Successful Strategies from the Award of Excellence in Arts Access
“A teenage girl... is sitting across the table (in an art class) from this guy
named Joe, who’s blind. He can’t see anything, and he says ‘Pass the
blue paint.’ And she says, ‘How do you know what blue paint is?! ’
And he says ‘Blue like the sky, blue like the water. You don’t have to see
blue to know what blue is.’”
Dwight Graves, from The Journey to Here
If we need proof that awareness of arts access is on the rise, we need only look at the
number of venues that applied for this award. Three times as many arts organizations
submitted their access programs for consideration this year—a sign that everyone is
learning how important it is to reach out to the more than 59 million people with
disabilities in the United States.
Arts organizations recognize that by providing accessibility services they expand their
audience. People with disabilities are not a small fringe group in your community—they
are an integral part of every community.
By including everyone in the design, your programs become more relevant and engaging.
If our arts define us, then so does our audience. Define yours as broadly as you can.
The average attendee does not exist. We’re all different, and our needs vary. Access strives
to meet the needs of everyone in your community.
For arts venues just beginning their access efforts, let the excellence of this year’s awardees
guide and motivate you. And let this booklet serve as an introduction to the network of
resources open to you as you launch your own programs.
Letter from the president | 2
P roviding physical access for your
visitors is not enough anymore,
but it is a great beginning. Now, the goal
Through thoughtful planning, organizations
can create full access to the arts. Access
is created when people of diverse abilities
have an equal opportunity to attend,
is to create events that meet the specific
participate in, and enjoy arts programming.
needs of people with disabilities and that An organization can contribute to access
by being sensitive and responsive to the
make them feel welcome and involved. needs of people with disabilities through—
Making adaptations in the presentation The design and implementation
of a program;
of art exhibits, theatrical performances,
The guidelines and policies in place
activities, and workshops that enable to support the development and
people with and without disabilities to implementation of its programs;
have the same opportunity to richly The printed materials created to
promote the program;
experience these events, this is access
The means through which the program
and inclusion. is communicated to the public; and
The physical design of the facility used
to implement the program.
3 | Arts Access made easy
THE PATH TO ACCESS
Arts access allows community access.
It’s that simple. If you want to reach
Ten Surefire Ways to Achieve Arts Access
1. Approach Access as a Process. The first WHAT IS ARTS access?
the largest possible audience, then you step is one of attitude. Don’t think you’ll Arts access is achieved when people
need to make your programs available to one day be finished with your access with and without disabilities have the
them. All people must be able to attend responsibilities. Arts access is an ongoing same opportunity to experience the arts,
your arts events, and to meaningfully process, and it’s as fundamental to your whether they are audience members,
experience them. organization as the arts events you produce. artists, or patrons.
(Why? Because it’s about creating an audience,
Don’t let arts access become a daunting Arts Access manifests itself in many ways:
and art isn’t art without an audience.)
task. Break it down into manageable Physical accommodations, such as
projects, especially if you are just starting Make arts access part of the fabric of seating for people using wheelchairs
your access efforts. You may designate an your organization. Just as you never and Braille signage
access coordinator, but full access requires stop producing new events, exhibits,
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
a team effort. True access requires much and programs, you’ll find endless ways
community outreach, and it can even require to include the greatest possible audience. Infrared Listening Systems
architectural renovations. The simplest and ASL interpreters
2. Make Access Somebody’s Job. At every
cheapest solutions, however, are frequently Open Captioning
arts institution, there should be a person
the most powerful. Let’s get to the basics.
who has the specific responsibility of Audio Description
arts access. A full-time position is rarely Touch Tours
allocated. This coordinator needs to juggle
this role with several other duties, which TTY phones
is why number three is so vital. Inclusive Arts Education Programs
What is arts access? | 4
3. Build Relationships. No matter how include the creative works of people with
small your city, there are organizations out disabilities? Who should receive brochures
BUILDING BLOCKS there that represent people with disabilities promoting upcoming sensory tours?
OF accessibility (see list, page 7). Introduce yourself and
your arts institution to these groups, and to 4. Evaluate What You’ve Got. To know
what you need, examine what you’ve got.
