Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bullying - Might Never Makes It Right

The recent media coverage of the suicide of an 11 year old Pickering Ontario boy with muscular dystrophy after being bullied has left me feeling very disturbed.  It has evoked a profound empathy in me and has left me to wonder just what kind of people this world is producing that such a thing could befall an otherwise normal, happy child.  Rick Mercer is absolutely right about speaking out.  But this doesn't just apply to gays.  It applies to everyone.

Last November, while on one of his prescribed daily walks, Mitchell Wilson was jumped by a 12-year-old boy he knew from his elementary school. The older child, who was after the iPhone Mitchell borrowed from his father to listen to music while he walked, smashed Mitchell’s face into the pavement so hard he broke some of the boy’s teeth.

The alleged mugger was arrested the day after the attack, charged with assault and removed from Westcreek Public School.  However, this did not solve the bullying issue. The older boy’s friends remained. They blamed Mitchell for getting their friend in trouble and followed him home from school teasing him about his disability.
When Mitchell was subpoenaed to appear in court to testify against his attacker, he took his own life.


I find this story disturbing on a personal level as bullying is one of the issues I have been wrestling to address in my work on the script for Butternut.  I started writing the play several years ago, and have been sorely unable to express the way this issue in an appropriate dramatic treatment.  It bothers me that much.  Usually I have no trouble expressing that which disturbs me creatively; quite the opposite.

I can only speak from my own experience, as I too suffered bullying at different times in my own life.  Unlike Mitchell though, I learned to, and was well able to fight back.  Most of the time.

When I started a new school in grade one, after moving from Sudbury to a small town in Southern Ontario I realized for the first time that I was different from the other kids.  I was small, had a funny French accent, although I'm Caucasian my skin is olive coloured and much darker than kids of mainly British and European stock that populated the area.  As if this wasn't enough, I wore big thick glasses, had to use special enormous large print books, had to sit at the front of the class to read the board, use a telescope...and on it goes.

In my first week of school I encountered a boy named Randy.  I was 6 he was 9 or 10.  He began to tease and harass me on the playground.  I told on him of course.  So, the teacher enlisted the help of "The Two Steve’s" who were charged with being my "body guards".  To their credit, they were great kids who took this appointment to heart, and from grade one through grade 8 they kept the evil Randy at bay.  Yes, Randy was in grade school a very long time!  The Steve’s taught me how to fight like a boy.  Yay Steve’s! 

But at the time, I felt humiliated and inferior.  The sort of feeling that really sticks to you forever.

In grade three we had a new student, Josephine I think her name was.  She was from Paris France.  I was pretty much the only kid in the school who could speak French well, so my teacher assigned me the task of being a good-will ambassador.  Yay me! 

I was very excited.  I never got to talk to anyone in French, and I really loved my French.  Josephine was in grade six, and didn't appreciate having this little four-eyed kid trying to be her friend.  I had special permission to go to the big kids’ side of the playground, but the Steve’s couldn't come.  Who would have thought this new kid - a nice girl from France who didn't know anyone yet - would have been such a little creep.

She had befriended some of the meaner older girls and I will never forget that cold winter day on the playground when she, with their help, expressed her displeasure, and how much she hated the sound of a little Canadian kid speaking northern Ontario French to her.  I really don't remember much about what happened, other than being really scared.  I've tried to recreate the scene for the play, but can't find it in my head.  I must have blocked it out or something.  Let's just say I spent that lunch hour in mid-January 1973 buried in the deep Ontario snow, and have since had some pretty hard core confidence issues with my French and social advances.  I also had to explain to my parents how my glasses got broken.

She did get in a lot of trouble for what her deeds, but it was too late for me. The damage was done. 

Of course adults can be just as cruel as kids --even those who should no better. 

We had a supply teacher in grade 7 who was a complete git.  I had to use a telescope to read the black board.  I was very self-conscious about the thing.  I hated it.  Back in the day access tech wasn't as advanced, or as invisible as it is now.  It was big, ugly and stigmatizing.  

