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Manitoba Accessibility Awareness Week kicks off June 4

More than a dozen events will focus on ways to improve accessibility in the province, with guest speakers flying in from Denver and Toronto.

David Lepofsky, a Toronto-based advocate, will be in Winnipeg for three talks during Manitoba Accessibility Awareness Week.

Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star

David Lepofsky, a Toronto-based advocate, will be in Winnipeg for three talks during Manitoba Accessibility Awareness Week.

An important event, Manitoba Accessibility Awareness Week (MAAW), kicked off Sunday, though you might not have heard about it from the provincial government due to a media blackout.

Patrick Falconer, who works with Barrier-Free Manitoba, called it "very unfortunate" timing to have MAAW happening during the Point Douglas byelection and its consequent media blackout period. Unfortunately, the event was already scheduled for June 4-10 nearly a year earlier.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act became law in 2013 and accessibility standards in five areas—customer service, employment, information and communications, built environment and transportation—will be phased in over the next decade.

There’s much public education to do in the meantime, Falconer said, so events like MAAW ought to be well advertised.

Public sector bodies have until November 2017 to comply with the accessibility standard for customer service, while about 34,000 private and non-profit organizations have until November 2018.

"If we have criticism, it’s that we haven’t yet seen an effective communications strategy by the province in terms of this. And it’s going to be incumbent on them to make sure those 34,000 organizations understand why they’re being required to make these changes and what changes are required," Falconer said. "It’s not a daunting task, but it’s a significant task to communicate with that broad a public."

One of Ontario’s leading accessibility advocates, David Lepofsky, will be in town to share some knowledge surrounding his province’s struggles and successes implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (the precursor to Manitoba’s similar act).

Having launched successful social media campaigns like #AODAFail to spur tweaks to Toronto architecture, Lepofsky will provide advice to local activists yearning to make an impact. He’s also gearing some of his focus on tips for the business community, who will have to implement accessibility standards in the coming years.

"I’m trying to break the mold of (accessibility) not being a left wing or right wing issue. It’s not pro-business or anti-business," Lepofsky said. "If you do (public education) right, then these guys don’t have to all hire consultants."

For a list of the MAAW events schedule, visit accessibilitymb.ca.

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