Accessibility options

by Jini Stolk

A friend of mine, who runs a small but mighty arts space, recently asked if I had any advice about her accessibility options. Like many of us, she’s eager to comply with the Provinces’ new accessibility standards but even more to the point, her organization wishes to make itself accessible to all possible users, including those for whom two flights of steep stairs is a challenge (if not impossible.)

“Is there a scenario where the landlord and non-profit tenant could share the cost of a stairglide?” she wondered. “Is there subsidy for the non-profit tenant to install this system? Is there subsidy for the landlord?”

Here’s the discouraging answer:

“Sad to say, the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) does not apply to existing buildings, unless they’re undergoing extensive renovations. The new code amendments do not require that a building be fully accessible (unless it’s a new build), and do not apply at all to buildings where no major renovations are underway.

There’s no targeted funding at the province, other than Trillium Foundation’s capital support program which puts access (probably to be interpreted in a wide sense) at the top of its funding priorities.

Enabling Accessibility is the only program I’ve been able to find to support accessibility upgrades and according to their website they’re not currently accepting applications.

All you can do, I’m afraid, is try to make the stairglide part of negotiations for your lease renewal, and hope that your landlord is a good person (!) because Canada is a laggard around accessibility.”

BUT do I sense some change in the air? Shortly after I sent that message, I heard from Alfred Spencer, Director, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario about the Province’s AODA update “The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan”. Minister Brad Duguid said “I’m proud of how far Ontario has come on its accessibility journey. But there’s still a long way to go to reach our goal of becoming an accessible province. This will require a sustained and collaborative effort…it’s time to review our progress, renew our commitment and mobilize for another 10 years of action.”

Part of what looks like a new urgency around accessibility is the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s new project with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to help nonprofits and charities learn more about the AODA, how it impacts their organizations and help them start planning to meet requirements for the end of 2014 and beyond.

The Ontario Arts Council, as we know, is committed to ensuring that all Ontarians have access to the arts. In October 2014, the OAC launched Vital Arts and Public Value , a new strategic plan for 2014-2020 that identifies Deaf artists and artists with disabilities as a new priority group. Initiatives introduced in the plan include: support for those who need it to help complete their applications and funding for successful applicants who need help covering accommodation expenses in the course of their work. A new funding program has just been launched dedicated to Deaf artists and artists with disabilities.

The Parapan Am Games, starting on August 7, 2015, is a highly visible competition for 1,600 athletes with disabilities from 28 countries. Toronto will also welcome the first Accessibility Innovation Showcase, a five-day event featuring the latest advances in accessibility technologies and assistive devices. The public will be able to experience and learn about accessibility technologies first-hand. Innovators will have a chance to pitch their ideas to angel investors, with a view to accelerating the development of leading-edge accessibility technologies and stimulating growth in the industry.

In the end, however, I’m afraid the Province is going to have to put their money where their mouth is and help people like my friend – and like Cahoots Theatre which is about to launch The Deaf Artists & Theatres Toolkit (DATT), to increase the feasibility of collaborations such as their co-production of ULTRASOUND by Adam Pottle between professional theatre companies and Deaf artists– who are trying to make real change.


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