So, I pull out the scope to use and Mr. Spanno, grabs it away from me, stuffs it in his drawer, and berates me in front of the class for playing with toys.  To their credit, my entire grade seven class came to my defense telling him why I used it.  They were awesome!  Yay them!

But that was in a different time when you basically went to school with the same kids your entire life, so they really know you.  I don't think it's quite that way today.  Especially in urban schools.

Of course, Mr. S. didn't believe anyone and gave us all a detention for being disruptive. My parents had to get the principal involved.  As a result though, Mr. Spanno lost the respect and control of the class for the rest of his stay with us. This had a sort of positive outcome, but it was still scarring to have an adult --a teacher no less-- treat you in such a manner.

There were some other minor incidents in high school.  Oh yeah, puberty was lots of fun!  Along with all the other things, I changed schools and had big boobs to boot.   But by then I'd  developed a thick skin and become quite a good fighter, so, ahem, I was sometimes the one in the principal's office because I didn't take crap from anyone anymore.

Others, like Mitchell Wilson, aren't as resilient.

I also had taken refuge for years in nerdy pursuits; reading, drawing, writing, plays, science stuff.  I was by then a full-fledged geek.  Hurray!  It was soooo much fun.

In grade 9 the infamous Randy reappeared in my Informatics class.  It was a different school, and I hadn't seen him for a couple of years.  His family had moved or something.  He was several years behind now.  Indeed.  Being the class geek, I got asked to tutor him.  I absolutely refused.  Don't think he ever finished high school.

I have developed a profound hatred of bullies.

One day my daughter ran home from the park near our house to tell me that some big boys were picking on my oldest son who was five or six at the time.  I had just returned from a fundraising event and was dressed in the full regalia of a Klingon Warrior.  I hadn't had time to become human again.  My son has the same eye condition as me.  It is true; there is nothing meaner than an enraged mom.  

I flew over to the park and caught them in the act.  They were teasing him and throwing sand in his face.  These boys were about 12 years old; twice his age.  I knew the two boys, and I knew their parents.  One of the kids' dads was an outspoken Christian type who lived across the street from us.  My first instinct was to kick their asses.  But I exercised great restraint.  I was around 30 years old.  There are laws. . .

Instead, I charged at them as a Klingon.  They were freaked and started to run.  I'm pretty awesome when I lose it!  I grabbed them both, resisted the urge to bang their heads together, and dragged them off to the closest parents’ house to present them to the father.  He was a bit freaked himself to see me costumed as I was.  I had quite forgotten about what I was wearing.  

To make a long story short, I had scared to crap out of those boys.  The next day they came to apologize with a pie from their mom.  This is an incident that we can look back on and laugh at, because it was pretty outrageous, and having a crazy mom helped in that instance.  The two brothers remember it and say that all the kids in the neighbourhood were terrified of me.  L'il ole me.

But not everyone's story can have that outcome. 

Even complete strangers can be a party to a type of passive bullying.  One day a few years ago I was in the grocery store.  There was a guy with Down syndrome counting his money out to pay for something; a lot of coins he carried in a bag.  Some inconsiderate person bumped into him and all the change went flying.  This person didn't apologize or stop to help the guy pick them up.  They just continued on their merry way.  As if this wasn't bad enough, some kids started collecting the coins for themselves. There were loonies and twonies among the fallout.  This poor soul was crawling around on the floor of the store crying and trying to collect his hard won cash.  No staff were in sight to help.  

This took place over a matter of seconds of course, and my heart really goes out to someone in such a scene.  I felt the old rage well up in me and chased all the kids away and proceeded to help the guy collect his change.  It was everywhere.  No staff ever did show up to help him.  He was very grateful and tried to give me a couple of loonies for helping him. 

It still really bothers me that in a store full of people, only I did anything to help this man, while others just stared or went about their business.  I can't help but wonder if the same was true for Mitchell, but there was no one like me about to come to his aide.

