Toronto Tourism For Families With A Blind Member

by Jeffrey Stark

June 28th, 2016

In my family there are 2 blind members, 1 adult and 1 13year old girl. When the family was planning a trip to Toronto we really didn’t know where to start. A quick google for things that would be. Of interest for Blind Tourists yielded pretty much nothing and a visit to the Toronto Tourist Bureau website was equally as unenlightening.
So I decided to leverage my contacts of people with disabilities in the Toronto community and came back with a wealth of information.  Tracy and Ian to the rescue.

I am sure, following my visit, I will update this article as I find more things to do and maybe report on my experiences at these establishments or activities.

  1. The new Tangled Arts Gallery at Richmond & Spadina; small gallery space with exhibitions by disabled artists, fully accessible curatorial practices; check www.tangledarts.org for what's on.
  2. The Art Gallery of Ontario has 'Full Sensory Tours' guided by trained volunteers which permits tactile examination of selected works and extremely verbal description of many of the works in the collection. Contact Melissa Smith at Melissa_Smith@ago.net To set up a tour.
  3. If outdoors is your thing, I'd recommend joining a Safari Walk through the City's parks & ravines, every Thursday morning from 10am to about noon, and usually followed by lunch at a nearby pub. Contact Craig at safariwalk@sympatico.ca For more info.
  4. If you like bike riding, you can talk to Trailblazers Tandem Cycling to match you up with a sighted 'captain' who will steer the bike while you  peddle from the rear position. http://torontotrailblazers.org/ Contact Lynda Spinney at president@trailblazerstandem.org
  5. The CCB Toronto Visionaries have made arrangements for walking tours of various neighbourhoods (Kensington Market, St Lawrence Market-Old Toronto-the Distillery District) through an organization called 'TAP into Toronto', which matches up interested people with a volunteer guide who will point out interesting features, allow you to sample the wares of various retailers, highlight points of historical interest, etc. You can contact TAP through Jamie Maxwell at 416-338-0029 to set up a tour.
  6. the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has audio tours and 3-D touchables in some galleries for people who are blind. If you have any questions or comments regarding accessibility at the Museum, or for more information, please contact: Audience Coordinator, Royal Ontario Museum Tel: 416.586.5823 or E-mail: accessibility@rom.on.ca. Ask if a volunteer could do a guided tour. Access2Entertainment card is honoured and service animals are allowed. They have several digital audio descriptions that can be downloaded. They will also do audio tours with three weeks notice. If you want to do this, call them right away. I spoke with Jaclyn.
  7. I was told “It's wacky but I hear rave reviews about the Bata Shoe Museum”. They have a streaming audio guide for all galleries. It's a short walk from the ROM. Contact visitor services at 416-979-7799 extension 240 or email info@batashoemuseum.ca. You might be able to request a tour but I don't know if it has to be a big group. To book a tour please contact Andrea Field, Education Coordinator at 416-979-7799 extension 242 or email education@batashoemuseum.ca.
  8. Harbourfront has lots of activities – some free, with music and performances. Accessible tours of our site or galleries can be arranged with advance notice and consultation with our staff at the Information Desk. Our courses and workshops can be arranged to best serve the needs of all of our patrons with advance notice and consultation with registration staff in the specific departments or areas. General enquiries (416) 973-4000 or info@harbourfrontcentre.com.
  9. In the Harbourfront area there's the Disabled Sailing Association of Ontario (DSAO). It is dedicated to providing people living with a disability the opportunity to learn about and enjoy sailing. The DSAO is a non-profit charitable organization founded, organized and run by people with disabilities, and is uniquely attuned to the needs and desires of its participants. Call 416-214-0358 to find out if you could book a sessionnot sure if they'll do a one off.

    • Blind sailing out of Toronto Harbour allows for blind and partially sighted people to have a go at actively sailing a 27-foot sailboat under the supervision of a sighted volunteer captain and crew, or just relax and enjoy the ride. Contact Grant Robinson or anyone at Blind Sailing Association of Canada, http://blindsailing.ca/contact/
  10. The Toronto Zoo is huge and amazing and will arrange a volunteer tour for anyone with a service animal if contacted at least one week ahead of time. A volunteer guide will always accompany guests who bring service animals. Service animals are not permitted in certain areas, e.g., aviaries. The gorillas are very interested in them, though, so that's pretty cool. More information about service animals at the zoo is available on the zoo website. I think a tour can also be arranged for you, even if you do not use a service animal. There is a children's area inside where petting is allowed and there are lots of areas for interaction. In fact, interactive and touchable tables are spread in various places around the zoo which are staffed by volunteers who are very knowledgeable and can answer lots of questions. There is a cool off splash zone near the children's zoo, so bring a swimsuit. Call visitor services at 416-392-5942 at least a week ahead of time,

