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The Changing Face of Museums, Art Galleries and Historic Properties

Editor's Note: John Rae is 1st Vice President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) and lives in Toronto. He is an avid museum goer, and writes and speaks on ways to make museums and art galleries more accessible to people with disabilities.

For many persons with disabilities, the prospect of visiting a museum, art gallery or heritage property can be rather intimidating. Many of us assume such facilities will have little to offer us. Times, however, are changing, and this no longer need be the case.

Many museums and art galleries began as institutions that were little more than storage spaces for works of art and archaeological artefacts aimed at satisfying the curiosity of upper-class dilettantes. Today, museums, art galleries and heritage properties are the treasure houses of our civilization--repositories of our historical, artistic, scientific and cultural heritage. They are also much, much more.

Over time, the roles of these institutions have evolved. These days, they are involved in acquiring, conserving, researching, communicating and presenting exhibits and information, for the purposes of research, education and entertainment, for all members of the community. Perhaps the key word here is "all."

Too often, however, access to these incredible heritage collections is still limited for individuals with disabilities. To make these facilities welcoming to all members of the community, museums, art galleries and heritage properties need to adopt a more inclusive concept of accessibility, encompassing much more than just providing physical access to their facilities.

For many blind patrons, being able to touch objects on display is paramount! In heritage facilities, like pioneer villages or historic forts, implements used in the building of this country are often out in the open, easily available to touch. In larger museums and art galleries, however, our desire to touch objects often brings us into conflict with conservation staff, who are afraid that tactile access will result in irreparable damage to these irreplaceable objects.

As a history and museum lover, I am equally concerned about preserving remains of the past, and believe firmly that conservationists' fears can be mitigated. Most tactile tours cover less than ten objects in a 60-90 minute tour, and the more objects that are available to be touched, the less frequently each will be handled. The use of gloves will also go a long way towards preserving these collections.

Today, a range of approaches are being employed to expand our appreciation of collections, including the use of replicas, raised line drawings, accessible materials on websites, new technological innovations, audio guides, and audio-described tours. These approaches, however, do not replace our desire for tactile access to objects in the regular collection.

A number of museums and art galleries have begun offering "multi-sensory" tours. A typical multi-sensory tour at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) lasts 60-90 minutes with two Gallery Guides and includes up to ten visitors. The first such tour that I took included the smells of dried lavender or cloves contained in snuff bottles from the Thomson collection, verbal discussion of several pieces of art augmented by a musical component, and the opportunity to touch a number of items like Henry Moore's "Reclining Woman” sculpture.

An additional Component of these tours is usually a discussion of how the artist created the work being described; for example, "perspective" or how an artist constructs a painting on a canvass can be explained through the use of cut-out sections of board representing a landscape and different layers of a painting.

Valentina Gal, of AEBC's Toronto Chapter, commented: "I didn't realize how complicated the idea of depth and perspective is, as it is experienced by seeing people. The overlays they made that show how the artist starts by painting the horizon and then putting in background, and then moving forward and so on, were fabulous. It is the best example of a teaching tool that I've seen in a long while."

Multi-sensory tours also expand the horizons of Gallery Guides. Jessica Duarte, who leads many of these tours at the AGO, says, "It's the simple exercise of looking at art by means of all my senses, and engaging in thorough discussions with visitors about this experience, that opens my mind to its various levels of meaning."

Duarte adds, "The fulfilling part of multi-sensory tours comes from the emotional and intellectual reward of making a small difference in people's lives through art, and discovering deeper ways of appreciating art and human understanding."

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, currently under construction in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has some different challenges. Its emphasis is on presenting information, not artefacts, and it has been consulting extensively with Canadians, including members of the disabled community.

Increasing access to museums, art galleries and heritage properties, like most other facets of life, requires more work on our part. Some facilities welcome our involvement; others do not--yet. We, those who are blind and partially sighted, must continue to push for more access and consultation opportunities.

Martial Arts and the Blind

Editor's Note: Ms. Green is a Massage Therapist based in Regina, Saskatchewan. In her free time she enjoys playing the Koto (Japanese Floor Harp), reading, and tutoring English as a second language.

Martial arts were very important to me for so many years. Due to a busy work schedule and other interests, however, they have been put on the backburner. Despite that, I want to share a little about my experiences. I do plan to train again.

