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Festival Leads Way With Accessibility for Patrons

By LAURA CUDWORTH STAFF REPORTER
Updated August 30, 2011

The philosophy behind the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s accessibility program is dignity.

That’s one of the reasons the province considers the Festival a leader in the field.

By January, businesses and non-profit organizations will be expected to comply with the first phase of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
Act, which focuses on customer service.

The Festival is included in a video on the Ministry of Community and Social Services web-site because the theatre is a good example of what other organizations and businesses could shoot for.

Four hundred front-line staff and volunteers have been trained on how to deal with patrons with disabilities in a dignified way,” said Shelley Stevenson,
director of human resources.

She estimates 25% of Festival patrons have some form of disability.

In the past two years alone, the Festival has spent an estimated $50,000 on accessibility projects.

The most recent are handrails in the aisles of the theatres so that patrons who are less sure-footed can hold onto something as they make their way to their seat. It has been getting rave reviews, Stevenson said.

Among some of the other services, the Festival offers wheelchairs to borrow, a variety of hearing assistance receivers, elevators, accessible washrooms
and signage in colours geared for people with low vision.

Some of the renovations with accessibility in mind are subtle, and most patrons without a disability wouldn’t notice. For example, part of the countertop
at the concession stand is low enough for someone in a wheelchair or scooter to reach.

Also, accessible seating is in the A or A+ sections of every theatre, which is where the best seats are to be found.

The next project during the off-season will likely be renovations to the box office to make at least one of the wickets more accessible.

“won’t stop there. The plans

The Festival is also looking into closed captioning for people with hearing impairments and live descriptions.

“That’s a few years out,” Stevenson said. “The technologies aren’t quite there yet. They’re a little more leading edge.”

No matter how much technology the Festival is able to add to make a better experience for patrons with disabilities, the most important element is the human touch.

“A lot of it is attitude and dealing with patrons in a dignified way,” Stevenson said.

lcudworth@bowesnet.com

Reproduced from http://www.stratfordbeaconherald.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3278952