For many in Ontario, spring and the start of summer marks the beginning of strawberry season, warmer temperatures, and the start of the Stratford Festival. This annual theatre festival, started in 1952, brings visitors from across the world to Stratford, Ontario, and in 2017 many of these visitors (41%)[i] hailed from southwestern Ontario. The festival showcases theatre, with a focus on Shakespearean classics, at several different venues around the city. While some visitors may not consider barriers of accessibility when visiting Stratford, according to audience demographics published by the festival for 2017, 51% of visitors are between the ages of 55 and 74i, a group that can be impacted by these types of barriers. Additionally, by 2050, it is estimated that 3.5 million adult Canadians with disabilities will be affected by mobility accessibility. Therefore, it is important to assess and evaluate the accessibility of these primary venues in Stratford. Assessing these factors not only improves the experience of visitors to the festival but can also help local business owners as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) states that improvements to accessibility could increase yearly retail spending by $9.6 billion and local tourism spending across Ontario by $1.6 billion. Here we will briefly use GeoMate’s AccessMate platform to investigate and compare walkway accessibility around the Avon and Festival Theatres in Stratford, Ontario (Figure 1).
First, we will look at the entrances of the two theatres. The Avon Theatre is located at the intersection of Downie Street and George Street E in Downtown Kitchener. The Festival Theatre is located east of downtown Stratford and is the largest of the theatres that house the festival. There are two roads to access the theatre, the first is using the main parking lot on Queen Street located adjacent to the theatre and the other is to use Richard Monette Way.
Using AccessMate’s web interface we can extract the overall accessibility score outside the theatres (Downie Street for the Avon Theatre and Richard Monette Way for the Festival Theatre). The overall accessibility for the Avon Theatre is 0.62 due to older pavement (Figure 2). The Festival Theatre has a much higher accessibility score of 0.76 due to the newer age of the sidewalk, however, although considered good, has slightly poorer access to public transit and lighting (Figure 2). However, in comparing the scores we see that both theatres have walkway widths that are considered moderate.
In 2017, festival attendees made up 90% of Stratford’s visitorsi. In the same year, the majority of visitors, 91%i, also visited restaurants and some may have wished to see Stratford’s famous swans along the Avon River! Therefore, it is important to look at accessibility in these areas near the theatres. To evaluate the accessibility of these areas we can use AccessMate’s neighbourhood report function to look at scores in a 200m area around the two theatres. For the Avon Theatre the accessibility score drops slightly to 0.59 when looking at a surrounding 200m area (Figure 3). This is due to the reduced slope ranking, going from Excellent to Moderate. However, when we look at a 200m area surrounding the Festival Theatre there is a large reduction in accessibility, with a decrease to 0.31. This is due to poorer conditions for walkways in all categories (Figure 3).
AccessMate’s map interface allows us to further understand why we see decreases in the theatre’s accessibility scores (Figure 4). The map interface shows several connecting laneways in Downtown Stratford that allows for easy access between main streets and parking lots. However, these small laneways have no walkways and may not be accessible by visitors with mobility concerns. While visitors without mobility concerns would not think twice about using one of these parking lots, it is crucial information for those with accessibility concerns to know that walkways are not present in these small lanes and there may be surface quality or other issues.
Additionally, AccessMate’s map interface reveals a large barrier for people looking to enjoy the area around the Festival Theatre. This theatre is the closest to the Avon River where visitors can watch Stratford’s famous swans. Parking is available directly at the theatre and if we plot a route from the Festival Theatre to the Avon River using Google Maps it would tell us to use Queen Street (Figure 5). However, if a visitor has mobility concerns this route would pose serious issues because, as Google Streetview reveals there is no sidewalk present!
Using this example, we can see the advantage that AccessMate has over traditional applications for people with mobility concerns. Unlike Google Maps, AccessMate recognizes that no sidewalk is present at this location (Figure 6). Therefore, following the available paths in the area, the most accessible route would be for a visitor to take the walkway along Richard Monette Way to Lakeshore Drive that would then allow them to access the river. Beyond this one example, AccessMate also reveals that Richard Monette Way only has walkways available on one side. This helps to further explain the lower score that was identified for the area surrounding the Festival Theatre.
Accessibility at the Stratford Festival
Using AccessMate we have performed a quick assessment of accessibility at the Avon and Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. Both theatres draw large crowds from across Ontario between April and Octoberi for the Stratford Festival and accessibility for all groups is essential. Accessibility is higher directly outside the Festival Theatre, however, slightly poorer access to public transit and lighting for this theatre may serve as a barrier to visitors with mobility concerns. The story changes when we look at the area surrounding both theatres. The neighbourhood accessibility score for the Avon Theatre remains relatively unchanged but there is a large decrease for the Festival Theatre. AccessMate’s map interface reveals that while laneways near the Avon Theatre do not have walkways, the main roads in Downtown Stratford have walkways on both sides. When looking at the Festival Theatre we can use AccessMate’s map to identify several areas where walkways are missing on both sides of the street. Additionally, while Google Maps informs users to access the Avon River via Queen Street, AccessMate recognizes that no walkway is present and can navigate users to Richard Monette Way as a more accessible route. Currently the Stratford Festival does make reserved parking available and has made plans to continue to improve accessibility to their theatres[i], with this brief demonstration we have shown the role that AccessMate can play in ensuring that all visitors experience the festival to its fullest.
[i] Stratford Festival Audience Demographics 2017. Retrieved from https://cdscloud.stratfordfestival.ca/uploadedFiles/Groups/Audience-Demographic.pdf on August 10, 2020.
[ii] Google (2015). 100 Downie Street, Stratford, Ontario. Retrieved from https://email@example.com,-80.9813455,3a,75y,41.28h,103.98t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sItgXQzsjmd_1vfvgb6pmaA!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo0.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DItgXQzsjmd_1vfvgb6pmaA%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D43.421146%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en on August 10, 2020.
[iii] Google (2015). 61 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario. Retrieved from https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-80.9699002,3a,39.1y, 83.46h,88.65t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sGZzYqksSH5VBHHGNudJwIw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en on August 10, 2020
iv Google (2015). 1 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario. Retrieved from https://email@example.com,-80.9698892,3a,75y,133.5h,92.14t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1snbMiIX-AO7iudDUlrMXRlw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en on August 10, 2020.
[v] Stratford Festival Multiyear Accessibility Plan, Modified December 3 2019. Retrieved from https://cdscloud.stratfordfestival.ca/uploadedFiles /Visit/Accessibility/Default/Multi%20Year%20Plan%20revised%20Dec%203%202019%20Accessible%20Format.pdf on August 10, 2020.