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In 2022, Peter Tonge Consulting was hired to conduct accessibility audits of arts venues in Manitoba by the Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba (AANM). AANM is a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to the full inclusion of artists and audiences with disabilities into all facets of the arts community. The organization supports artists with disabilities in achieving individual artistic excellence and promotes higher visibility of these artists within all disciplines.

More than forty arts venues in the Winnipeg area have been assessed. Venues are not ranked or rated; rather, accessibility features are stored in a public, searchable database. Users can focus on the features that are important to them and use the information to make an informed decision about attending the venue.

At the time, we did not realize how revolutionary this project was. For the first time in Manitoba, patrons had a mechanism to evaluate their ability to participate fully in the arts community. Equally important, arts venues had a mechanism to evaluate the accessibility of the venues and the ability to serve disabled patrons. Interest from the arts community continues to grow.

Properly evaluating the accessibility of a venue seems like a basic concept. Our experience has shown that it is much more. For the first time, arts lovers can independently establish whether a venue works for them. Accessibility has been brought into focus in the sector. More and more organizations are working to provide better access and support for their disabled patrons. As a result, more disabled people are enjoying artistic experiences in our community. This simple project has become a cultural movement that serves as an example of improving accessibility everywhere.

For more information on the project and the Arts AccessAbility Network of Manitoba go to:

PHOTO: Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press

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