I was a 32-year-old female who had been totally blind since the age of four due to retinoblastoma. At the peak of my martial arts training I was a Gokyu in Shotokan Karate, which is the first level purple. I started training with Shotokan after a good friend told me about the University of Regina Karate Club (http://uregina.ca/~karate/). We had two Senseis (teachers), Basil Schmuck (Sandan--third degree black belt) and Sylvain Rheault (Nidan--second degree black belt). Both these men were fantastic instructors, and had been wonderful in my karate development in terms of technique and spirit. I also studied karate in Kingston, Jamaica, for five months at the Errol Lyn's International Martial Arts Institute. There, we practiced a form of karate called Juifushinkai. Dean-Sensei, Kay-Sensei and Dayne-Senpai (senior student) were also integral in my karate development.

I loved being in martial arts, as it really changed my life. I learned body awareness, discipline, fighting spirit, confidence, and a stronger ability to sense my surroundings. I had good skills before, but they became even better. I think blind people should really try out a number of different martial arts, in order to find out what each one has to offer. Taking two or three different styles will educate the person about what will work for him/her and what won't. Also, they may feel an affinity with one type that they may not have known anything about if they hadn't tried it. Alternative-format martial arts books have been limited, but reading a book doesn't really teach a blind person anything about martial arts. Of course, you can learn the background, terminology, some cultural aspects and so forth, but in order to really learn about a martial art, you really must jump in and try it.

I had heard that dividing your attention between multiple disciplines wasn't really a good idea, but I disagree. I had also heard that it's not possible to focus properly on improvement in the main martial art style if you are dividing your efforts over two or three disciplines. This may be true, but it's my belief that each discipline has strengths and weaknesses, and if you are not sure of your own personal strengths and weaknesses, then why not try different styles in order to find the one that suits you? The purpose for martial arts training is self-defence, self-improvement, body awareness (for yourself and others), and the emptying and focusing of your mind.

I took about one year of Aikido training at the Seishinkan Aikido Dojo (training hall) under Lea Sensei here in Regina, which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, I tore a ligament in my shoulder in my third class, and injured my back, which took about two months to heal. These injuries really affected my karate, and karate being my first love, I decided that Aikido wasn't the martial art for me. However, I found the hands-on work of Aikido very effective in developing body awareness. I missed that aspect of training, because karate has a more distant approach to working with an opponent.

After reading a couple of general martial arts books, in which I read about Ninjutsu, I learned that Regina had a Bujinkan Ninjutsu Dojo. I found what I read about the Ninja very intriguing; hence, I joined the Bujinkan Ninjutsu Fudoshin Dojo. This martial art is very wide-ranging. We worked with grappling, wooden staffs, knives, swords and throwing techniques. We also worked on "Sensitivity Training" for which a blind person has the advantage. The lights are turned off, so the dojo is pitch black, and then we worked on the other senses such as hearing, direction, and sensing other bodies around us, as well as other objects. Smell can also be very effective in this situation.

I encourage any blind or partially sighted individual who has an interest in personal development to try a martial art. It is amazing what a martial art can do for you!

Crazy About Fishing

Editor's Note: Lawrence Euteneier is a Manager at Agriculture Canada in Ottawa, and a Board member of the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre.

When I was a small boy, my father somehow instilled in me a passion for fishing. Whether it was at age five when I helped him paint OUR newly built plywood rowboat or when we fished together for trout, it all made for amazing memories. Even when I was registered as blind at age eight, fishing continued to represent quality time for us. I’ve long since become a father myself, always finding time to share my passion for fishing with my six kids. Each has become competent at catching fish, but none has yet to take enjoyment of the sport to the next level. I often ask myself, “What drove me to become a semi-professional fisher?”

While I was registered blind quite young, I have actually lost sight on three separate occasions. The first was in grade three, though I remained in public school; the second was in my early 20s, when further vision restriction necessitated my learning to do things without looking; and the third is unfolding now, as the last light from my remaining “porthole” is fading. This has all meant numerous alterations to my approach to life. Yet, my desire to live large has landed me in all manner of personal pursuits, from alpine skiing to racing cars and dragon boats, from mountain climbing to whitewater canoeing, and from competitive sailing to triathlons. But I have yet to find a sport that matches fishing’s ability to place me on an equal footing with those who are sighted.