Ask patrons and involve people leaders in these communities. Schedule a
meeting. Everyone has to begin somewhere, What physical alterations do you need to
with disabilities in your planning. make at your facility? Who on the staff
so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Soak up
State your commitment to access what they have to say. What are their needs? needs sensitivity training? (Everyone who
in your mission and press materials. What do they want? How can you make works with the public needs it, even the
your theatre or museum more accessible security guards.) Ask your new accessibility
Designate an accessibility coordinator. committee to help conduct the evaluations
to their groups?
and the training sessions. Use the “People
Obtain input from people with disabilities.
They can make your job easier. Create an First” guide in the back of this booklet as
Train all staff on accessibility and accessibility committee made up of these a starting point for your staff.
disability awareness. representatives and key staff at your
organization. The dialogue at these 5. Take Advantage of Free Resources.
Conduct a review/evaluation of facilities committee meetings will help you establish Only at number five and you’re already
and programs to identify existing barriers. access priorities for your venue. Find out overwhelmed? Don’t be—it’s a process done
what you’re doing right, and what needs in baby steps. Free help and resources exist
Implement short- and long-term plans. at every level. For instance, just do an
improvement. Are assistive listening devices
Establish a way for feedback and the biggest priority, or an accessible Internet search on “cultural access” to find
constructive criticism to be heard. bathroom on the second floor? How many a wealth of online resources.
people have used the TTY phone line to
Continue to review your progress.
purchase tickets? Does your programming
5 | Arts Access made easy
6. Make Goals You Can Achieve. Don’t informative brochures to mail to the senior
aim to rebuild your theatre to adhere to centers, schools, and organizations that work
the principles of Universal Design if you with people with disabilities. Advertise your
are working with a small budget and no access offerings in the publications read by
staff. Start with what’s doable—so if you’re these populations (which are often the same
a small-town theatre, maybe that’s just to publications read by the general public).
include an American Sign Language (ASL) Use your newly developed relationships in
interpreter or volunteer audio describer at the disability community to get the word
one performance. Arts access isn’t an all-or- out. Include the Graphic Arts Guild symbols
nothing proposition, but it’s easy to get for accessibility in all of your printed
discouraged when you don’t think you have materials. Make sure there is sufficient and
the financial resources or manpower to make clear signage in your arts venue that
changes. Some changes don’t cost a thing, publicize the accessibility options available.
like building relationships (number 3). Even if your arts access budget is tiny,
Remember that it’s better to do something dedicate some funds to marketing your
small than nothing at all. adaptations.
7. Market to Community. After actually 8. Consider Both Sides of the Stage.
incorporating arts access into your venue, Arts access isn’t just about the audience.
this is the most important thing you can People with disabilities sing, dance, act,
do. Access is useless if the people who can paint, direct, play instruments, choreograph,
use it don’t know about it. Create an access do set design, produce, write, sculpt…
statement that clearly describes what you everything artists do. And their work needs
do offer and your commitment to include to be staged, performed, and exhibited.
all people at your institution. Produce If you’re renovating your physical space to
Top ten paths to access | 6
adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act 10. Build on What You Create. Never stop
Partner Potential (ADA) codes, make sure the backstage area creating access. Keep coming up with new
is accessible. If you’re deciding which artists ideas and innovations. Remember, it’s
To reach people with disabilities,
to exhibit in your gallery next year, consider a process. When you receive feedback
target groups like these in your
the work of artists with disabilities as well. from people with disabilities, put it to use.
Seek out the works of playwrights and Let the advisory committee you create
Senior Centers musicians with disabilities. When holding (see number 3) be a breeding ground for
auditions, include aspiring actors who have new ideas and new goals for your
American Association of Retired Persons disabilities (and don’t just consider them for institution.
(AARP) roles in The Miracle Worker !)
Community Centers 9. Accept Criticism. Establish a grievance
Public Schools process where people can lodge complaints.
Ask for feedback, and bravely receive it.
