Novel Coronavirus COVID-19




Maintaining Accessibility During COVID-19

Since March 2020, Manitobans have been working hard to learn how to live successfully during a pandemic. COVID-19 has brought profound changes to our personal lives, business operations and the delivery of services. In addition to common challenges that we all face, Manitobans with disabilities are reporting new barriers related to mobility, hearing, vision and understanding.  For example, during the pandemic, organizations may:

  • direct visitors to stand in line, regardless of an individual's mobility
  • post messages and directional arrows, which do not provide guidance to people who do not see or understand them
  • communicate through masks and protective shields, unaware of the muffling impact on speech

Enacted in 2013, The Accessibility for Manitobans Act aims to identify, remove and prevent barriers in daily living that ultimately reduce social participation and inclusion. For friends, neighbors, businesses and non-profit organizations, there are a number of ways to demonstrate that "we are all in this together."

Show kindness. Ask, "How can I help?"

Let us all do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 without diminishing access and inclusion for Manitobans with disabilities.

Learn more:

COVID-19 presents particular challenges to the nearly one in four Manitobans who have a disability. Not only are they at increased risk of serious health complications, but many also have specific medical and support needs.

For example, in a time when physical distancing acts as an effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19, Manitobans with complex disabilities may require home care and other support services that require close contact.

Illness within a family and among support workers can also result in the interruption of support services. More than ever before, people with disabilities may need to rely on trusted family or friends for assistance. This may create new logistical challenges for everyone involved.

For Manitobans with disabilities, including seniors, ongoing isolation presents additional risk to their mental health, contributing to conditions such as depression and anxiety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), social connection is crucial for both mental and physical health. Its research shows that relationships are a biological need and vital to our well-being. For this reason, the WHO encourages everyone to maintain their support networks, if not in person, then by phone or using an online platform.

The level of anxiety experienced during a pandemic varies greatly, as does person's vulnerability. Respectful and patient communication is always the best practice. 

Small actions can have a big impact. Looking out for one another is vital.


For information on maintaining your health, including free transportation to COVID-19 test sites, please visit: and
Here are some resources for Manitobans with disabilities and their families:

Social Media Text (English)

  • Social Media Text (PDF)

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If your business or non-profit organization has at least one employee:

COVID-19 is changing the daily lives of all Manitobans. As we learn to live with the virus, it is creating additional challenges and barriers for the nearly one-in-four Manitobans who live with a disability.   

All organizations and businesses must provide accessible customer service. During the pandemic, this is even more important so that individuals with disabilities can continue to fully participate in their communities.

You can continue to provide excellent service to customers with disabilities during COVID-19. Learn about accessibility barriers and solutions for your organization.   Let the 8 requirements of the Accessibility Standard for Customer Service guide your actions.


1. Meet communication needs

Accessibility barriers:

  • Messages posted on doors and windows may not be easy to see or understand.
  • Visual cues telling customers where to stand or enter, as well as paths of travel, may not be helpful for people with low or no vision.
  • Protective shields and masks can muffle sound and prevent lip reading for those who are Deaf of hard of hearing.

Solutions for messages in writing:

  • Place the message at a height of about 4-5 feet so that people who use a wheelchair can see it. 
  • Post information that is easy to understand, in short sentences.
  • Use at least 14-point font for people with low vision.
  • Offer contact information, including email and phone number.
  • Share your message in writing, not just in an image, as this can create a barrier for people with low or no vision or who are colour blind.
  • Add a short written description to images.
  • Have someone available to help explain visual cues to customers who are blind or face other barriers.

Solutions for communicating in person:

  • Use auditory and visual cues to help people know who will receive service next, especially if staff are behind partitions, by calling out and displaying numbers, for example.  
  • Have a paper and pen on hand, or use clear masks. 
  • Ensure staff are prepared to ask clients how they can provide assistance, and to respond to individual needs.
  • Use cellphones to text with customers to address hearing, understanding or memory barriers.  Using pen and paper is another option.


2. Accommodate physical needs and assistive devices. 

Accessibility barriers:

  • Removing chairs to reduce the number of surfaces at risk of contamination and long line-ups with no seating options affect individuals who have issues with mobility.


  • Do not touch or sanitize assistive devices, such as walkers or canes, without permission.
  • Provide preferential service to people with disabilities by serving them first.
  • Offer designated pre-sanitized carts and assistance, even when self-service is the norm (examples: to bag groceries or refuel a vehicle).
  • Provide sanitized seating for people who cannot stand in a line for long periods.
  • Hold a place in line if someone needs to leave for reasons related to a disability.
  • Set appointments and alert clients when there are delays.

3. Allow support people who are there to assist

Support people may be professional or personal care givers, including family members or friends.

Accessibility barriers:

  • Restrictions allowing only one customer or client with an appointment.


  • Welcome support people, who help ensure the safety of an individual who requires physical support or assistance with wayfinding and understanding.
  • Allow designated individuals to sign, or provide authorization, for goods and services.

4. Welcome people with service animals

A service animal is an animal trained to perform tasks for a person with a variety of disabilities, affecting physical or mental health. Guide dogs are service animals trained to guide individuals who have low vision or are blind.

