The historic Town of Amherstburg continues celebrating the bicentennial of the war of 1812 with the “Coastal Trails Sails To See Tall Ships Festival” in late August.
Promotional information is included on the town’s website, along with another site devoted to the war of 1812 events; there was no mention of accessibility so I submitted an online inquiry to ask if the tall ships were barrier free and accessible to people with disabilities.
Shortly afterward, I received an email response and was advised, “Due to the historic nature and design of Tall Ships, wheelchairs cannot be brought on board the ships. Any guest with disabilities may board a ship, as long as they can stand and walk on their own or with the assistance of a companion. For wheelchairs, the ships are available for viewing from dockside, not on-deck. In addition, there are multiple exhibits and activities that are being organized dockside, including Parks’ Canada’s 1812 On Tour and storytelling/theatrical experiences.”
Pursuant to section 5(2) of Ontario Regulation 191/11, I subsequently emailed members of town council and inquired if there was a determination that “it is not practicable to incorporate accessibility criteria and features when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities” in relation to the tall ships and I requested an explanation if there was.
I received an email from someone who did not state his position, but I assumed he was a town employee as throughout his email he referred to a collective we and our; his response was, “Tall Ships are not, traditionally or technically, universally accessible by design. To my knowledge there is one, or possibly two, ships in the world that are specifically crafted to offer some level of accessibility. I’ve been able to find information on one:http://www.jst.org.uk/lord-nelson.aspx and read an article that indicated there was a second ship in existence but I cannot find its name. The Lord Nelson is currently sailing in the waters of Australia and New Zealand.
The Tall Ships that we have procured are part of a tour called the “Tall Ships Challenge – Great Lakes 2013” which is operated by a company known as Tall Ships America. Our opportunity to procure the Tall Ships that will be visiting us came as a result of this Tour that stretches geographically from Brockville, Ontario to Duluth, Minnesota and includes 14 ports-of-call. In essence, our opportunity to host this event was tied to the ships that are involved in this Tour as opposed to being selected based on their individual merits – whether that be universal accessibility, size, design, port-of-origin or other criteria.
Despite being unable to guarantee equivalent access to the decks of the Tall Ships visiting our ports for all potential patrons of the event, we felt that we would be able to provide opportunities for accessible viewing from shore. Our plans include a volunteer-staffed and clearly stanchioned area that will be reserved on shore in very close proximity to the ships to ensure the best possible viewing for patrons who are in need of this opportunity. Ancillary events that are part of the festival have been located to provide as much opportunity for universal accessibility as King’s Navy Yard Park allows.
As a result of this inquiry it has come to our attention that these plans and opportunities have not been included on our website describing the event – this has been, or will be, rectified immediately.
My hope is that this email offers a satisfactory explanation of not only why it was not practicable to incorporate accessibility criteria and features into the deck viewing portion of our visiting Tall Ships, but also our rationale for proceeding despite this lack and the steps we have taken to supplement event logistics to the best of our ability.”
I emailed back and mentioned there was only a reference to ‘accessible viewing’ from shore and asked what contingencies are in place for people with visual and hearing disabilities. I further relayed that information on the 1812 website relative to ‘wheelchair access’ is relegated to the last day of the event only; same for the town’s site, and there is still no alt text for jpegs on the town’s site. I mentioned that I also couldn’t find a reference anywhere to accommodating the needs of people with disabilities either visiting the town’s festivities or accessing information on the web.
Although I did not receive a response to my last email, information pertaining to wheelchair accessibility is now listed under a separate heading titled ‘additional information’ at the bottom of the site’s event page; there are still insufficient descriptors or none at all for the images, despite my numerous requests for an accessible town website over the past decade.
I do not support my taxes being used toward events that are not accessible to everyone.
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