Hospitals and Rehabilitation Hospitals Yes, it sounds like an invitation to a
headache, but if the disability community
Health Care Providers (i.e., a poster in an
has an easy way to let you know what’s
audiologist’s office will probably be seen
not working (i.e., “Why are there no ASL
by many people with hearing loss)
interpreters at matinees?”), you will have an
Vocational Rehabilitation Centers easy way to improve on the adaptations you
implement. Besides, you might occasionally
Independent Living Centers get a compliment, and that makes all the
Parent Information Centers complaining worthwhile.
Human Service Agencies
State Arts Councils
7 | Arts Access made easy
IT ISN’T EASY BEING AN ARTS
FIVE things you can
Common Questions and Complaints How do I afford this?
Fear not, funding sources for your accessible do that DON’T COST
Where do I begin? Where do I buy a
TTY phone, and how much does it cost?
programs do exist. The Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Who can add Braille to my signage? How offers Community Development Block
do you find the ALDs, the Infrared 1. Build an advisory committee, and
Grant Programs that provide funds to state, create an access statement that
devices, etc.? county, and city governments for projects of
It’s easier than you’d think, and almost clearly describes what you do.
private and public organizations for barrier
all of it can be found on the Web. removal in cultural facilities and programs. 2. Seek out work by artists with
Go to www.nadc.ucla.edu/ACCESSIBLE Call the local office of HUD, your state arts disabilities.
SERVICES&PRODUCTS.htm, the council, or your state social services agency,
National Arts and Disability Center’s 3. Call other cultural organizations
and be prepared for a certain amount of with strong access programs.
Web site at www.nadc.ucla.edu for an bureaucratic complexity.
informative resource list of every type 4. Learn how to use the relay system,
of assistive technology. Some other possibilities: a phone service that enables people
The NEC Foundation of America who are deaf or hard of hearing to
You can also contact your local independent use a regular telephone.
gives grants that apply assistive
living center or office for students with
technology for people with disabilities,
disabilities in your nearby university or 5. Invite employees with disabilities
college to locate assistive listening, audio within your institution to share their
description, Braille, captioning, and sign The Mitsubishi Electric America experiences.
language interpreters in your community. Foundation funds projects using
See a nationwide directory at of independent technology geared toward young
living centers www.virtualcil.net/cils/ people. www.meaf.org
Common questions | 8
The Foundation Center provides relationships, you’ll soon see that your arts
resources on private and corporate access efforts are bringing in a new audience
foundations. www.fdncenter.org to your venue.
The Grantsmanship Center offers Where can I get the access symbols?
resources to nonprofit organizations The universal graphic symbols that
through the Whole Nonprofit Catalog. represent the varying levels of accessibility
www.tgci.com are free to use. Download them from the
Web site of the Graphic Arts Guild at
How do I find the right audience for www.gag.org/resources/das.php
my accessible services?
In your city, organizations exist that
represent the communities that will
benefit from your services. See some
examples on page 7.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re new
to access. Most of these groups are happy You can also receive the symbols on a
that you’re interested in including them. computer disk for PC or Mac or as camera-
Reach out to these organizations, and you’ll ready slicks. Contact the Graphic Artists
find an audience. Invite representatives Guild at (212) 791-3400. The cost is $12.95
to join your advisory committee. Make plus $3.00 shipping and handling.
sure any marketing materials you create
get in the hands of the people at these
organizations. Schedule events that coincide
with their programs. If you build strong
9 | Arts Access made easy
We are already running several programs spectrum of budgets—from a $10 million
that are very successful. Do I have to renovation by Boston’s Wang Center to the The Secret Weapon
scrap them completely simply because modest annual operating budget of Arizona’s
they aren’t “accessible”? Third Street Company/Arts for All, Inc. The Papermill Playhouse maximized the
impact of its new access service by hiring a
Strive to be inclusive. Reach out to potential Despite their differences, all four awardees
manager of outreach and access. Even the
audiences or participants with disabilities, have two things in common: a deep, best program is a wasted investment without
and make accommodations for them in ongoing commitment to arts access, and the proper audience. Marketing to the
your program. Accommodations range strong relationships with the disability proper public is equal in importance to
from installing a ramp at your entrance community in their locations. implementing an effective arts access
to bringing an ASL interpreter to your program. The manager works with the
workshop. Inclusive arts education programs Paper Mill Playhouse, Milburn, New Jersey theatre’s marketing department to create
expose all the participants to learning Open Captioning Project targeted campaigns to reach people who
opportunities on several levels. When people will make use of their services.
