By Jim Timlick
A non-partisan public awareness campaign was recently launched in Winnipeg with the aim of encouraging people living with disabilities to vote in the upcoming provincial election and to ensure their concerns are heard by the candidates.
Disability Matters Vote 2019 officially kicked off July 4 at Assiniboine Park with a rally that was attended by about 1,200 people from the community living sector including self-advocates, family members and numerous agency representatives. The campaign is a joint initiative of Abilities Manitoba, including member agencies like Epic Opportunities, and Barrier-Free Manitoba. It was originally conceived in 2016 in the run-up to the last provincial election.
Organizers say the purpose of the campaign is threefold:
- To ensure all Manitobans with disabilities can participate fully in election activities and those who are eligible to vote can do so
- To promote priority attention for disability issues in the election
- To support Manitobans with disabilities in making informed voting decisions
It’s estimated that approximately 20 percent of Manitoba’s population, or 275,000 people, currently live with some form of disability.
Executive Director Ruby Reimer says that’s why it’s important for agencies like Epic Opportunities that support people with disabilities to make sure their issues are front and centre during the provincial election campaign.
“We recognize that our province has many competing demands to face. At the same time, we know that all Manitobans deserve to live a full life that is filled with potential and opportunity,” she says.
“What we hope to do is influence our leaders to create policy and services so as to build a Manitoba that leads and excels in this area. We know that political change takes time and that the challenges are not easily solved. But being a part of this campaign is an important part of building awareness within our local communities.”
One of the people who attended last month’s kick-off event at Assiniboine Park was Jacqueline. Jacqueline, who receives support through Epic Opportunities’ Epic at Home service, says it was important to her to take part in the rally because she wants candidates to be aware of the challenges she and other people living with disabilities face on a day-to-day basis, such as rising living expenses and accessibility to public facilities.
“They don’t always hear us,” she says. “That’s not good.”
Jacqueline says it’s also important that the candidates understand that services and supports for people with disabilities should be tailored to their individual needs.
“Not every person who has a disability has the same needs. Some need more help than others,” she says.
Some of the issues being highlighted as part of this year’s Disability Matters Vote campaign include fair wages for people serving Manitobans with disabilities, timely access to services for people with disabilities and their families and unleashing the employment potential of persons with disabilities.
Many of those issues will likely come up for discussion during the Disability Matters Leaders Debate, scheduled for Tues., Aug. 27 in the Promenade Ballroom at the Norwood Hotel on Marion Street. For those not able to attend the debate in person, the event will be live-streamed on the Disabilities Matters Vote and Barrier-Free Manitoba Facebook pages.
Reimer says while the debate may not lead to immediate changes, its important for organizations like Epic Opportunities and the people they serve to be present and make sure their voices are heard.
“As an organization we have a big role to play in reducing the barriers people with disabilities face and advocating for change.”