by Gina Zippo-Mazur, MS, LAC, CRC, CPRP, Ocean County College Coordinator of Disability Services
Most people get to experience the Arts with typical senses and abilities that allows a person to appreciate and process the experience of theatre, music and the arts in several ways. When thinking about people with disabilities, we must question how people with impairments get the same artistic experience. People with disabilities have the right to access anything and everything people without disabilities do. It begins by having conversations about inclusion and awareness.
Inclusive practices allow people with disabilities to openly access accommodations that help them gain a theatrical experience just like the general public. Accommodations such as captioning services and assistive listening devices for the hard of hearing and Sign Language Interpreters for the Deaf are most commonly utilized in the Arts. Sensory friendly shows can offer people with Autism a safe and enjoyable environment by simply turning the lights up, reducing loud or jarring sounds, and allow people to talk, move, dance, all during a theatrical experience.
What else? Safety is a priority for all who attend theatre and exhibits. Most importantly, people using mobility devices must have access to accessible seating and clear pathways for exits in case of emergency. Safety practices can be provided through training, which is an integral part of the customer service experience and adds to providing a meaningful experience for people with disabilities.
Staff who work in the Arts should be formally trained on how to manage accommodation requests and safety protocols, as well as disability etiquette when assisting people with disabilities. It is recommended to have people who have disability involved in facilitating trainings to share their perspectives and experiences with staff. This method follows the “not about us, without us” approach that is vital to breaking stigma and promoting the inclusive environment we want to create in our venues.
The promotion of services and accommodations is a vital part of helping people with disabilities feel welcome. By providing written accommodation statements on advertising materials and webpages, theaters can promote access and inclusion and allow people to get the support and tools they need to gain an integrative experience. Accessibility standards outlined by federal law mandate accessible materials such as accessible websites that include media advertisements, in addition to providing flyers and brochures that are made available in large font or braille.
The Kennedy Center provides a list of resources through the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) website. Some resources include Tip sheets on; Training, Service Animals, Relevant ADA Law, and Universal Design practices.
Lastly, we are all responsible and accountable for providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all people. After all, “Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.” ― Debra Ruh
Visit the Accessibility page to learn more about the Grunin Center’s accommodation offerings.