CTVNewsEdmonton.ca Digital Producer
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Updated Aug. 11, 2022
An Edmonton woman and her service dog are helping to ensure the venues at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival will be accessible for everyone.
Marla Smith is in a wheelchair and she gets around with the help of her Rottweiler Kuno.
She and Kuno are touring fringe venues ahead of the festival.
“They’ve invited members of the disability community to come out and give feedback and talk about where the barriers are and what the challenges are,” she told CTV News Edmonton.
Smith and Kuno have gained a following on social media talking about the accessibility challenges they face on a day-to-day basis.
“As much as we like to think that we are an inclusive city, so much of our community just isn’t by design.”
“There’s a lot of places that someone like myself cannot get into, and most people don’t realize that.”
Fringe officials say it’s important to make the festival inclusive for all.
“We believe that fringing is for everyone, and for us what that means is working with our community to listen, learn and adapt,” said executive director Megan Dart.
She says it’s important to get perspective from people like Smith.
“This allows us to take a look at our venues, our sites, our processes like ordering a ticket or purchasing a coffee from our cafe to ensure that we’re considering the best experience for everyone possible.”
“This is everything from knowing how a wheelchair user might move through the site or see a show in a venue, to how someone who is maybe neurodivergent experiences theatre.”
There are 27 venues at the festival this year. On Thursday, Smith and Kuno visited the Westbury Theatre, which has an accessibility coordinator on staff.
“We have to look at how close performers get to people and their mobility aids, even with a living mobility aid. So space is a really big thing, we can’t have them inadvertently bumping into somebody, knocking something over,” Smith said.
She added that the Fringe has done a great job of making the venues accessible, and she hopes other festivals and businesses will follow suit.
“Fringe has been a long standing, well respected festival in this city, so I’m hoping it might be a bit of an influence for other organizations and businesses to follow.”
Dart says she’ll take the notes from Thursday’s visit back to her colleagues.
“We’re measuring how wide doorways are, and we are looking at whether there are ramps or stairs. We take a peek at the washrooms to see if they are fully accessible. We record all of those notes and then we bring them back to the team.”
The Fringe runs Thursday until Aug. 21.