Most of my experiences took place in a small town.  I see all kinds of nasty injustices here in Toronto though.  Like the above mentioned incident. 

Despite the fact that Toronto is growing more and more mannerless and uncaring, I do, occasionally, see some truly moving acts of kindness.  One slippery day in January a couple of years ago I was on the packed Eglinton bus.  There was this very old and frail lady riding.  She was completely lost.  I believe she may have had Alzheimer’s.  She was lost and scared and very frightened.  I thought of my own grandmother who was still with us at the time.  That could be her (not that she would ever come to Toronto, but, theoretically speaking).  I was about to try to help her, when a very kind woman offered to take her home.  The woman was a stranger of course.  But she offered to get off the bus with her and help her get home.  I don't know how that turned out. The woman looked like an honest person.    One can only hope.

Wanda Fitzgerald as Butternut the Clown at Night of Dread
The underlying theme of the play Butternut is that of being different and having to live in a society where, despite all of our progress, different is still not a good thing to be.  Gay, geek, disabled, female, ethnic, or all of the above; if you don't comply with what the bullies think is normal, you can be a victim.  I don't know that the world will ever change, but at least some, by sharing our experience through our art, may make an effort to contribute to enlightenment and.  Different can be good, and it's damn well time they knew it!   

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Gravyboat

The Gravyboat by Daxcat
The Gravyboat, a photo by Daxcat on Flickr.

The Ford Brothers and the Captains of Industry sail along the shores of Toronto.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Puppet's Without Barriers -The Pedaler's Wager

It's fun, it's intelligent, it's outdoors, and it's affordable- there are giant puppets!. Best of all, it's ACCESSIBLE!

For the third year in since 2009 I have had the pleasure of being a consultant on the Puppets Without Barriers project presented by Clay & Paper Theatre in Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto Ontario during the summer. I've just returned from my audit of the show, and wanted to let y'all know about it before I go on vacation. It's fantastic! These guys do such a good job. I always feel refreshed after seeing a C&P show.

Clay & Paper present a unique brand of theatre featuring giant puppets, small puppets, humans, bicycles and all manner of bizarre props. Performances are accompanied by original live music, and I guarantee, you'll be singing when you leave. 

This show "celebrates Toronto's public spaces, promotes active living and draws attention to urban environmental issues."  

(Before I proceed, I apologize for the lack of info in the photo descriptions (names, etc).  I will correct this, but this post is hasty, and I cannot identify who is who at the moment!)

I've been going to these shows long before I started working on them. I used to take my kids when they were small. It was a great activity and it was a chance chance for them to experience live theatre. I am always energized by the carnival atmosphere and fun that surrounds these shows.  One can step back in time and be a kid again.  This is the way theatre was meant to be.  The creativity contained in this 1 hour performance is amazing.  AND did I mention?  IT'S ACCESSIBLE!

The River as Goddess
About the Accessibility
This is not an ordinary traditional audio described event where the describer sits in a booth and the audience member listens to AD on a headset.  This is a fun, creative approach - incorporating organic accessibility into the show.  It features an extensive Touch Tour prior to the performance in which the sets, costumes, puppets, props and musical instruments are explained to the blind or vision impaired audience member. They are allowed to touch and ask questions and meet the cast members, who personally conduct the tours. Intricate visual action, gags, and other elements of the show that cannot be organically described in the script are explained beforehand.  So it is a good idea to arrive early by at least 45 minutes so that you can get the most out of it.  You won't be disappointed.  To see the giant puppets and their workings up close is well worth it.  They are amazing.

The show itself is done in the style of an audio play, or radio play.  The carefully written script contains all the information you need to follow the show, as if you were listening to it on an old time radio.  There is a narrator, a sound scheme designed to indicate certain characters and events.  We have dubbed this Integrated Descriptive Dialogue; but it is really a simple technique taken from days of old when this was just how you wrote things for an audience who listened to that magic wooden box.  