Fulfilling my passion for fishing has certainly been made a lot easier by talking computers and the internet, which have also given me, more or less, equal access to information about new fishing gear and techniques. For about 25 years, however, I could not read print fishing magazines or see items like fishing lures inside packages. This ended about seven years ago when everything went online. In the meantime, I had to use what I had at hand and likely became a better fisher as a result.

As with most technology, fishing equipment has evolved. Today, rods are lighter and more sensitive, lines are better at telegraphing tactile information, and new lures like the spinnerbait are virtually snag proof. Casting out a lure is now like stretching out the sense of touch in your finger 50+ feet. As for me, I have put together a 12-foot fishing boat that I can operate legally and safely on my own, using an electric motor and a variety of audible and talking electronics, but the world’s first fishing boat for the blind was never meant as a product that other people with vision impairment should consider as essential to taking up the sport. Rather, it serves as the bait that catches the interest of others. Once I gain their attention, the message I push is that someone who is blind doesn’t actually require any adaptive technology to fish. In fact, fishing is mostly a non-visual sport in which those without sight can excel to the point where they are often out-fishing those who can see. In the end, it’s all about the ability to “feel the bite.”

When I first launched the Blind Fishing Boat initiative to open up the sport to people with vision restrictions, it wasn’t long before I noticed that many of the sighted people, who visited my website or spoke with me at my various exhibits, had the misconception that fishing must be another one of those sports specially adapted for the blind. They assumed that we fished and competed together--exclusively. I realized I had to do something different, as even though there exists two annual fishing tournaments for people without sight in North America, the nature of the sport itself is, in fact, inherently accessible.

Last year, I decided to step up my level of participation in mainstream fishing competitions, and even though I have yet to win one, I had four top-five finishes out of 17 in 2010. I also pulled off a tie for first at the North Carolina Visually Impaired Persons National Fishing Tournament, beating out all but one of over 50 competitors selected to represent nine different states, as well as Canada. The tie felt good, but what FEELS EVEN BETTER is when I manage to beat AT LEAST half the sighted competitors in a mainstream competition. My sighted counterparts are beginning to believe that I have some sort of competitive advantage--a myth I’m more than happy to let stand!

Seriously though, everyone fishes using their sense of touch, and the articles I write for mainstream fishing publications under the “Feel The Bite” banner have now placed me in a unique field of expertise: I’m one of the only males in the fishing business capable of writing about my “feelings”!

For those of you who haven’t already, give fishing a try. Everything you need to know can be found on my website (www.blindfishingboat.com), or shoot me an email (info@blindfishingboat.com). If you are already a fisher, flip me a note and tell me your “fish story.”

Anchors up!

When Passions Collide

Editor's Note: Shelley Ann Morris is an AEBC member who lives in Ottawa, Ontario, and works at Volunteer Ottawa as a Recruitment and Referral Services Coordinator

There are two things that I am very passionate about--music and good health.
Although I’m not a musician, I have a deep appreciation for song. I was raised on jazz--classics like Louis, Ella and The Duke. My father is a huge fan, and that provided the soundtrack to my formative years. As I grew, so did my musical tastes. I discovered the jazz that I myself liked--fusion, acid and smooth jazz, which are my mainstays when I am studying or working. One of my favourite uncles was a classical music fan; his legacy includes an appreciation of classical music. We made several trips to the National Arts Centre and excursions to record and CD stores. One of our traditions was to see The Nutcracker at Christmastime.

A look through my iPod or CD collection is like a trip to anywhere! When I’m exercising, it’s straight ahead classic and 80s rock, 90s grunge and today’s alternative. My collection is also filled with plenty of rhythm&blues/soul, electronic/dance and adult urban music. I like my share of pop music, world music, and there are country songs that inspire me too.

Ottawa hosts many music festivals. I feed my musical addiction by volunteering at our Jazz, Blues and Folk Festivals. This allows me to get my fill and not have to spend a fortune on tickets! Volunteering at the festivals has allowed me to see many of my favourite artists and discover new ones. There’s nothing like being outside on a hot summer day, eating junk food and listening to good music. When the warm weather and the positive vibes work their magic, you know that you are living in the best place in the world!

