Too often, our homes, buildings, and outdoor spaces are designed without sufficient consideration given to how they will impact little people, those with large bodies, or those with disabilities. Manitoba should become a leader in designing and building new structures so they’re comfortable and accessible to all. Further, the province needs to do more to adapt our existing infrastructure, so that it meets everyone’s needs.
The design of our built environment makes daily living a challenge for too many. A friend, who uses a wheelchair, must call ahead wherever she goes to ensure she can enter a restaurant, store, salon, etc. A young person in River Heights has a struggle each fall to make sure that with his cerebral palsy he is able to get the support he needs to do well in school. A large-bodied man I know has been bedridden for five months because he lacks access to a usable lift or wheelchair. Samantha Trubyk, President of the Little People of Manitoba, visited the Legislature recently. She spoke about the need to adjust the design of light switches, sinks in public bathrooms, and other built features so little people can comfortably use them.
At some point in our lives, many of us will experience these types of challenges firsthand. After an injury or accident, we may have to use a wheelchair. Or, as we get older, we may lose our sight or hearing (as my father did in the last decade of his life). All of a sudden, the spaces we live in can no longer be used by us, or only with great difficulty. Designing our built environment so that it works for everyone makes our society a better and more inclusive place and allows all Manitobans to be comfortable living and working in their own body.
Patrick Falconer, a Winnipeg-based social policy consultant, has led the effort to establish a “Barrier Free Manitoba” and has been pushing for changes to building and living standards to accommodate all people. Progress has certainly been made over the last two decades in this regard. However, it has been far too slow. The Manitoba government needs to do more. The reports and recommendations from Barrier Free Manitoba, including the development and implementation of accessibility standards for education and employment need to be implemented without delay.
There are several reasons we need to build a more inclusive, accessible Manitoba. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. We should strive to construct a society that does not exclude people because they have a disability or are of a certain shape or size. Second, building a barrier free province will allow more people to participate in societal activities, increasing health, happiness, and productivity. Finally, there are strong economic imperatives for action. Deciding we’re going to become a leader in this area will foster technological innovation, which will help spur economic growth. The world is moving towards being more inclusive. The products of the future will be those that work for all. Let’s encourage Manitoba business and industry to develop products and services that improve accessibility. In so doing, we not only help build a better world but we also create good jobs for all Manitobans.