Narrator in costume
Not only is the show accessible, but programs are provided in Large Print and Braille.  Drawing on previous work we have also developed a Tool Kit that can be used as a guide to building similar performances. (please not, this is an electronic document that is not properly tagged for accessibility).

It is my sincere hope that this document can one day soon experience remediation repairs, and be treated as a living, evolving collection of ideas and practices that can be added to and used by more organizations as the spread of awareness and legislation takes hold in Ontario.

Another nice thing about this show is that, instead of having the ONE show time during the run to choose from, (usually on a small audience day, Tuesday Wednesday, or Sunday MatinĂ©e),  Clay & Paper Theatre’s Puppets Without Barriers program s makes The Pedaler’s Wager accessible to people who are blind and low vision, as well as Deaf, deafened and hard of hearing, with TWO WEEKS worth of specially adapted productions.

But wait. There's more! The Pedaler's Wager is also has ASL (American Sign Language) performances.  Unfortunately, I won't be able to comment on those as I am unavailable to see them.  But I've seen past shows and they are spectacular; adding a layer of a different kind of fascinating performance to an already shiny work.

Lady Grabsome and Barron Boots
Another Cool Aspect
If you happen to be a cycling enthusiast, Weekend mobile matinees require audience members to cycle alongside performers to three different parks, literally following the troupe to the show's conclusion. Perhaps the Trailblazers Tandem Cycling Club might enjoy this.  Although, these shows won't include touch tours!
About The Pedaler's Wager
This original comedy features puppetry, live music, and CYCLOPS: A Cycling Oriented Puppet Squad.

Journey through an epic tale of modernity, as told by a peddler (who pedals) and his troupe who risk their livelihoods to tell this story of societal transformation. When a small family is forced to leave their riverside home, cajoled by developer Baron Boots, his consort Lady Grabsome, their disastrously hungry son Otto, and a smooth-talking PR Department, where will they go? Pushed into the new life of the Future, how will the family survive?

Puppetiers operate giant river puppet
As someone who has worked closely with this company, I can attest to their commitment to accessibility.  They are a very small, underfunded organization, and, for those who do follow my links,  the public documentation and website do not conform to current accessibility standards. However, the progress made in delivering accessible performance and the commitment to maintaining the project far outweigh these short comings.  Very few Arts organizations in Canada can make this claim.  Very few make the effort.

This sort of thing is still all very new here.  It is ironic though that the small, underfunded theatres such as Clay & Paper, Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, and Tarragon Theatre, are the only ones undertaking such efforts.  Come on Stratified, Mirvish, Shaw, etc!

(FYI: with the exception of Tarragon, these websites are either completely inaccessible, or do not follow any accessibility standard, but this is for another post).
 Kudos to Clay & Paper.  I love working with you guys and always look forward to this summer project.  

Live musicians, sax, percussion, trombone.

Written & Directed by David Anderson & Amira Emma Routledge
Design by Amira Emma Routledge
Music Direction by Chris Wilson & Nuno Cristo

The Pedaler’s Wager
 Previews from
July 14 to 17 at 7:00 PM
Show runs from
July 20 to August 14, 2011

All performances start in Dufferin Grove Park (Dufferin south of Bloor)

The Sack Family daughter puppet with her puppetteer.
Stationary Performances
Wednesday through Sunday at 7:00 PM
and Friday at 2:00 PM
Accessible shows: August 3 to August 14, 2011

Wednesday, August 3 at 7 PM
Thursday, August 4 at 7 PM
Friday, August 5 at 2 PM and 7 PM
Saturday, August 6 at 7 PM
Sunday, August 7 at 7 PM

The Pedaler’s Wager blind and low vision adapted performances feature integrated descriptive dialogue and sound cues, as well as guided touch tours of the puppets and props that take place at 6:30 PM, a half-hour before the play starts.

Wednesday, August 10 at 7 PM
Thursday, August 11 at 7 PM
Friday, August 12 at 2 PM and 7 PM
Saturday, August 13 at 7 PM
Sunday, August 14 at 7 PM

Traveling Performances
Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM
Act 1: Dufferin Grove Park
Act 2: Fred Hamilton Park
Act 3: Trinity Bellwoods Park
BYOB: Bring your own bike!