    • Ben Knoop, our head of exhibitry, writes:
    • I would suggest visiting as soon as the Zoo opens when the animals are most active.  Sometimes the animals are making noises at that time of the day.  I've heard the lions roaring and the wolves howling early some mornings.
    • They could also check out some of our exhibits where we have more vocal animals (watusi, bald eagle, monkeys in Americas, kookaburra, flamingo, various other birds).  The electric eel in Americas has a speaker that plays a sound every time the eel lets out a shock.  Sometimes the baby polar bear makes a lot of noise – usually first thing in the morning. 
    • Don't forget that some animals have quite the smell too!  I'm thinking of the gorillas, the primate wing in Americas, the Indian rhino, and the hippo to name a few.
    •  They could attend the show at Waterside Theatre or various keeper talks around the site to learn more about the animals.
    •  Volunteers around site have touch tables set up with animal bones, skulls, and pelts that they could feel.
    •  Just a note, we have a specific policy for service dogs just in case they use one: http://www.torontozoo.com/ExploretheZoo/Accessibility.asp?pg=ServiceDogs
    • And our Outreach supervisor Karen Hamilton adds:
    • Added to Ben's excellent suggestions, I would also like to suggest the Free Flight Aviaries might be of interest. All of the pavilions have at least one, and there is also an outdoor one in the KidZoo. In the free flights the guest is immersed in the environment with the animals, including the plants from that region. So the sounds of the birds vocalizing and flying and the smells of the flowers, etc. are all around them without barriers. No sight required.
    • The animal show that Ben mentions is also good. At the end of the show, the Keepers bring out some of the show animals for close encounters with guests – right in the arena. This provides an opportunity to talk to a Keeper, and also perhaps touch some of the animals suitable for that purpose. This is open for everyone, so no special treatment.
    • The KidZoo may also be a good suggestion, as there are animals that the guests can touch if the animals choose to be close to the fence, like the goats and rabbits. There is also a Backyard Kiosk there which always has touchables and staff or volunteers to speak with. The Keepers in the KidZoo do many unscheduled encounters as well, where they will bring a skunk or ferret, etc. out of their enclosure for up close and touchable experiences.
    • There are also many Casual Encounters that take place throughout the day randomly on site that they could run into. For these, Keepers will be out on public pathways with suitable animals so that guests can meet them and talk to their Keepers.
    • Throughout the Zoo there are also many static exhibit features or extras that can be explored, such as the dug out canoe in the African Rainforest, the termite mounds in the Savanna, the mosquito tunnel in Tundra Trek, the video talks at Gorillas and the Education building, and the animal statues/sculptures in many locations that are touchable.
  11. If you like music, there are free concerts in the evenings at the gorgeous and fragrant Toronto Botanical Gardens as part of their Summer of Song series. Read the lineup for Summer of Song.
  12. Downtown at Yonge/Dundas Square there is the free Indie Fridays music festival on Fridays at 8:00 PM throughout the summer.
  13. Outdoor performances of Shakespeare in High Park have been an annual event for decades and are excellent. Adults $25 and children under 14 are free. Recommend you bring a blanket and mosquito repellent since performances are totally out doors and begin at 8:00 pm. For more information call 416-368-3110.
  14. If you like rides, and it is possible to get a little bit outside the city, you may want to try Canada's Wonderland. Canada's Wonderland has braille and large print guides available from the Front Gate Guest Service on a first-come, first-served basis. They will hold onto your ID until you return the guide at the end of your visit. Service animals are permitted on the grounds, but only on a couple of very gentle rides. They have a parent swap policy whereby someone can watch or animal while you are on a ride. In addition to rides, they have a number of theaters that can be very entertaining. They are a bit expensive, though, so you may not want to go unless there is a lot you would be able to do there. Contact Guest and Information Services at the Front Gate or in KidZville while at the Park, or call 905-832-8131 before your visit to have specific questions and find out their pricing policy for guests with disabilities.
  15. About Toronto public transit – the TTC – All buses and subways have audio feedback, plus priority seating. Streetcars are in transition so old cars have no audio. You can buy a pass for a month, week, or a day which would give you unlimited trips for that time period. Anything downtown – it may be best to take TTC.

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