I’ve been involved in an organized fitness program for the last 20 years. In 1990, an aerobics program was initiated at the CNIB in Ottawa. I jumped in enthusiastically and started seeing benefits right away. Unfortunately, our instructor moved to Toronto. Undaunted, I began fitness classes at the Dovercourt Recreation Centre. Along with low-impact aerobics, I added step, spinning, yoga and strength training to my regime. I’m an avid swimmer and feel as at home in the water as I do on dry land. What started out as weekly participation in an exercise class soon developed into a lifestyle that included a love of sports and fitness. I have conquered the CN Tower’s stairs 16 times, and run several 5K races and one 10K race. Recently, I was chosen to be one of 13 blind Canadians who will train for and participate in Won With One--a triathlon program. This is going to challenge me like I have never been challenged before! Being involved in sports and fitness has added life to years. I am 48 years old and never better! Growing up, I was always encouraged to make the most of my abilities regardless of restricted vision.

How do these passions collide? Next summer is going to be a challenge. My first triathlon takes place right in the middle of Bluesfest. I’ll be pulled in equally opposite directions. There will be the opportunity to attend great live shows, to meet and volunteer with like-minded people and enjoy some great food. At the same time, there will be the adrenaline rush of building up to race day and the excitement of completion and participating in a brand new adventure with people who, like me, refuse to listen when someone tells them that blind people can’t/shouldn’t do sports. We’ll be showing others that we can, and will give 100% effort. Through the triathlon, I will have the opportunity to be at my best both physically and mentally. There will be a balancing act, as I’ll have to maintain the discipline required to perform well--no binging out on junk food or missing workouts and training sessions. There will be a weekend or two that will take me out of town during my beloved festival season to compete.

Come music festival season, I not only fall right off the health wagon, it usually runs me over! In 2011, sin and salvation will battle for hegemony. Can I keep the balance?

Accessibility at Universities is "A Moral Obligation"

"Disability is one element of the identity that makes a person whole," says Rabia Kedhr, speaking in Brock's Sankey Chamber. As a university student, Rabia Kedhr was accommodated, but she wasn't always included. And that's something higher education needs to change, she says.

In a May 14 speech in Brock University's Sankey Chamber, the well-known accessibility advocate recalled, as a blind student, having to study alone in a room in the library. There was equipment to accommodate her, she said, but she was excluded from the normal study tips, gossip and other student bonding.

"No one knew why Rabia went back to the secret room in the library," she said. "While the rest of them went to study hall, I missed out on building those relationships. It excludes you from the norm."

Kedhr's talk was sponsored by the Office of Human Rights and Equity Services and the University Accessibility Coordinator. She recalled an Economics professor who told her that, because of her blindness, "My style won't work for you." In the end, she managed to demonstrate to the university that her poor grade wasn't because of her ability to learn, but because she wasn't accommodated.

She only knew about social events from her friends, she said. The events were mainly promoted through print advertisements, which weren't accessible to her.

These are examples of struggles students with disabilities face every day. The province's Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is part of creating a more accessible world, she said.

"Equality in the context of disability means we have to create campus conditions that serve all of us," she said. "We have to accept that people with disabilities and people without disabilities are, in fact, the same. We have to start from that common ground of belonging."

Kedhr is a consultant with DiversityworX, specializing in accessibility and social inclusion. She has more than 15 years of personal and professional experience in accessibility, community development and outreach with persons with disabilities.

Future decisions on accessibility need to include people with disabilities, she said. And each organization needs "internal champions" who will fight for it.

"In doing so, you contribute to the ultimate quality of life of every student," she said. "Education is the true foundation of peace and prosperity. It's the bedrock of any civilized society. We have a moral obligation to make it accessible."

Reprinted from the Brock News, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, May 19, 2010: http://www.brocku.ca/brock-news

Inclusion More Than Mere Access

Editor's Note: What follows is adapted from a presentation delivered at the Collections, Connections and Communities Conference, Ottawa, October 2, 2009. <a href="http://www.blindcanadians.ca/publications/briefs/2009-inclusion-more-mere-access-collections-connections-and-communities-conferen">Full presentation available</a>

For many persons with disabilities, the prospect of visiting a museum, art gallery or heritage property can be rather intimidating. While today, more of these institutions aim to educate and entertain all members of society, too often access is limited for people with disabilities. Organizations need to adopt a more inclusive concept of accessibility--much more than just physical access to premises.