$10 or Pay-What-You-Can

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fitz Pix

Southampton Sunset - Red SkySouthampton Sunsetantihistomine blastAntihistomineSouthampton Sunset S1 Southampton Sunset S3
Southampton Sunset S2 Piper on the Beachantihistomine russetDesert Study - Desert EveDesert Study - Desert Eve 2Desert Study - Desert Daytime
Desert Study - Mirrage

Paintings Etc., a set on Flickr.

A set of misc paintings I've worked on over the last few months.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Front and Centre: Disability and Deaf Arts in Ontario - Event Review

In March of 2009 I participated a very promising event at the the Canada Council for the Arts in Ottawa.

The Disability Arts Focus Group was intended as a means for the Canada Council for the Arts to explore ways of  identifying and supporting specific needs of artists with disabilities associated with an artistic activity. After this two day, very intense focus group I really felt that something had been accomplished.  And, indeed it had. Several months later a shiny report was produced.  Some of the info gathered during that focus group would help the CCA identify;

  • who and what types of activities needed funding 
  • monitor relevance and impact on a variety of demographic groups in Canada 
  • create greater access to grants and services for a broad range of artists
  • address gaps and barriers to funding faced by different groups through the development of equity policies and strategic activities

So I was very  excited when I received an invitation to Front and Centre: Disability and Deaf Arts in Ontario; an event presented by The Ontario Arts Council, the Art Gallery of Ontario
and the Canada Council for the Arts held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto on June 3rd 2011.

Finally something concrete was to come of this.  

I want to take a moment here to offer my thanks, congratulations and a big thumbs up to the organizations involved in this undertaking.  I am all too aware of the challenges and learning curve such an endeavour entails. The world of accessibility is a new frontier for many.  I think that for a first time you guys did an excellent job and I'm sure you learned a lot.  One is always learning when it comes to accessibility and the wide range of accommodations and implementation of practice that is involved.  Anything contained hereafter in this review  is solely intended as positive feedback, as I truly hope to see further development after this fine start. 

So, being very excited, I promptly went to the Ontario Arts Council Website to register.  The OAC is also to be commended having redesigned their website to incorporate a variety of accessibility features to their online content.  However, the actual functionality of the content needs some work and a bit of maintenance to ensure true compliance.  

Being the good accessibility advocate that I am :), and since access to digital content is my specialty as a consultant,  I ran an accessibility test on the page, which contained a multitude of accessibility errors, the most glaring of which was that the form fields for registration form were not labeled, thus excluding users of screen reader technology from being able to independently complete and submit the form. A simple problem that could be fixed by following standard WCAG standards in website content design.  Incidentally, none of the downloadable contant, including grant applications, pdf and other documentation is propperly tagged to make it accessible.  Access technology cannot read any of this material.  (see info at the end of this post)

The following, quoted from the invitation is what the event offered;  

"The expert panel will feature artists who are Deaf or who have disabilities presenting their perspective on their arts practice and career development. Panelists will offer a better understanding of the voices; perspectives; artistic preoccupations of; and, issues facing artists who are Deaf or have disabilities."

"The event will also offer an opportunity for networking and relationship-building amongst artists, arts organizations and funding agencies."

How awesome is that! 

And it was awesome for the most part.  However, despite the wide range of accessibility needs that were addressed for the event;  (again quoted from their material)

  • The Art Gallery of Ontario is wheelchair accessible (ramp entrance is on Dundas Street West at the front building entrance).
  • ASL interpretation and English captioning will be provided.
  • French simultaneous translation (audio) will be provided.
  • Attendant care will be provided.
  • A quiet, private space will be available at the event.

there was one significant oversight.  What about us blind and vision impaired folks?  I have participated in hundreds, if not thousands of accessible events, and consistently blind and low vision persons are rarely accommodated. There is no print access, no audio description, no knowledgeable trained guides, etc.  Frustrating to say the least. I will address this in greater detail shortly. I remain positive that upon recognizing these issues future accommodation processes will be implemented.