with and without disabilities work together, As the state theatre of New Jersey, the The captioning services are target-
Paper Mill Playhouse is a nationally marketed via direct mail twice a year.
especially in a creative environment,
recognized theatre that stages a broad Theatre for Everyone is a brochure
outlining all of the Paper Mill’s access
spectrum of musicals and plays. The Paper
services. The brochure is distributed
SUCCESSFUL STRATEGIES Mill Playhouse leads by providing access
at the theatre and is sent via direct
IN ARTS ACCESS services to the arts patrons of New Jersey mail to ticketbuyers.
with well-developed programs in barrier-free All theatre and educational marketing
VSA arts/MetLife Foundation Award of
design; services for people who are Deaf, materials include the Graphic Arts
Excellence in Arts Access Recipients, 2003
hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired; Guild’s access symbols (see page 9).
This year’s awardees demonstrate four and discounted tickets. MetLife and VSA arts The Paper Mill uses its Web site,
different creative, responsive approaches to awarded the Paper Mill Playhouse for its www.papermill.org, to describe all
arts access. The recipients also represent the Open Captioning program. of its access programs in detail.
Paper Mill Playhouse | 10
What is the VSA arts / Winning Access: Open Captioning Wang Center for the Performing Arts,
Open Captioning (OC) allows full access Boston, Massachusetts
MetLife Foundation for patrons with profound hearing loss A Commitment to Accessibility
Award of Excellence in Arts Access? who only partially benefit from infrared
listening systems or American Sign The Wang Center, which includes the
For three years, VSA arts has Language (ASL). A large digital screen Wang and Shubert Theatres, is New
presented arts organizations who on the left side of the auditorium projects England’s largest cultural venue, staging
have established long-range dialogue as the action occurs onstage. ballets, operas, Broadway shows, classical
accessibility goals with a $5,000
OC is offered for two performances of and popular music, classic films, and
cash award for specific programs international dance. The Wang Center
through the generous support of the each musical and one performance of each
play. Upon request, the Papermill Playhouse is a true example of a performing arts
MetLife Foundation. Previous award center that has achieved arts access.
winners include Bethesda Academy will provide OC for children’s theatre and
other events. With a generous budget and an ambitious
for Performing Arts, Bethesda, MD;
Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio; plan, the center has enabled individuals
Arvada Center for the Arts and Through ticket sales, the theatre measures who have physical or developmental
Humanities, Arvada, Colorado; the success of its access programs. The disabilities or who are Deaf or hard
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Papermill Playhouse also continually forges of hearing, blind or visually impaired
Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN; partnerships with local organizations, to experience the arts at their facilities.
Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre, leaders, and patrons to gather feedback Through adaptations to their physical
Fargo, ND; Boston Museum of Fine about the effectiveness of existing surroundings, staff training, and
Arts, Boston, MA; and Mark Taper accommodations and opportunities adjustments in their ticketing and
Forum, Los Angeles Theatre Center,
for improvements. audience policies, they have expanded
Los Angeles, CA.
their audience to include the disability
community. They have also put leaders
with disabilities at the center of their
planning, serving as a bridge between
11 | Arts Access made easy
the center and the disability community The $10 million renovation of the Wang
in the Boston area. and Shubert Theatres was begun in 1989.