Canada's disabled community is comprised of people with visible and invisible disabilities alike, and accounts for about one in seven people in the country, a figure that is rising as our population ages. As such, true inclusion means understanding and valuing differences within Canada's entire population, and involves access to collections, educational programs, employment and volunteer opportunities, and to information about what's on display and what's happening in your facility.

The ability to gain access to your facility and move around easily inside, providing parking spaces close to the entrance, level door- and walkways, lower countertops, accessible washrooms, and conveniently located benches and elevators will all make your facility more accessible, as will adequate lighting, clear signage, and minimal surface glare.

How do you publicize your programs? Is it only by print flyers inside your facility's entrance? Do you provide brochures in multiple formats? Does your phone line have a recorded message, especially at night? Does your website conform to current W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards? Do its links include alternate tags so blind users will know what they contain? Are online videos and photos accompanied by text descriptions? Is there information on accessibility in all the forms of media you use?

New technologies are increasingly used to enhance the experience of all museum goers. Do you provide audio guides to your exhibits and if so, are all items described, or only some? Are visitors with disabilities able to use your interactive kiosks, or are they operated by inaccessible touch screens? Are you investigating other innovative technologies that can transmit information directly to a visitor's own mobile phone? Through inclusive design practices and compliance with accessibility standards and legislation, we can ensure museum technology affords engaging experiences to a greater number of users.

How are your staff and volunteers recruited? Do you rely solely on word of mouth or do you reach out to various groups in the community to ensure a more representative workforce and pool of volunteers? Do you provide training on diversity issues and have you developed a policy on providing needed accommodations?

Do you offer public lectures? Are they held in fully accessible rooms? Do your lecturers adequately describe the content of slides they use to support their presentations? Do you offer educational programs, where a patron can participate, and would a person with a disability be welcome in an art or sculpture class?

What about your collection? Is information about items on display presented only by notes in tiny print on a display case? Or do you offer replicas, audio guides, tactile drawings, or information sheets in multiple formats, including large print and braille? Are items displayed solely in glass cases, or is it possible to examine any by touch? When you are negotiating for visiting or special exhibitions, is access ever discussed with the artist or the facility providing the exhibition?

Gallery guides are important to the museum or art gallery experience for all visitors. How much verbal description or background information on an object or painting do you, or should you, offer visitors? Of course, tours for blind patrons will inevitably involve more time to provide verbal description of visual images. Individuals who lead such tours often say they gain a deeper appreciation of a piece, and even of the important role they themselves play.

What do your collections say about war, and how it adds significantly to the number of persons with disabilities worldwide? What other items do you have on display that pertains to disabled people's lives and history? At a time when museums are increasingly concerned with researching and presenting "hidden histories," why is disability rarely, if ever, exhibited?

Representation of people with disabilities in displays and exhibitions, when presented, often conforms to prevalent stereotypes found in film, literature, television and charity advertising. These stereotypes include people with disabilities as freaks, passive and dependent recipients of charity, Biblical miracle cures, and heroes who somehow transcend their disabilities. Depictions of people with disabilities in more realistic, everyday life have been practically non-existent.

The social model of disability provides a powerful lens to challenge and counteract such negative representations by highlighting the environmental, attitudinal and social barriers that people with various disabilities face in their struggle for equality, and for basic human rights.

Curators have been afraid of causing offence. How does one present difficult stories surrounding disability history--of asylums, industrial and war injury, holocaust, freak shows, and people's personal experiences of pain, discrimination and marginalization? How can material in collections be presented to help confront and alter outdated and stereotypical attitudes about disability?

I have travelled extensively, both in Canada and abroad, and have visited many museums, art galleries, castles, maritime facilities, nature reserves, pioneer villages and historic sites. I was particularly impressed by how many implements used to build this country could be touched at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

At the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, I have had special tours, especially during the summertime when its staff is augmented by archaeology and anthropology students, and touched much from its extensive First Nations exhibition. The Royal Tyrrell Museum, meanwhile, in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada's only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of paleontology, houses one of the world's largest displays of dinosaurs. I suggest any visitor start in its Gift Shop, where you can examine dinosaurs in various forms, from stuffed animals to key chains, and gain a better appreciation of what you are about to see as you tour the collection itself.

