Audience Integration in Public Arts venues: Accessibility.

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Supporting Accessibility in our various communities and amongst diverse interests through the arts, design and other Media platforms ultimately creates a more Accessible society. 

It is a known fact that the ageing population is increasing and greater longevity plus the increased numbers with known and recognised disability means there is an urgent need to tackle some of the issues surrounding Access and Inclusion.

Attending the Audience Accessibility Models for Performing Art Spaces seminar, held at the Daryl Roth Theatre 2, East street, New York, on the 7th of October, gave me an opportunity to gain more insight into the various approaches, policies and strategies currently in place to improve Access.

This event was co-sponsored by Art Beyond Sight and the Inclusion in the Arts, and brought together recognised arts and disability experts, arts professionals, government agencies, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) specialists, program directors and disability advocates, sharing best practices and resources for performing arts spaces.

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 Begin with the end in mind” – Stephen R. Covey

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It is crucial to understand exactly what is desired and what is possible as we continue to unravel some of the issues surrounding Accessibility. The above quote by Stephen R. Covey was used by Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel, founder and President of Art Beyond Sight (ABS), at the close of the seminar.

As we aspire for greater independence for our disabled community, “we all need to listen to the needs of the community and employ the various or multiple ends to fulfil these goals.” – Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel.

Below are a few excerpts and key texts taken from speakers at the seminar.

Speakers:

Julia Pinover is Senior Staff Attorney in charge of Disability Rights Advocates’ New York Office.

“Many of our public accommodation breaks the law by not providing effective communication and suitable seating arrangement.”

The law requires that:

Sight-lines in theatre seating should be comparable to the general public;

We cannot discriminate against people with disabilities, and there are no excuses for denying or segregating them;

We cannot deny someone the right to sit in a performance;

We cannot serve persons with disability with a separate benefit not available to others.

 

John McEwen is the Executive Director, New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

“When you are developing your Access programmes, always have long-range plans.”

Access programme providers should:

Include self-assessments to assess programme, services and facilities;

Create and provide non-discrimination policies (Policy statement);

Find out what more we can do to provide a better service;

Be encouraged to create a grievance procedure to resolve any disputes;

Be encouraged to share Advisory boards across organisations (for developing plans and strategies).

 

Jason R. Mischel is currently the Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel, New York City Mayors Office for People with Disabilities.

“We need to make the experience of people with disabilities as best and full an experience as other people are afforded.”

A lot of old buildings do not have appropriate seating and many have very poor sight-lines;

There are differences in the kind of facilities needed as some blind and deaf people have a variation in the tools needed.

 

David Sweeney is Executive Director of the Healing Arts Initiative, formerly known as Hospital Audiences.

“Removing barriers can be challenging.”

Many people have compound disability;

Cultural venues who are non-responsive have incomplete conversations;

We need to remove isolations and cultural divisions;

People need Education (informed perspectives) instead of the ignorance currently observed.

 

Christine Bruno is an Actor, director and coach.

“ADA compliance does not mean the venues or cultural institutions are Accessible.”

Accessibility has to do with communication;

We all need to keep the lines of communication open.

 

Beth Prevor is the co-founder and Executive Director of Hands On.

“Access should be about Audience up, not compliance down.”

The Ethos and ideology should be about improving Access;

We need to develop a centralised calendar for Accessibility programmes;

The experience is about communicating the experience and sharing the experience.

Other speakers included Frances Black, Director of Programs at A.R.T/New York; Lisa Caring, from Theatre Development Fund’s Accessibility Programs (TAP); Heidi Latsky, Artistic Director of Heidi Latsky Dance; Rachel Reiner, Senior Manager of Membership Services and Education Programs at The Broadway League, Inc; David Harrell, Actor, Speaker and disability Advocate; and Alexandria Wailes, Actor and ASL Consultant.

In summary, is this was a successful seminar, openly discussing Accessibility and Inclusion issues, and sharing best practice in Performing Arts Spaces and other Cultural institutions. It is clear that lines of communication need to be kept open not only between public accommodation providers, cultural institutions and their audience but also within the various disability audiences.

It has been stated that cross-institutional collaborations should be viewed as key to the success of removing barriers and improving Access because relevant information, expertise and resources can be shared by all responsive institutions, which will make this knowledge readily available and shared.

There is still a lot that can be done to educate front-of-house and Museum staff, the Managers, collections Curators and Directors on the issues around Accessibility, not only in the arts but in our lifestyle choices. The policies set up by government, and the practices upheld by cultural institutions, organisations and other responsive institutions can be equally supported by front-of-house staff and their management structure.

At the end of the day, the greatest concern and interest we currently have regarding Accessibility is about Audience Integration. 

We shall continue this goal with the end still in sight.

Audience Accessibility Models in Performing Art Spaces was co-sponsored by Art Beyond Sight and the Inclusion in the Arts

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