The Wang Center hired a consulting firm Power in Partners
The First Building Block to conduct a full evaluation of the physical The Wang Center’s educational
The Wang and Shubert Theatres establishment and to bring their facilities
exemplify all the components of a into ADA compliance. Early on, the outreach program partners
physically accessible performing arts Wang Center established a Diversity with organizations like Boston’s
venue. From basics like their barrier-free Access Committee of the Board of Trustees
drop-off and entrance area, free assistive to spearhead the Center’s transformation. Perkins School for the Blind and
listening devices, accessible restrooms In addition, the Center hosts advisory The Learning Center for Deaf Children
and drinking fountains to features boards comprised of members of the
available at only the most progressive community, to suggest access adaptations. in Framingham to integrate young
venues, including: They retain the Cultural Access Consortium people with disabilities into their
(CAC) as their “access consultant” to
Wheelchair lifts backstage that educational workshops.
bridge the Center with the Deaf and blind
provide access to all backstage areas
communities. (For more about the CAC,
and the orchestra pit;
visit their Web site at www.cac.org.)
A TTY pay phone in the main lobby; The Second Layer—Access to
Large-print programs for every What Wang Offers
performance; and For people who are hard of hearing,
Wang uses three assistive techniques—
Plenty of armless seats for patrons ASL interpretation, sound plus assistive
transferring from wheelchairs, and listening/FM infrared, and Open Captioning.
seating in the front for patrons with The theatre’s advisory board advises the
visual disabilities. theaters on which performances they
Wang Center for the Performing Arts | 12
perceive will be of interest to the Deaf is given to all staff and trustees. Training
community. ASL volunteers are available sessions are based upon the distinct
at every performance to ensure convenience functions of the staff—be they box office,
To MARKET, for patrons who are Deaf. Patrons with ushers, educational staff, or trustees.
to market visual disabilities may opt for audio-
description at selected performances.
The Wang Center even goes one step
Training is led by their Cultural Access
Consortium representatives and leaders
from the blind and Deaf communities
The Wang Center publishes an access further and loans out their audio share relevant information specific to the
guide for their patrons. description system to other Boston-based needs of the attendees.
It outlines all of the Center’s Wang maintains the quality of its access
accessibility services, and is Seats in the first few rows of the Wang and programs by continuously soliciting the
updated regularly. Shubert Theatres are usually priced at $70. opinions of the disability community.
It is printed in Braille for patrons who
Wang offers these seats at half-price to all Feedback is gathered through post-show
are blind or have visual disabilities. patrons who are Deaf or hard of hearing discussions, e-mail evaluations, and written
since these are the most suitable seats for letters from participants, interpreters, and
Wang obtains mailing lists from viewing interpreters. Four seats are available audio describers.
VSA arts of Massachusetts and an in the front rows at each performance for
access consultant to continually update The Museum of International Folk Art,
attendees with low vision. All tickets for
their mailing lists and e-mail listservs
volunteer ushers and interpreters are free. Santa Fe, New Mexico
with individuals who may be interested
in accessible performances. The Spectrum Program: Creativity
The Cultural Shift on a Budget
Advertisements in key publications The leaders of Wang’s access plan were wise
and press releases about accessible to realize early on that the key to success With a modest budget, Santa Fe’s Museum
performances also promote the included a change in the institution’s policy of International Folk Art (MOIFA) has
Center’s work. and culture. Access awareness training created an effective program to bring people
13 | Arts Access made easy
with disabilities in to see the exhibits and audience by providing them with a
experience the creative process. In the
Spectrum program, people with disabilities
multi-sensory experience. The arts-based
program integrates the resources of all A broad Spectrum
engage in the arts themselves—a hands-on three organizations. For instance, students
experience that deepens the meaning of working with adults with cognitive
examples of the Spectrum
arts access. disabilities at Santa Fe’s Southwestern experience include:
College are given valuable training via
MOIFA, one of the five institutes of the this program by their volunteer work with A tour of an exhibition of textiles
Museum of New Mexico system, collects, from around the world followed by
the participants. (And MOIFA benefits a lesson on West African drumming
preserves, and presents material folk culture by getting free assistance.) The Spectrum
from around the world. The Museum and rhythms;
program also sponsors training in working
also promotes the study of folk culture, with people with special needs for A tour of a ceramics exhibition
including music, drama, dance, and the professionals, museum docents, and followed by a hands-on clay
verbal arts. An active commitment to arts community members. activity; or
access is in keeping with the Museum’s
A tour of the Hispanic folk art
commitment to promote international The program combines exhibitions Heritage Wing followed by
goodwill and global understanding. with hands-on arts experiences led by hands-on tinwork, weaving,
professional educators and artists. Trained or dancing.
