By Jini Stolk
It was a privilege to be part of the Leading a Culture of Accessibility panel at last month’s wildly successful ONN Conference (even though a packed schedule meant I missed enticing overlapping sessions on data strategy, government policy and evaluation.) Liviya Mendelsohn talked about the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre’s inspiring all-in approach to accessibility – including at the Al Green Theatre. And Kathy Laszlo, founder and ED of DANI (Developing and Nurturing Independence) reminded us of how easy it is for people with cognitive or physical disabilities to fall through unacknowledged cracks in the system.
Rose Jacobson and I talked about the Performing Arts Access Program, our wonderful two-year collaboration to help producing teams create performances accessible to Deaf/Hard of hearing and Blind/Low vision audience members – and showcase the results. Our goal was to expand inclusion in the performing arts, creating opportunities for people with disabilities and new audiences for arts organizations. As we said, we provided lots of support, examples of mainstage shows smoothly integrating audio description and ASL/theatrical interpretation, and two detailed Handbooks ( I and II ) that continue to be the best practical guides to audience access available in Canada.
What we didn’t have was enough time to firmly root this change into the thinking and practice of our sector – although there are impressive leaders who continue the work, and a growing number of detailed accessibility pages on theatres’ websites. I’m delighted that Rose (Picasso PRO), has been appointed to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports’ Culture Strategy Advisory Group. I’m also impressed by Cahoots Theatre’s Deaf Artists & Theatres Toolkit (DATT) project, and by Native Earth Performing Arts’ Making the Arts Accessible project.
Our conference session was enthusiastically received, although attendance was small – just as this post will be read by fewer people than any of the other posts in this newsletter. I’ve gotten used to that pattern but will continue to write about an issue that’s important to the growth of equity and inclusion.
I’ve also become an acolyte of a concept Rose introduced me to: Universal Design, where products and environments are designed, to the greatest extent possible, to be usable by people of all ages and abilities, without the need for adaptation or specialized features. Very 2015.
NOTE: There was some discussion at the panel about whether spaces defined as “accessible” on SpaceFinder Toronto were all truly barrier-free. Remember, washrooms need to be accessible too.
The ONN’s new EnAbling Nonprofits Ontario project will help nonprofits navigate the expectations contained in the Province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. And don’t forget the services, training and resources available at Accessibility Ontario.
NOW’s listings have the most complete and accurate information on accessible restaurants, bars and clubs in Toronto.
Planat lists accessible restaurants, stores, hotels and theatres in cities throughout Canada.