Clearing the Path
A Regional Conference on Arts and Accessibility
Over 250 participants attended "Clearing the Path: Arts and Accessibility in New England," held March 1-3, 2000 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The conference focused on strategies for arts organizations and agencies to reach full inclusion and explore model approaches for developing accessible practices in the arts. It included workshops on effective accessibility practices and policies, and addressed resource and funding issues, technology, and universal design.
A SUMMARY OF NOTES ON NEXT STEPS
The last session of the "Arts and Accessibility in New England" conference was entitled "Where do we go from here?" The following are summary notes from the session.
What can cultural organizations do to raise awareness and expand opportunities within their own organization and programs?
- Include people with disabilities on boards and staffs of cultural organizations.
- Make access a priority and create a strategic plan for implementation.
- Ensure that everyone on your staff has training and awareness on how to work with people with disabilities. This "Disabilities 101" approach should be incorporated as ongoing, annual training to address staff, board, and leadership turnover. Arts organizations should remember to include "front of house" staff such as ushers, and box office staff. This staff usually changes often.
- Make efforts to hire and work with people with disabilities. Organizations with staff and board members who have disabilities send the message that you are serious about access for all people. Staff and board members who have disabilities can also serve as in-house advocates for access.
- Be proactive in your hiring practices. Recruit at the college level, and seek out organizations for disabled students. Other places to seek out potential staff members include independent living centers, bureau of rehabilitation services, and high schools.
- Remember to include people with disabilities when developing programmatic access initiatives. They can provide valuable and practical insights.
What can cultural organizations accomplish by working with others?
- Build cultural partnerships and create a strategic plan for implementation. Examples of partnerships include ongoing collaborations between disability organizations, VSA, and the State Arts Council. From an advocacy perspective, groups banding together can advocate more effectively.
- Create strategic partnerships between facilities in order to share equipment used in audio description.
- Look at developing significant partnerships with disability organizations like local independent living centers.
- Consider promoting for-profit ventures, not just volunteer or non-profit initiatives.
What can cultural organizations do on their own by working with others to communicate more effectively with a broader audience of people with disabilities, or by advocating on behalf of more programs and opportunities?
- Make information available via electronic means as a way to include people with disabilities. Seek advice from different disability groups and communities on the best ways/mechanisms to communicate.
- When advocating for more access through money and other efforts, emphasize the positive aspects, such as reaching out to new or under-served audiences. Point out that prior advocacy work has been successful in promoting change that has benefited society in general. For example, curb cuts help people who use wheelchairs, but also parents with children in strollers. Emphasize that these physical accommodations must be maintained.
- Replicate this conference in individual New England States, and engage schools in this effort. Often schools are the least accessible of facilities, when they should be the most accessible. Many state and local agencies are more active in schools and in the area of arts in education. There should be a link between this and accessibility.
- Decentralize programs. Encourage State Arts Agencies to embrace the initiatives of the NEA.
- The federal government should encourage public/private partnerships that educate people and advocate for more programs and opportunities for people with disabilities. These programs should not necessarily be free. Note that when people pay for a service, they tend to pay more attention to it than if it is a gift.
- In an election year you can often make significant progress on an issue that requires the attention of elected officials.
- Learn from various communities on the best means of communication.
- Learn from and lead the non-arts community on access issues. Encourage national arts service organizations to include access issues in their conferences and workshop. Urge these organizations to help lead their members on this issue.
- "Show, don't tell." Performances, art exhibits, and demonstrations will have more of an impact on change.
- Emphasize universal design.
What steps can be taken to develop more audio description capacity in New England:
- Create a grassroots advocacy effort, including a phone call/letter campaign.
- Explore funding requirements of State Arts Agencies, and consider requiring access efforts from all General Operating Support organizations. Organizations need to be encouraged to move away from fear of "requirements." They need to be encouraged to begin taking steps in the right direction.
Clearing the Path was funded by NEFA, the National Endowment for the Arts and the six New England state arts agencies, with additional support provided by Adaptive Environments and VSA arts of Massachusetts.