As I stated, I was really looking forward to hearing the panel discus their work, and presumably how these organizations had moved forward in implementing accessibility concepts which made this possible.  I was hoping that they would discus this process in the 20 minutes allotted each artist.

For the most part this was true.  I recognize that these presentations were for funders and arts professionals who are new to the disability arts world, so, although I personally didn't really get much out of these presentations, I'm sure they learned a great deal about artist abilities and the types of work being done.  Perhaps in future a different sort of informational session could be presented specifically for artists to gather and learn from the experience of others and the funders and arts professionals inclusively.

My only real criticism, was that save for one presenter, all visual presentations were not accessible to myself, or any of my vision impaired compatriots. Which is unfortunate, as there was a presentation by deaf media artist Chantal Dequire that I was very interested in, and would have appreciated a bit of structured Audio Description.  Subsequently, another slide show during the presentation was not described.   I think this is just a matter of educating presenters in effective accessible presentation technique.  Perhaps a future workshop?

I would however like to commend Janna Gorham for eloquently describing her slide presentation.  She was organized, articulate, and I thought it was very insightful and considerate initiative, and perhaps should be considered as a requirement, or strongly recommended to future presenters.  The awesome thing was, that Chantal herself was seated behind the projection screen, so she couldn't actually see what was up there.  Very together presenter, I must say.

The Q & A that followed was a bit of a let down.  Firstly because due to scheduling delays, there was not enough time for questions, and secondly, the question process needs a bit of work.

Following the presentations were the AGO tours.  I was looking forward to this too.  I was especially interested in the accessible tour for blind and vision impaired persons.  The tour guides stood at the back of the room holding up signs for the various tours, including this and the ASL tours.  WTF?

It might have been a good idea to announce the various tours following the presentation so that those of us who could not read those signs might have hooked up with the appropriate tour guide.

Another little thing I'd like to mention is that, after sitting for a couple of hours, we badly needed a bog break.  Upon returning from the lieu, most of the tours had left.

I was with a fellow vision impaired actor, and we ended up going on the Dutch tour as we couldn't find the specific tour we wanted.  Very disappointing as I would like to review that as well.  I'll be back AGO :).

Following the tours was the "networking" part of the program.  Food and drinks were served buffet style.  Always lots of fun for us blind folks.  Hmm, whats this, and how do I get it?  This is very common at events, and I'll just skip over for now, but access to comestibles should be a consideration at any event!  Free food to artists is gold.

It seemed to me that most of the professional people that |I would have liked to connect with had disappeared by now.  Not that I would have known who they were anyway.  I have pretty good vision for my condition, but I cannot really identify people from a distance unless I am very familiar with them.  I certainly cannot read their name tags. Mostly I guess.  It's instinct. 

So I find these networking events stressful and intimidating (not something I like to admit to, but let it be said here).  Those of us who have this problem need to have some way of finding, and identifying persons of interest.  Perhaps some sort of guide to provide introduction?  I'm not really sure how to solve that.  But it's always been a real obstacle for me, and this is really the first time I've admitted to that. Ouch. 

Some people think we low vision people may be rude or aloof, or shy, but really it's just that we don't know who the heck you are. .

That said, the following entertainment, while a nice showcase of talent, prevented any meaningful conversation.  I had assumed that the performers would provide an ambiance to the event, but the remaining time was taken up by focusing everyone's attention to the stage.

No further networking was accomplished. 

I'm glad I had the foresight to bring some printed material for the table and hope that it made it's way into the appropriate hands. I will also present this info again at the end of this post.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I think this event was a huge success for the most part.  It was a big step forward, and as I stated earlier, I'm sure future initiatives will improve from the experience.  Thanks again to the AGO, the OAC and the CCA.  I look forward to traveling this road with you.

