Our apprentice Kala Granger reports on her recent experience at a conference exploring ways to reframe accessibility in the arts:

At the beginning of August, dog & pony dc sent me on an adventure to a city that was completely new to me: Pittsburgh! I fell in love with the city, its arts community, and the conference I was sent for: The Kennedy Center’s Leadership Exchange in the Arts and Disability (LEAD), which provides resources and understanding in many areas of disability within the arts.

This year more arts and theatre administrators and disabled artists got together than ever before, to discuss and learn about reframing accessibility: not just for audiences, but onstage and behind the scenes. Disabled artists, backstage teams, and arts administrators, are just as important, but less represented in the mainstream discussion about accessibility.

The tools we use to accommodate can benefit everyone, whether or not they have a disability. A great example of this would be Touch Tours, which allows patrons to explore the world of the show before the play. Originally designed for patrons with autism or low-vision/blindness, the tours have been a huge success with people of all abilities. These tours–interactive, multi sensory experiences–are led by production teams and actors, often covering multiple aspects such as characters, costumes, lights, set, props, soundscape…The list goes on, and can be catered to fit any type of production.

Two other important areas of discussion I focused on were making social media accessible, and the use of interpreters as part of the artistic process. These are extensive topics but easily done once you have the right resources. I’ll share more on this later.

The big picture? We need to reframe how we think about disability, claiming the social model instead of the medical model, which puts the burden on the disabled person to be “fixed” in order to assimilate into “normal” society, rather than appreciating human diversity and recognizing that the limits they experience are mostly imposed by a society that doesn’t consider their needs important or even valuable.

There is a lot of creative gain to be had from including people who experience the world differently than we do. Once we let go of our fears and open our minds and hearts, our art becomes unbounded with possibilities.

featured image by Cut ‘N’ Run Studios @cutnrunstudios