Collaboration for Success docents who are retired art therapists or
MOIFA collaborated with VSA arts of who are specifically trained in working
New Mexico (VSANM) and the National with adults and youth with disabilities
Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to lead the program.
create Spectrum, an arts-based program
for adults and youth with physical and The expense of a program like Spectrum
mental disabilities. The goal is to integrate is minimal because it does not involve
this specific audience into the overall the investment in new technology,
Museum of International Folk Art | 14
All for all at like an Infrared listening system, or
the employment of ASL interpreters.
group leaders. To further market Spectrum,
MOIFA also sends a brochure to schools
Arts for All, Inc. The commitment of specially trained
educators and program leaders makes
and groups in the area that also take part
in the Museum’s Folk Art to Go program.
Daily afterschool classes in music, the experience accessible, and staff costs
drama, dance, visual arts, and sign are kept to a minimum thanks in part to Arts for All, Inc./Third St. Ensemble
language that bring together children the generosity of its participants. The staff Company, Tucson, Arizona
with and without disabilities from a and student aides also work for very little, Creating Opportunity with the Arts
variety of socioeconomic levels; and the guest artists are given a modest The primary focus of Tucson’s Third St.
honoraria for their efforts. Ensemble Company/Arts for All, Inc. is to
Trilingual (English, Spanish, and expose young people with disabilities to the
ASL) performances at assemblies in At the start of each year, a group of partners arts. The company uses the performing arts
public schools throughout Arizona from the community meets to discuss the to encourage personal growth and brings
and New Mexico;
content of each Spectrum session. To gather a diverse group of Tucson’s young people
feedback, MOIFA asks participants to together in a creative and productive setting.
Performances at major community complete written evaluation forms after
theatres in the area, featuring people each session. Initially begun as an afterschool program,
of all ages and abilities; Arts for All, Inc. presents an ambitious
Getting the Word out array of inclusive classes, training workshops,
Since the Spectrum program itself is a performances, and even social events.
Monthly workshops with local artists—
partnership with VSANM and NAMI, Each year, one full-length production is
weekend intensives focusing on a
MOIFA is already one step ahead performed in Tucson, and sometimes also
particular interest, such as songwriting,
in reaching their intended audience. staged nationally and internationally.
storytelling, or dance; An outreach educator on staff at MOIFA
continued on page 16 works with additional organizations in and Arts for All, Inc., is the rare program that
around Santa Fe to recruit participants and is exclusively oriented toward people with
15 | Arts Access made easy
disabilities, but their methods can serve also has an embosser to print its own Braille
as a springboard to brainstorm innovative materials, and everything is translated into
Monthly teen dances for an
ideas in mainstream arts venues. Spanish by staff.
At inclusive summer and winter arts camps, Other Winning Ideas
Some standouts from the runners-up: Disability ambassadors—training
counselors receive accessibility training
and reach out to individual students by for high school students to learn
Project 3D at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, about various disabilities. They
incorporating wheelchair dance or creating
New Hampshire, uses audio description to
adaptive resources for the visual arts. can then take their knowledge
bring live dance and theatre to individuals
By working together, children become into the elementary schools to
who are blind or have low vision. The project
accepting of disabilities, and come away raise awareness among young
includes a workshop day to introduce
from the experience with a deeper people, and;
people in the New Hampshire area to audio
understanding of themselves and the
description. www.themusichall.org Training in inclusion aides—a
value of diversity.
The ASL interpreters at the Wild Swan 50-hour training program prepares
Telling the Public About Arts for All, Inc.
Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, are also aides to work with children and
The entire budget of Arts for All Inc. is
actors who work with the speaking cast adults with disabilities and to
dedicated to their accessibility program,
to heighten the ASL service and integrate develop strategies that will assist
since access encompasses the entire mission
it meaningfully into the performance. them in integrating community
of the Third St. Ensemble Company.
Wild Swan presents more ASL arts activities.