Now, here is some info on how I can help provide access solutions to help you pave that road a little more smoothly.  You can also check out my previous blog post. Increase Your Audience By Being Accessible – Access to Digital Content

Make the Arts Accessible To Everyone
Increase your audience.
Make digital content,
performance & events accessible.
Contact Access (SCS) Consulting Services


Attention Arts organizations - Access (SCS) Consulting Services can help solve your accessibility needs. We provide Training and Audience Accessibility workshops, Digital Content Services, Website audits and more.   

What makes Access (SCS) Consulting Services Different?
We engage experienced arts practitioners with disabilities who understand the industry as well as accessibility compliance standards.
Website AuditsEnsure that your website is accessible. We can provide:
  • Evaluation of your site using current accessibility standards 
  • Explanation of what the problems are, including a ranking of priorities and specific instruction on what needs to be done 
  • Overall best practices, recommendations
  • A usability section provided by access technology users

Document Conversion
  • Convert documents into an accessible format compatible with adaptive technologies
  • adapt document styles and formats in Word, PowerPoint & more.
  • Create accessible PDFs 
  • Modify existing PDFs with accessible tags 
  • Convert existing PDFs into other formats such as accessible HTML, Word and PowerPoint

Workshops and Seminars
  • Accessibility training or awareness
  • Accessible web design to reach a wider audience
  • Document Accessibility
  • Performance and Event accessibility:
  • Audio Description
  • Captions
  • Touch Tours
  • ASL 

Leave the Accessibility to Us! Our expertise will make you accessible! See or call 416-561-7942.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Butternut Series

ReflectionHello KittyPlaytimeGoodbyeRelaxingDressing
Showtime!The PoseBirthdayAloneSylence MacCleod

Butternut Series, a set on Flickr.

Now you can check out my recent projects and creations on flicker; artwork and photography. Why not visit Fitz Pix. Please take a gander, and if you like what yous ee, leave a comment.

Via Flickr:
On her 40th birthday, Sylence MacCleod awoke to find she had changed. Upon looking in the mirror, she found she had become a clown. This series depicts moments in her life after that awakening.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sargasso - The Audio Described Experience

Yesterday I went to Sargasso by Philip Beesley.  Sargasso is a large scale suspended sculpture on display during the Luminato Festival at the Allen Lambert Galleria in Brookfield Place from June 8 to 18, 2011.  

The instalation is amazing.  

Philip Beesley’s “Sargasso” combines visionary design with high-tech digital engineering to transform a downtown public space – and to offer a glimpse of the potential future of architectural art. A worldwide pioneer in the fast-growing field of responsive architecture, Beesley and his team of collaborators from the disciplines of architecture, engineering, biology, and sculpture use interactive technology to infuse one of Toronto’s busiest spaces with astonishing new life.

As if existing properties of this piece of "living art" aren't awesome enough; and they are, things move in response to your presence, there are little sounds and lights continually participating in the evolution of your experience, this  exhibit is AUDIO DESCRIBED FOR BLIND AND LOW VISION visitors.  You can download the audio file, or, if you have a smart device, you can scan the bar code at the site and play it on your phone.  Pretty cool eh?

The afternoon was beautiful and sunny.  The light in the space was stunning.  My friend and colleague Rose Jacobson and I were blown away by the beauty and genius of the design and application of the piece.  And the audio description mad it even better.  I took some photos (alas, silly me didn't bring a proper camera) on my iPhone, and have put together a little video with the audio for you to share a little of our experience.    This was a pretty quick job, as I want to get it posted ASAP, so people can get down there while Sargasso is still up.  

So, enjoy the soothing voice of audio describer Rebecca Singh on this photo tour of Sargasso.
This video is a creative collage made by artist Wanda Fitzgerald. the
soundtrack is an audio description of the sculpture "Sargasso" and is
intended for use while physically at the sculpture. This audio recording
is being used as "narration" here by special permission from Rebecca
Singh and


YouTube link:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Increase Your Audience By Being Accessible – Access to Digital Content

Attention Arts organizations - the information contained here may prove invaluable. Access (SCS) Consulting Services can help you solve your accessibility needs and increase your patronage.