Further afield, at Nelson Mandela's former house in the Soweto district of Johannesburg, South Africa, I was able to touch much of what was on display, including Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns' World Championship boxing belt, which was a great thrill for me. At the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark, whose collection includes artifacts from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, the Ancient Mediterranean and Imperial Rome, I was asked to put on a pair of thin cotton gloves to prevent the oils from my hands from causing any damage to the irreplaceable pieces I was examining. Finally, at the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru, which boasts one of the world's largest collections of pre-Columbian art and pottery, I was able to touch replicas of vessels and take one home, a unique opportunity organized by Traveleyes International, a UK tour company that organizes tours for blind and sighted travellers.

While there are a variety of ways to convey information about items on display, for a blind visitor like me, there is simply no substitute for tactile access to regular collections--no substitute whatsoever! Replicas, raised-line drawings, special tours and other means of gaining access, however, can be somewhat helpful.

Although conservators cite possible damage to pieces as grounds for not offering tactile access, having them on display at all, exposed to light, air and flash photography, can pose a threat. We take these minor risks, however, because while preservation is a priority, these works are on display so we can all appreciate and enjoy them. What's more, the greater number of objects on display that can be touched, the less each individual piece will be handled.

If museums and art galleries in such diverse places as Peru, South Africa and Denmark, as well as the several in Canada mentioned above, can provide tactile access, then surely more museums and art galleries across Canada can make their collections more accessible to people with a variety of disabilities, who wish to learn more about the past and participate in present-day culture. I believe that "access for all" in experiencing the past, through all our senses, is our shared goal. We in the disabled community look forward to working collaboratively with staff in museums, historic houses and art galleries to make this goal a reality in every community across Canada.

Movie Series Shatters Image of the Disabled: disThis!

Walking, wheeling, limping, a variously abled audience enters the darkened screening room on Lafayette Street each month to see a movie with a difference.

Featuring a blind ballet dancer or disabled stripper one night, a gay comedian on crutches or disabled CIA agent the next, the films always portray characters with disabilities, but never the sentimentalized types moviegoers are used to seeing. And not the kind that infuriate film-lovers with disabilities.

“We don’t do heroic cripples. We don’t do pathetic cripples. This is disability without the diagnosis. No heroism necessary, no handkerchiefs required,” said Lawrence Carter-Long, curator of the series disThis!, and director of advocacy for the Disabilities Network of New York City.

Now in its second year, disThis! screenings take place once a month at Downtown Community Television Center (DCTV) at Lafayette and White Streets. The films, mostly foreign, have included the Belgian comedy “Aaltra”, a kind of road movie in wheelchairs; the British documentary “The Crippendales” about, yes, a troupe of disabled strippers; and a 30-minute show of pranks and sketches titled “I’m Spazticus!” The latter film features scenes such as an amputee running along a beach screaming “Shark! Shark!” and a mock music video by a rap group called Def Row, “rapped”” entirely in sign-language. Subtitles are provided for the hard of signing. The recent screening of a Japanese movie, “Josee, the Tiger and the Fish,” portrays love (and sex) between an able-bodied man and a woman who could not walk. Its ending decidedly unromantic.

“These movies get people with disabilities thinking about who they are and their place in the world,” said Alejandra Ospira, 26, who is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy. “And you get people who don’t have experience with disability to realize that we can make and be in controversial, edgy, kickass kinds of films.”

“The Real Helen Keller,” for example, attracted an audience of more than 70. A heated post-screening discussion continued where the provocative documentary left off, supplanting the popular, mythologized Keller figure with a whiskey-drinking socialist of unexpected sexual tastes.

Robert Pearson, 34, a special education teacher with mild cerebral palsy, said disabilities aside, the series has broadened his appreciation of independent cinema. “These are just great films,” he said.

But for a person with a disability, he added, they bring an added dimension. “I have a natural curiosity to see how different people manage,” he said. “I’m watching to see how does this person make their situation work.”

It is also gratifying, audience members said, to see disabled actors in leading roles. “You see that people with disabilities can act just as well as people without disabilities, and they can actually be in character,” said Raphael Rivas, who is visually impaired.

