Accessible customer service legislation coming into force this fall
New legislation requiring bars, cafes and restaurants to introduce accessible customer service takes effect this fall.
The Customer Service Standard Regulation comes into force in November 2018 and is aimed at helping give all Manitobans access to goods and services.
Accessibility advocates are welcoming the change but say the province still has a long way to go.
Allen Mankewich, 38, lives with spina bifida, has had to use a wheelchair his entire life and has experienced being unable to get into bars, restaurants and cafes.
He enjoys outings with friends, but can’t get into the places they choose to meet.
"I don't know if it's a coincidence or what but just in the last few weeks I've had invitations to meet groups of people or go out with people and you know they're suggesting places that aren't wheelchair accessible," said Mankewich. "There's places in the Exchange that because of the age of the buildings and stuff, there's places there that aren't accessible. There's places in Osborne that obviously aren't accessible, there's lots of stairs in Osborne. I think everyone walking down that street would realize that."
Patrick Falconer with Barrier Free Manitoba said under the province's building code businesses are only obligated to incorporate accessible entrances, washrooms and seating when there's new construction, change of occupancy or a major renovation.
"For existing buildings without there being major renovations inaccessibility is allowed," said Falconer.
There are no immediate changes to the building code expected, but Falconer said the Customer Service Standard Regulation is a step in the right direction.
"Accessibility's a journey and I think we're making substantial progress, but we've got a long way to go still."
The regulation requires Manitoba bars, restaurants and cafes to introduce accessible customer service by November 2018. A provincial spokesperson with the Manitoba Disabilities Issues office said accessibility laws are aimed at helping bars and restaurants gain new customers and keep them coming.
The province said, for example, under the regulation a restaurant or lounge can continue to have a four-foot high bar with stools to match but should also have other tables available for customers who use wheelchairs or might feel unsteady on a tall or narrow stool.
“It’s important to note that accessibility includes much more than physical space, so these businesses will also be required to introduce policies and staff training to ensure accessible communication and service to the broad diversity of Manitoba’s population,” read a statement from the province. “This might include (for example) ensuring staff are aware they must welcome service animals.”
Robert Walker, chairman of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the industry is working through the legislation.
“The legislation affects each of our members differently and we are in the process of discussing any challenges with our members and partners so that we can all work together on this common goal,” Walker said in an email to CTV Winnipeg. “Hospitality and accessibility go hand in hand. As a hospitality and service industry, restaurants already make efforts to accommodate all guests.”
“We do not anticipate any major difficulty for our industry in implementing the new legislation.”
As for Mankewich, he often finds himself choosing to go to restaurant chains or independently-operated businesses which he knows are accessible.
"People can vote with their wallets, they can choose not to spend money in places that aren't accessible," said Mankewich. “It’s not necessarily a choice that I’m making but I’m obviously more likely to patronize a place that is fully accessible and that I feel more comfortable in.”