Arts organizations have long been struggling financially; this in part has to do with cuts to arts funding and in part due to declining audiences. Making your online content accessible for people with disabilities, seniors, friends and family can increase your profitability.

People with disabilities make up 15.5% of the population, which is a significant number when you consider audience development.  Providing access to digital content, making exhibits and performances accessible could help to capture this market. People with disabilities, seniors and their companions have money to spend and want to enjoy the arts.

While Arts organizations in Ontario are slowly beginning to make an effort to make events accessible with audio description, closed captioning and ASL, they consistently disregard one very important aspect of making their events fully accessible: access to digital content.  Potential patrons may not be able to interact with content on websites, PDF documents, forms, ticketing information, videos and other content.  As a result, your organization may not be attracting a large segment of the population that can make your events more profitable. These barriers need to be addressed if change is to happen.

The goal here is to make the arts accessible to all people – a goal that needs to be adopted both in the material universe as well as in policy-making circles. We must ensure that all people, artists and patrons, have the ability to participate in the arts with ease and dignity. This is a win/win situation for everyone!

What Is Digital Content?
Digital content is any information that is published or distributed in digital form, including; text, data, sound recordings, photographs and images, motion pictures and software.

What Needs To Be Made Accessible?
  • Web Design and Usability (including online ticketing)
  • Text and data
  • photographs, images
  • Audio/Video
  • PDF (including documents, applications and facility rental forms)
  • Word and PowerPoint documents
  • Events and Performances

As more information is transferred electronically, making digital content accessible becomes a social responsibility, especially if the content is meant for the public.

Making digital content accessible is neither a difficult nor an expensive task. Most common software applications like Adobe PDF maker and Microsoft Office have built-in tools for making documents accessible.

While providing accessibility benefits people with disabilities who are deemed a large minority group, it should not be forgotten that these same features are useful for seniors, people who have low internet bandwidth, and individuals accessing content through mobile devices. Making digital content simple to interact with is a priority when attracting a wide audience.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlines the following four basic principles in making websites accessible:

Perceivable — Information and user interface components must be presentable to users such that they can perceive the presented information, i.e. it can’t be invisible to all their senses.

Operable — Users must be able to operate interface components and navigate. The interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform.

Understandable— Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface.

Robust— Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. Users must be able to access the content even as technologies advance.

What makes Access (SCS) Consulting Services Different?
We engage experienced arts practitioners with disabilities who understand the industry as well as accessibility compliance standards.

Website Audits
Ensure that your website is accessible. We can provide:

  • Evaluation of your site using WCAG 2.0 and W3C guidelines, U.S. section 508 of the rehabilitation act and AODA legislation
  • Explanation of what and where the problems are, including a ranking of priorities and specific instruction on what needs to be done to address each issue
  • Overall best practices, recommendations
  • A usability section provided by both screen magnifier and screen reader users
Document Conversion
  • Convert your documents into an accessible format that works with adaptive technologies.
  • Adapting document styles and formats in Word, PowerPoint and other formats
  • Creating accessible PDFs from documents in Word, PowerPoint and other formats
  • Modifying your existing PDFs with accessibility tags and alternative text for images
  • Converting your existing PDFs into other formats such as accessible HTML, Word and PowerPoint
Special Workshops and Seminars
  • Accessibility training
  • Accessible web design to reach a wider audience
  • Document Accessibility
  • Performance and Event accessibility:
    • Audio Description
    • Captions
    • Touch Tours
    • ASL 

Access (SCS) Consulting Services

Leave the Accessibility to Us!
Need help making digital content accessible?  Contact Access (SCS) Consulting Services to try our NEW website design and PDF document conversion services. Our new associate, Wanda Fitzgerald, is an expert accessibility and digital content consultant with more than 15 years experience. We make existing documents, forms or other digital content accessible.  Our prices will make you smile. Our expert services will make you accessible! See or call 416-561-7942