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The Legal and Human Rights of Manitobans with Disabilities

Human rights laws require governments, businesses and organizations in Manitoba to accommodate the needs of every person with a disability in a way that respects their dignity, self-respect and self-worth. These laws affirm the principle that society should be structured and designed for inclusiveness. This means that positive steps are needed to ensure people with a disability can access and enjoy the same benefits of all buildings, facilities, services, programs and employment as everyone else.

The two main laws that protect Manitobans with disabilities from being discriminated against are the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and The Manitoba Human Rights Code.

The Charter applies to the government and says that every person with a disability is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection under the law and cannot be discriminated against. That means the government cannot create barriers that exclude persons with disabilities from getting the same benefits as others. It also means the government laws, policies and programs must accommodate the needs of persons with disability. A good example of how The Charter protects the rights of people with disabilities is a Supreme Court of Canada case that ordered the government to pay for sign language interpreters so deaf people who need medical treatment can communicate with their doctors.

Lawsuits under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are frequently very expensive and may not be resolved for years. It can also be very difficult to enforce your rights under the Charter if you cannot afford a lawyer.

The Manitoba Human Rights Code says that no person, business or organization can discriminate against persons with disabilities. That means that customers, clients and tenants with disabilities have the right to equal treatment and equal access to facilities and services. Facilities and services include restaurants, shops, hotels, and movie theatres, as well as apartment buildings, transit and other public places. Public and private educational providers also need to make sure their facilities and services are accessible and that appropriate accommodation is available for students with disabilities.

It also means that employers must accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. In the workplace, employees with disabilities are entitled to the same opportunities and benefits as people without disabilities. In some circumstances, employees with disabilities may require special arrangements or “accommodations” to enable them to fulfill their job duties.

The duty to accommodate extends up to the point of "undue hardship", because of costs or due to a very limited set of other factors. In every case, the employer, landlord or service provider must show that they have made reasonable efforts to accommodate the special needs of persons with disabilities.

Last year, over 45% of all the formal complaints made to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission related to disability discrimination, making it the primary reason for complaint. No other ground for complaint even came close. And this has been the true for a long time - in the fifteen previous years, over 41% of all formal complaints related to disability discrimination.

In almost all of these cases, settlements or decisions have required that changes and accommodations only be made for the person who complained. The policies and practices that discriminated against many other Manitobans with disabilities in similar circumstances were left unchanged.

These human rights laws that protect persons with disabilities in Manitoba are important and they have made many positive changes for persons with disabilities. However, despite these laws, the exclusion of persons with disabilities and barriers that prevent their equitable access and participation remain widespread in Manitoba.