Accessibility barriers:

  • Guide dogs are not trained in social distancing. 
  • Line-ups can create physical challenges for an animal.


  • Offer assistance to an individual with a guide dog about where to stand to maintain social distancing.
  • If appropriate, provide preferential service to people with service animals or set appointments to reduce wait times.
  • Have a bowl of water and designated green space available for service animals.

5. Ensure accessibility features are maintained to be used as intended

 Accessibility barriers:

  • One-way traffic often requires detours.
  • Single entry points may prevent the use of power doors or ramps.


  • Integrate accessibility features into plans to maintain social distancing.
  • Make allowances for people with disabilities. For example,  avoid having a wheelchair user go around the exterior of a building to access an entrance when another entrance is nearby.
  • Have a greeter on hand to assist with wayfinding.

6. Let customers know when accessible features and services are not available

Accessibility barriers:

  • Attention to safety has created unexpected physical hardship and, in some cases, prevented access to buildings. 


  • Post changes to building navigation on your website, if possible.
  • If your client has made an appointment, let them know about the changes by phone, email or text about these changes.
  • Post contact information for individuals who require assistance or exceptions.
  • Offer alternatives to service, such as home delivery or virtual meetings.

7. Invite customers to provide feedback

Accessibility barriers:

  • New safety policies and rules may have been put in place without customer input.


  • Ask and act on feedback about accessibility by inviting comments in person, by email and online.
  • Respond to requests for accessibility accommodations in a reasonable timeframe.
  • Respond with explanations when a suggestion is not feasible.

8. Train staff about how to ensure accessible customer service during COVID-19

Accessibility barriers:

  • Staff are trained on accessible customer service, as required by law, but may need clarification on how to meet COVID19 safety precautions as well as accessibility needs.


Both employers and employees are vulnerable during a pandemic. By building safety and accessibility into planning, everybody benefits.

While typical emergency plans address barriers during an evacuation, in March 2020, Manitoba was declared to be in a "state of emergency."

Ensure management in your organization is aware of the conditions affecting employee vulnerability to COVID-19 and involve employees in staying safe by meeting the two safety requirements of the Accessibility Standard for Employment

1. Offer Workplace Emergency Response Information.

Accessibility Barriers during COVID-19:

  • New workplace accommodations: Employees who have no visible sign of disability may still be vulnerable to COVID-19 due to a weak immune system, asthma, a heart condition, and other disabilities related to physical or mental health. 
  • Lack of knowledge about the accommodation process: Employees who do not normally require workplace accommodations may not know what to do and who to contact. 
  • Stigma: Some employees may believe that raising concerns will have a negative impact on their employability.


2. Ask employees who require support for permission to share their information with individuals who agree to help.

Accessibility Barriers during COVID-19:

  • Assistance accessing workplace materials:  Depending on the size of the organization, an employer may require another employee's assistance, for example, to drop off documents for someone who is isolating at home.


Reasonable accommodations during COVID-19 = flexibility.
Reasonable accommodation is the common thread to all the requirements of Manitoba's Accessibility Standard for Employment.  This means removing barriers for the affected individuals so they can enjoy the opportunities and benefits available to others. Many accommodations, like flexible hours of work, are low or no cost, and can make a world of difference to employees with disabilities.

Barriers affecting health during COVID-19:

  • Contact with others:  Individuals with pre-existing conditions reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 through physically distancing and self-isolation.   
  • Caregiver responsibilities:  Primary responsibility for someone who is vulnerable or, has contracted COVID-19, may affect an individual's availability for work. 


  • Ask employees about their accommodation needs. 
  • Follow Public Health Directives while providing accommodations to employees with disabilities.
  • Protective partitions enhance safety among employees as they do customers.
  • Working from home is a great way to accommodate a range of disabilities.

See also

Other Tips for Workplace Accessibility during COVID-19:

Communication in the workplace has changed significantly since the pandemic began.  Ensure everyone knows they are part of the team by taking steps to remove barriers to communication.
Communication Barriers during COVID-19:

  • Online tools - email and video conferencing that are partially or entirely inaccessible to some employees.
  • Pandemic messaging - strictly visual cues and messages that provide pandemic instructions and direct the path of travel to employees.
  • Signs and messages - posted messages that some employees cannot see or understand.

Solutions for messages in writing:

  • Ask employees about their accommodation needs and involve them in identifying solutions. 
  • Ensure information is easy to understand, in short sentences, and in at least 14 font, for people with low vision.
  • Post information at a height that all employees can access it.
  • Avoid including a message in an image (such as an infographic) which creates barriers for people with low or no vision or who are colour blind.
  • Add a short description to images, especially online.
  • Ensure employees are alerted electronically or in person about posted information.

Solutions for meeting virtually or in person:

  • Ensure the online meeting platform allows employees to call in and can feature captioning and American Sign Language (ASL).
  • Provide tutorials to new technology.
  • Have someone available to explain visual cues to employees who are blind or face other barriers.
  • Avoid using meeting or workspaces that require significant detours for employees with physical disabilities.

For more information
For more information about maintaining accessibility during the pandemic, see Accessible Services during COVID-19.