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.


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