Blog

8.20.14

Reflecting on the LEAD Conference: New insights on accessibility

Daniela Jacobson
Program Manager, Presenting & Touring/Accessibility Coordinator
NEFA

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As part of my role as NEFA’s accessibility coordinator, I have the opportunity to champion access to the arts for all people and especially the disability community. Last year when I first attended the Kennedy Center’s Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) conference, I discovered LEAD’s extraordinary network of cultural administrators and advocates for accessibility, disability, and inclusion in the arts. I walked away with valuable guidance for accessibility coordinators, but also a clear understanding of the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act as a civil rights issue (read my blog on last year’s conference).

With generous funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, I had the opportunity to attend this year’s LEAD conference again in Chicago. The NEA Office of Accessibility gathered accessibility coordinators from U.S. state arts agencies and regional arts organizations to review legal requirements, share best practices in arts accessibility, discuss challenges, and identify opportunities for our communities. Over four enriching days of panel presentations ranging from website accessibility, technology demos featuring Henry Evans and remote presence robots, and staff training plans for inclusion, I was armed with practical tips, new knowledge, and inspiration. 

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At LEAD, I gleaned three important insights that will guide me through the next year:

  1. Disability is a dimension of diversity. Or as a colleague says, "Disability stands for ‘D’ in ‘Diversity." NEFA’s own programs are driven by supporting work that features artistic expressions from diverse cultures and geographies and to providing opportunities for artists to connect with underserved communities. We must bring people with disabilities to our table, especially in any discourse about disability.
  2. Accommodation means access to both information and experiences. Often times we think of physical accessibility in terms of accommodations for people with disabilities. Many theaters, museums, and galleries have ramps, elevators, and accessible restrooms for wheelchair users. But beyond physical accommodations in our venues, providing alternate formats maximizes audience participation. Alternate formats for web content, print, electronic media, art exhibits and live performances allow you to connect with a variety of different people and makes them feel welcome. Explore more about alternate formats and how to implement them in these tip sheets from the Kennedy Center. Also, learn budget-friendly ways to implement accessibility in the “Access on a Shoestring and Knowing What You Need” webinar (see page 68).
  3. Tap into (or create) your own local knowledge network on accessibility in the arts. These networks are valuable local resources that provide training opportunities to cultural administrators and members from the disability community about legal obligations and best practices, and can strengthen organizations’ ties with one another. Over the long run, these networks can improve accessibility at cultural organizations in your area. The following networks are a few examples:

The arts field has the ability to empower the disability community by implementing inclusive practices and to raise awareness for disability rights. By thinking of access first as we develop programming and plan events, instead of retrofitting accessibility into our activities and facilities, we can create an inclusive environment for all.

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Next year, the 2015 LEAD conference will be in Washington D.C. to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. Celebrations of this historic milestone are already underway – I look forward to celebrating with fellow LEADers.

Additional links: