Update on accessibility

by Jini Stolk

The Air Canada Centre must be very sorry it didn’t accommodate a legally blind ticket buyer’s request for accessible seating at Stevie Wonder’s upcoming concert. The overwhelmingly bad PR for ACC and Ticketmaster highlighted just one of the reasons we want to stay well ahead of the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) requirements.

Matt Galloway, in his coverage of the media/social media storm, noted that some of Toronto’s smaller theatres have been making progress on accessibility. Music to my ears. I think it’s fair to say that Creative Trust and Picasso PRO‘s Performing Arts Access Program helped raise awareness of the importance of welcoming Blind/low vision and Deaf/hard of hearing audiences to our theatres.

We also made it easier by producing two handbooks for producers and presenters of Audio Described and American Sign Language interpreted performances.

As to real progress, there’s been more than a little going on since our Arts Access Program wrapped up in 2012.

The Accessing the Arts Symposium at Whitby’s new Abilities Centre in June, brought together some of the key artists and arts professionals incorporating inclusive thinking into their programming, creation,  and education initiatives. Selfconscious Theatre’s Book of Judith was the centre piece and co-producer of the symposium.

Other initiatives I’ve been keeping my eyes on include: Aluna Theatre’s Rutas Panamericanas which worked with two audio describers trained by Picasso PRO/Creative Trust to provide access for Deaf/hard of hearing attenders. Native Earth Performing Arts has been a leader in the area; its theatre space was designed to be fully accessible, and the company has been actively committed to hosting accessible performances. Native Earth even took part in Accessibility Ontario’s Train the Trainer workshop, because “We wanted to train the arts to understand accessibility beyond just administration,” according to Rae Powell, former Project Manager of the Accessibility Program at Native Earth. “Canada is behind the times in accessible performance and we wanted to do the right thing by bringing more of it to Toronto.”

Judith Thompson’s RARE at the Young Centre brought actors with disabilities onstage. Tribes, a Theatrefront Production at Canadian Stage and Theatre Aquarius, was not only about characters with disabilities; it mixed American Sign Language with English onstage. A False Face, presented last year by a new indigenous theatre company, Spiderbones Performing Arts, included ASL performances. The Kitchener-Waterloo Arab Canadian Theatre/KW-ACT provided ASL interpretation in a production in July. To a Flame, with Erin Shields writing in both sign and spoken language, has undergone an extraordinary development process involving Picasso PRO and the National Deaf Theatres of both Sweden and Finland.

Last but not least, the wonderful Picasso PRO with Andrea Donaldson and the SPiLL Collective (formed “to ignite an explosion of Deaf cultural presence within Canadian arts and culture”) have been developing a Deaf-led piece called Finding Alice, which will have its first showing later this month in Gatineau.

Even with all the above I’m not yet ready to declare a revolution, but it’s a serious moment in the cultural movement and a hopeful sign of more changes to come.

A leader in ASL theatre in our community recently posed a question conveying both the early commitment to accessibility and creative partnerships needed to move things forward. From Joanna Bennett: “What if some (co- or touring productions) integrated interpretation in their show from the get go, thereby spreading the opportunity for an accessible show to be seen in many cities/theatre houses throughout the tour. To take the load off the original company, the houses that bring them in (could) share the cost…creating a ripple effect…because the hosting towns would get a taste of what interpreted shows are like and may be interested to try it themselves!”

Right on, Jo.

Physical Accessibility

Following its emergence as a major theme at the Mayoral Arts Debate at TIFF this week, physical and built form accessibility is also a growing force. Remember that Accessibility Standards for the Built Environment are coming up soon.

Employment Opportunities

Some of us noticed that the new Mandate Letter for the Ontario  Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure included a directive around “Increasing the number of employment opportunities for Ontarians of all abilities by establishing new partnerships with business and persons with disabilities.”  How about with arts and other nonprofit organizations too?

Promoting Your Accessibility

From VisitEngland: “Developing and promoting your Access Statement is essential. An Access Statement is a detailed description of facilities and services that enables your customers to make an informed choice; it’s a great promotional opportunity to reach customers with access needs too.” Check out their free online tool for more.

Accessibility Ontario also has terrific resources for accessible communications and marketing.

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