by Jini Stolk
Avoid lawsuits beyond all things; they pervert your conscience, impair your health, and dissipate your property. Jean de la Bruyere
From The New York Times, Jan 29, 2014: The Nederlander Organization recently settled a federal lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, agreeing to increase access for disabled people at the nine theatres – some of which are over 100 years old – it operates on Broadway.
From The Toronto Star, Feb 20, 2014: the Ontario government is vowing to step up its enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) following reports that the vast majority of businesses covered by the legislation had failed to comply with the law’s reporting requirements.
Don’t panic. The AODA’s Design of Public Spaces standard doesn’t come into effect for most of us until 2018. But companies with 20 or more employees have been required since 2012 to have Customer Service accessibility policies and training.
I’m glad to say it looks like arts organizations are doing better on this than other sectors. By last November, 70 per cent of companies with 20 employees or more — about 36,000 across the province — had not yet filed a report on how they accommodate customers with disabilities, train staff and receive customer feedback.
In a quick, highly unscientific, whip-through of the websites of 13 cultural organizations in Toronto I found that 9 (the AGO, Canadian Opera Company, Canadian Stage, Daniels Spectrum, Factory Theatre, Opera Atelier, ROM, Tafelmusik, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra) have useful – and in a few cases, excellent – information and policies on audience accessibility.
This leads me to the hopeful conclusion that arts organizations are paying attention and are, perhaps, aware that Canada is lagging way behind accessibility practices in the U.S. and England. I’ve also heard a lot of people talk, with some anxiety, about the upcoming physical accessibility requirements for public buildings.
England is working to become internationally recognised as the leading destination for people with access needs because they see the results. England’s accessible tourism market is already responsible for 11 million domestic trips, half a million international visits and generates a total spend of over £2 billion each year. VisitEngland notes that one in six people in the UK (approximately ten million potential visitors) have some form of hearing loss. They’ve provided some good tips on accessible marketing for cultural attractions and their website is filled with information.
For us, Accessibility Ontario (which grew out of a project of the Ontario Nonprofit Network) provides excellent templates, tips and training. What’s still missing is an arts specific initiative on welcoming people with disabilities by providing the services they need, and creating meaningful relationships with groups and individuals who may be waiting to be invited to our shows.