This allows their marketing plan to be
interpreted performances for young
extensive. News about auditions, programs,
people than any other theatre in the
and performances are publicized in press
releases, postcards, and flyers sent to public
schools, radio stations, newspapers and arts The Kemper Museum of Contemporary
and social service agencies. Arts for All, Inc. Art in Kansas City, Missouri, collaborates
Arts for All, Inc. | 16
directly with the University of Kansas and performances to San Francisco’s
Medical Center’s Institute for Child community of people who are Deaf or
Development to offer the ArtReach hard of hearing. www.yerbabuenaarts.org
Why include ALL?
Program. ArtReach provides customized
art-making workshops at the Museum The Keshet Dance Company in
for the Institute’s outpatients, friends, Albuquerque, New Mexico, strives to
The creative arts (music, theatre,
and family. www.kemperart.org break the stereotype of who can dance
visual art, sculpture, dance, movement, and what a dancer looks like with their
Sensory seminars are one of the most Mixed Ability Program that includes
writing) provide a place where diversity
innovative ways that the McCarter people with disabilities. Occupational
and originality are highly valued. Theatre Center for the Performing Arts and physical therapists and trained
The creative process leads us to better in Princeton, New Jersey, creates access volunteers work with the dance
understand ourselves and one another, to their performances. Before each audio instructors to ensure that everyone in
described performance, patrons with the class has a meaningful experience.
thereby breaking down personal and
disabilities are given the opportunity www.keshetdance.org
societal barriers. For this reason, to walk through the set pieces, feel the
inclusive classes in the arts offer costume textures, and handle key props.
people a unique opportunity to interact. www.mccarter.org
San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center
for the Arts started a partnership with
D.E.A.F. Media, Inc. six years ago.
Artists who are Deaf are included in the
exhibit schedule of the center, and access
salons are held four times a year to bring
lectures, workshops, film screenings
17 | Arts Access made easy
SPEAKING WITH AWARENESS
“People-First” Language and that their abilities or disabilities are
only part of who they are.
It’s seems so simple. Don’t think of the
disability, think of the person. Think of Suggestions to Improve
the people first, and disability awareness Access and Positive Interactions
will come quite naturally. But to help Avoid euphemisms such as “physically
you along, here are two excerpts from challenged,” “differently abled,” or
Access and Opportunities: A Guide to “handi–capable.” Many disability groups
Disability Awareness, a publication written object to these phrases because they are
and distributed by VSA arts. considered condescending and reinforce
the idea that disabilities cannot be spoken
Language shapes the way those around of in an upfront and direct manner.
us speak and act toward one another and
conveys the respect we have for others. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t a call a
The use of appropriate language about friend with cancer “your cancerous friend,”
people with disabilities can be an important so why would you call a friend who is Deaf
tool in building a community that accepts “your Deaf friend”?
all people. Do not sensationalize a disability by using
terms such as “afflicted with,” “suffers from,”
Appropriate language is both sensitive and or “crippled with.” These expressions are
accurate. VSA arts promotes the use of considered offensive and inaccurate to
“people–first” language—language that puts people with disabilities.
the focus on the individual, rather than on
a disability. People–first language helps us When referring to people who use
remember that people are unique individuals wheelchairs, avoid terms such as “wheelchair
Speaking with awareness | 18
bound” or “confined to a wheelchair.” Basic Rules for Disability Awareness
Wheelchairs do not confine people with People First! Affirmative Phrases
This is NOT the only disabilities — they provide freedom of
movement to assist them in traveling Person with a disability
booklet you NEED. throughout the community.
