Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Major accessibility upgrades including a live audio description service for blind or low-vision patrons have earned the Stratford Festival special honour from the City of Stratford.
Sara Ropp and Jessica Jantzi, acting on behalf of the Stratford Accessibility Advisory Committee, presented the Festival’s director of human resources, Shelley Stevenson, with a certificate of recognition Monday evening.
The audio description service, introduced for select performances during the Festival’s 2012 season, supplements the spoken dialogue by feeding theatergoers with details about the sets, costumes and key on-stage actions via a headset.
The Festival received positive feedback about the service and will be doubling the number of shows offering it next season.
Some other notable accessibility improvements by the Festival in recent years include offering wheelchairs and different types of hearing aid receivers, adding elevators to all multi-level public buildings, special access and companion seating and Braille programs that can be downloaded off of its website.
In an effort to highlight the work many businesses and organizations are doing to remove barriers for people with disabilities in the city, the accessibility committee asked for nominations for the certificate.
Other groups that earned praise for their work included Royal LePage Hiller Realty, Barlow-Smisek Dentistry, and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which has undergone recent renovations to improve their front entrance and make the store less cumbersome and easier to maneuver.
Another nominee, Central United Church, formed its own accessibility committee to address needs within the congregation, even producing an educational DVD. The church has also applied for a grant to make its washrooms accessible.
As for the advisory committee, its members meets once a month to discuss a variety of accessibility issues and make recommendations to city council.
Members are currently in the stages of planning an accessibility information fair for this upcoming June that is being coordinated in partnership with St. Marys’ and Perth County’s accessibility committees.
The committee also recently had a booth set up at the Rotary Complex to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which this year fell on Dec. 3. The group plans on setting up again next year and inviting other community groups that contribute to making the city barrier-free.