Woman in a purple top and lipstick smiles.
Program Manager, New England Presenting & Touring

On August 20-23, I represented NEFA as the Accessibility Coordinator at the 2013 Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) conference held at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

What is LEAD? The Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability is an international network engaging cultural administrators in a conversation on accessibility, disability and inclusion in the arts. This group is bound by a commitment that the cultural arts should be accessible to all people in our community. Today LEAD draws over 300 participants at an annual conference to discuss ways to make accessible cultural environments and programming; learn regulations, best practices, and marketing strategies; and exchange resources and knowledge with experts and peers.

The conference was also an opportunity to meet state arts agency and regional arts organization accessibility coordinators from around the country.  With generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the New England state arts agencies and NEFA met face-to-face to dig deep on the region's main challenges and exchange ideas to better assist constituents.

My Top Three Take-aways from LEAD:

  1. Accessibility is a civil right (and it's the law). The recent 50th anniversary of the march on Washington is an important reminder of the disability community's fight for civil rights. Today's accessibility laws protect against the discrimination of individuals with a disability by employers, programs and services receiving federal assistance, places of public accommodation, transportation, and commercial facilities. Cultural groups have a responsibility to be aware of and comply with these laws. For more information about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), please click here. If you are a NEFA grant recipient, you must complete the Section 504 Self-Evaluation Workbook in order to comply with federal regulations.
  2. Disability is a market. According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, nearly 1 out of 5 people have a disability in the U.S. The baby boomer generation has reached a critical mass too large to ignore. Cultural organizations and artists have an opportunity to engage an important (and lucrative) audience and to win their customer loyalty.
  3. It’s the right thing to do. There are many reasons to advocate for accessibility; social, ethical, legal, economic arguments abound. From a customer service perspective, making accommodations for people with disabilities is also about making patrons feel welcome and happy at your venues, theaters, galleries, and museums. The arts can be a powerful platform to demonstrate cultural access and to raise awareness about inclusion

There are various local and national resources you can reach out to if you have questions about any dimension of accessibility:

ADA National Network - a federally funded network of 10 regional ADA centers located throughout the U.S. that provides information, guidance, and training on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act - see link above for more info). The centers can provide assistance on all aspects of the ADA, including accessible technology, employment, and Title II/state and local government regulations.

NEA Office of Accessibility - the advocacy and technical assistance arm of the National Endowment for the Arts, devoted to making the arts accessible for people with disabilities, older adults, military personnel and veterans, and people in institutional settings.

VSA - the international organization on arts and disability that provides arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities, which includes an extensive network of VSA Affiliates in the U.S.

State Arts Agency and Regional Arts Organization accessibility coordinators - the accessibility coordinators can help counsel applicants and grantees on accessibility compliance and may also direct you to the appropriate resources.

Of course, LEAD is also an important resource for arts and cultural administrators. Mark your calendars for the 2014 LEAD conference in Chicago next August!