The National Endowment for the Arts and When writing or speaking about people Person who is blind; person with
the American Association of Museums with disabilities, emphasize abilities rather a visual impairment
can help you with arts access. Their books than limitations, focusing on a person’s
and booklets include: accomplishments, creative talents, or skills. Person who is Deaf; person who
An Arts Accessibility Checklist This does not mean avoiding mention
of a person’s disability, but doing so in a is hard of hearing
that outlines major access
accommodations to assist respectful manner and only when relevant
organizations in making their to the situation. Person with a mental illness
facilities and programs fully
accessible. Contact your state Person with mental retardation
arts council or the NEA office
directly for a copy, (202) 682-5532
or www.nea.gov Person who uses a wheelchair
Everyone’s Welcome: The ADA & Person with a physical disability;
Museums, shows how to make
collections fully accessible and is person with a mobility impairment
$25 for members. Order from the
American Association of Museums
Bookstore, (202) 289-9127.
continued on page 20
19 | Arts Access made easy
Ten Commandments of Etiquette 5. Treat adults as adults. Address people
For Communicating with Persons who have disabilities by their first names
with Disabilities only when extending the same familiarity
to all others. (Never patronize people who
1. When talking with a person with a use wheelchairs by patting them on the
disability, speak directly to that person head or shoulder.)
rather than through a companion or sign The National Endowment for the
language interpreter. 6. Leaning or hanging on a person’s Arts Web site is a strong resource
wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging too. Visit their accessibility pages
2. When introduced to a person with a
on a person and is generally considered at www.nea.gov and click
disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake on Accessibility.
annoying. The chair is part of the personal
hands. People with limited hand use or who
body space of the person who uses it. Fundamentals of Arts Management,
wear an artificial limb can usually shake
hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand includes a chapter on arts access
7. Listen attentively when you’re talking
that includes an extensive list of
is an acceptable greeting.) with a person who has difficulty speaking. organizations, with their Web sites
Be patient and wait for the person to finish, and addresses. It costs about $50
3. When meeting a person with a visual
rather than correcting or speaking for the and is available through the Arts
impairment, always identify yourself
person. If necessary, ask short questions that Extension Service of the University
and others who may be with you. When
require short answers, a nod, or a shake of of Massachusetts-Amherst,
conversing in a group, remember to identify www.umass.edu/aes.
the head. Never pretend to understand if
the person to whom you are speaking.
you are having difficulty doing so. Instead,
4. If you offer assistance, wait until the repeat what you have understood and allow
offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask the person to respond. The response will
for instructions. clue in and guide your understanding.
10 Commandments of Etiquette | 20
8. When speaking with a person in a The material in Speaking with Awareness is printed with
permission from: The Office of Disability Employment Policy
wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, (formerly The President’s Committee on Employment of People
place yourself at eye level in front of the with Disabilities); Guidelines to Reporting and Writing
About People with Disabilities, produced by the Media
person to facilitate the conversation. Project, Research and Training Center on Independent Living,
4089 Dole, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045; and
9. To get the attention of a person who Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with
is Deaf or hard of hearing, tap the person People with Disabilities, National Center for Access Unlimited,
155 North Wacker Drive, Suite 315, Chicago, IL 60606
on the shoulder or wave your hand.
Look directly at the person and speak
clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine
if the person can read your lips. Not all
people who are hard of hearing can lip-read.
For those that do not lip-read, be sensitive
to their needs by placing yourself so that
you face the light source and keep hands,
cigarettes, and food away from your mouth
10. Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if
you happen to use accepted, common
expressions such as “See you later.”
or “Did you hear about that?” that
seem to relate to a person’s disability.
21 | Arts Access made easy
VSA arts is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith
to promote education and lifelong learning opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities.
Nearly five million people participate in VSA arts programs annually through a network of
affiliate organizations across the nation and in more than 60 countries. To learn more about
VSA arts, please visit www.vsarts.org.
MetLife Foundation was established by MetLife to support various educational, health,
civic and cultural organizations across the country. Recognizing the arts’ contribution to
the health, vitality and development of our communities, the Foundation is committed to
increasing access to the arts and promoting diversity and inclusion. For more information
about MetLife Foundation, please visit www.metlife.org.
VSA arts & Metlife Foundation | 22
1300 Connecticut Ave, NW Suite 700
Washington, D.C. 20036
(800) 933-8721 (Voice)
(202) 737-0725 (Fax)
(202) 737-0645 (TTY)
Web site: www.vsarts.org
Alternative formats of this publication are available upon request.
The contents of this book were developed under a grant from
the US Department of Education. However, those contents
do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of
Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the