Though not every movie is well received (last month’s action flick was roundly panned by the audience), Carter-Long, who has cerebral palsy, says he tries to select inventive pieces that are remarkable for more than their inclusion of disabled characters. “There’s a hunger for quality work like this,” he said. “There’s an interest in hearing stories we haven’t heard told, seeing characters we haven’t seen, done in an authentic way. We try to give them that.”

At last month’s screening, Carter-Long teased the audience with a preview of the September coming attraction: “Dance to My Song,” a love triangle between a man, a severely disabled woman, and her care attendant. “I’m not going to tell you who wins,” he said.

disThis! screenings are on the first Wednesday of the month at DCTV, 87 Lafayette St. $5 suggested contribution. For more information, go to www.disthis.org.

The Tribeca Trib
401 Broadway, 5th Floor
New York, NY
10013
212.219.9709

Reprinted courtesy of the Tribeca Trib, September 1, 2007: http://www.tribecatrib.com/

A Theatre Experience Like No Other: Accessibility Play for the Blind and Low-Vision

Everyone should be able to enjoy the theatre. But for those who are low-vision or blind, going to the theatre isn't always as entertaining as it should be.

That's why researchers from Ryerson's Centre for Learning Technologies (CLT) in the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management and students from the Theatre School partnered with Clay & Paper Theatre to present Between Sea & Sky, a play that is accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. The partnership grew out of Creating Liberal and Integrated Media Experiences (CLIME), a research project led by CLT Director Dr. Deborah Fels and her team of associates. CLIME aims to advance the media industry by developing media technologies that better accommodate the needs of specific populations.

For five performances, Clay & Paper Theatre included a touch tour and integrated descriptive dialogue to make the play accessible. CLT acted as facilitators for the production, guiding the creative directors to include descriptive language in their dialogue, so that the blind or those with low vision would have a better idea of what to imagine on stage. The touch tour was multi-sensory. Actors talked to participants, introduced their characters and described what their characters look and sound like. Participants were also able to touch the props.

"There's no time during the play to give detailed descriptions of the scenes or characters, so touch tours are a great way for audience members to get a leg up on the production," said JP Udo, Research and Development, CLT and CLIME project manager. "The point of theatre is to be entertained, and you want to give people the whole picture so they can fully enjoy it."

Between Sea & Sky is a comedy with sombre elements about a journey on the high seas. The cast included three Ryerson Theatre School students, and previous performances also used American Sign Language. Assistant artistic director at Clay & Paper Theatre Krista Dalby co-wrote the play with its founder and director David Anderson. Dalby said performing in a park helps plant that seed in people's minds about accessibility.

"That's the really interesting thing about working in public spaces like Dufferin Grove Park, you are able to raise awareness with the public of what's possible, as well as trying to set some sort of example for other theatre companies," she said. "I didn't really know about audio description prior to meeting JP, so it was like a whole new world of possibilities opened up as a theatre producer and how we can make things more accessible to the community, especially those with disabilities."

John Rae, vice-president, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, attended one of the show's performances. As a blind audience member, he found the touch tour the highlight of the production. "Theatre-goers rarely get exposed to props," he said. "I'm big about tactile access. You can describe things, you can read about them, but there is no substitute to tactile access whether in an art gallery, museum or theatre."

Reprinted from Ryerson University’s website, www.ryerson.ca, August 26, 2009.

http://www.ryerson.ca/news/news/General_Public/20090826_CLTPlay.html

Photo: Clay & Paper Theatre founder and director David Anderson, left, lets a tour participant get a feel for the tuba. Ryerson’s Centre for Learning Technologies worked with the theatre group to make their play accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Photo courtesy of Mike Pouris.

Deaf-Blind Speed Skater An Ambassador

Ottawa--T-Base Communications backed deaf-blind speed skater Kevin Frost into 2007 in support of his goal to become one of the first to compete in the Paralympic games. Frost also became an ambassador for T-Base in 2007, an appropriate role for such an extraordinary competitor.

Mr. Frost competed in 7 short track races last October in the 1st Eastern Ability Regional competition for the Ottawa Pacers Speed Skating Club in Kanata, Ontario. He qualified in 4 "A" finals winning two bronze medals, just .022 seconds shy of the silver at the Masters Level.

"I am thrilled at the support I have been receiving from T-Base. It's a significant boost in promoting an active and healthy lifestyle for people with disabilities and in competitive sport at a high level," said Kevin Frost.

T-Base Communications provides Mr. Frost with various communication materials in alternate formats, such as his business cards in braille. "We believe our support of Kevin's endeavors is fundamental in demonstrating how alternate formats meet diverse needs for access to information," says Sharlyn Ayotte, president and CEO of T-Base Communications.

The sponsorship kicked off a new year where fans had a chance to see Kevin Frost in action as he competed Olympic style in long track.

About Kevin Frost: Kevin Frost has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes progressive hearing and vision loss. Kevin aspires to earn deaf-blind speed skating a recognized class in Paralympic sport and to be one of the first to compete. The Opening Ceremony for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games is to take place in Vancouver with all competitions in Whistler. For more information on Kevin Frost, please visit: www.ushersyndromeskater.com

About T-Base Communications Inc.: With locations in Canada and the United States, T-Base Communications produces listen-ready and touch-ready contractual and customer management materials, assisting government and industry to communicate with their customers who cannot access information in conventional print. Specializing in braille, large print, e-Text, audio and website accessibility, T-Base Communications works in partnership with North America's most progressive companies to meet the diverse information needs of their customers such as American Express, Citigroup, LaSalle Bank, Merrill Lynch, Nokia, Royal Bank, Symcor, TD, and Verizon Wireless.

Reprinted from T-Base Communications' website, January 5, 2007: www.tbase.com

Alive and Well in Ottawa

The National Capital Visually Impaired Sports Association, NCVISA (no relation to the credit card company!), was founded in the mid 1990s as a small tandem cycling group, which expanded to include dragon boating. Today, some 15 years later, NCVISA offers a variety of fitness and recreational activities all year round.

Dragon boating is the only sport NCVISA practises competitively. Dynamic fundraising and excellent money management has allowed the club to purchase its own equipment, including a boat, and rentals to other dragon boat teams generate a small revenue. Every year, at the end of June, we enter the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, currently the largest of its kind in North America, where we join 200 other teams from all over the country. We are the only blind and partially sighted team, and very proud of our medal-winning performances. While our boating season is short--May and June--it is a lot of fun.

NCVISA has kept up with tandem cycling, and we have gradually added other activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, hiking and wall climbing. During the summer, we organize camping trips, and in the winter we now offer a weekly aerobics class. We have experimented with water polo and white water rafting, and are considering adding yoga and aqua fitness to our list.

When I moved to Ottawa in 2006, I found out about NCVISA through the CNIB, and the organizers welcomed me warmly. Belonging to this club has changed my life in a most positive way. Having lost my sight very recently, and not being a natural athlete, I was happy to find a club for the blind and partially sighted that was not training for national and international competitions, but still provided fitness opportunities in different settings. After a few months of involvement, I was asked to become the Vice President, a position I gladly accepted, and at our last Annual General Meeting I was elected President of the club. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to give back to the people who gave me so much.

Our Board of Directors has six members, five of us being blind or partially sighted. After much thought and lengthy consultation with our members, we decided to ask for some help from other organizations. For example, the club had no insurance due to the unaffordable cost of basic coverage, but the Canadian Council of the Blind offered to put us under their policy for $10 per person per year. And as one of the major issues facing blind people is transportation, we also asked the CNIB to share their volunteer drivers with us, and our local CNIB office gracefully accepted. A recent Canadian Human Rights Commission ruling in favour of accessibility also makes our activities more accessible to more people, in that it is now possible for customers of Paratranspo and STO (Societe des Transports de l'Outaouais), to travel within the greater Ottawa area including across the river in Quebec. NCVISA is also proud to have the support of our Ottawa AEBC Chapter.

Finally, NCVISA's Board actively established liaisons with several accessible community centres last winter. These new contacts put us in touch for the first time with certain segments of the population, such as parents of blind children and youth. We thank the Jack Purcell Community Centre for its support, and also congratulate the Dovercourt Recreation Centre for its "all abilities welcome" approach to fitness.

Our most senior member, who is 79, says, "In NCVISA, age is definitely just a state of mind. You have tons of fun, go at your own rhythm, and there are no losers."

For more information on NCVISA, visit the website of National Capital Sports Council of the Disabled at http://www.ncscd.ca/NCVISAPage.html.

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