its formation seemed like a logical time to wrap up its work.
In June, Barrier-Free Manitoba concluded what is likely its final major public advocacy project, the Broken Promise campaign. The month-long initiative was officially launched May 29 amid concerns that current provincial government had not made significant progress regarding implementation of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) that was passed into law in 2013.
Broken Promise included a series of videos featuring statements by various community members and a postcard writing campaign urging Minister of Families Scott Fielding to provide the leadership and resources required to meet the promise of the AMA major progress toward full accessibility by 2023.
Falconer says while it’s difficult to fully evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign, early results have been very positive. The campaign’s five videos were viewed more than 12,000 times, more than 1,100 postcards were delivered to Fielding’s office, and concerns about the implementation of the AMA were raised by opposition members in the Legislative Assembly five times in a one-month period.
Equally important, Falconer says, is the fact that Broken Promise continued Barrier-Free Manitoba’s work of bringing together different groups that didn’t share previous working relationships. Some 78 organizations lent their support to this latest campaign.
“I think our work has helped build bridges and linkages across disability organizations. I think sometimes we tend to work in silos. Barrier-Free Manitoba has provided some commonality of interest that hadn’t been fully recognized or really put into place before,” he says, adding the Barrier-Free Manitoba’s work has also helped create public awareness regarding the need for accessibility standards.
While the government still has a long way to go in terms of implementing the AMA, Falconer says he and members of Barrier-Free Manitoba’s Steering Committee were pleased with the role the group played in helping develop the legislation. All nine of the principals it had recommended were eventually included in the Act.
“We probably got about 95 per cent of what we asked for. There was a sense that…it wasn’t perfect, but it was very close to what we asked for,” he says. “What’s been proven is that voluntary measures do not provide for efficient and effective reform in a reasonable amount of time.”
Although no date has been set to officially wind down Barrier-Free Manitoba, Falconer says it would be fitting to do something in conjunction with International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3.
“I think our last act should be to thank people for what they contributed,” he says. “We were able to channel and focus a lot of energy, but the real mover of change here was the community recognized there was a need and we were able to organize around that. It only came about because these disparate communities came together and offered their support.”