I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Finke for our podcast, Adventures in Accessibility. Beth is an author, speaker, writing teacher, and she’s also blind. Something Beth noted during our conversation was that people with disabilities have many of the same interests as people without disabilities. As Beth stated, “I go to theater; I go to hear music. I would like people not to make an assumption because of someone’s disability of what they enjoy or what they can and can’t do.”
Everyone should be able to enjoy public life, including culture and the arts. Their programs allow people to explore history, wildlife, drama, art, music, and much more. However, inaccessibility precludes people with disabilities from enjoying these experiences the way people without disabilities can. However, there are steps arts and cultural entities can take to include people with disabilities. The following are accessibility considerations for arts and cultural entities, many of which are in practice at theaters, museums, galleries, aquariums, and more all over the country:
- During live performances, hire a sign language interpreter for those who rely on sign language as their primary form of communication. Better yet, hire multiple sign language interpreters to engage in dialogue that mimics the stage actors. Sometimes, entities will hire sign language interpreters to study the show so they can perform off book and embody the characters the way the stage actors do. If you hire interpreters, make sure they are in the lines of sight of audience members who rely on them, so people can comfortably watch both the stage actors and the interpreters simultaneously.
- You may also consider providing CART services when appropriate. As the Job Accommodation Network explains, “Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is a process of converting speech into text through a third party (CART writer). A trained CART writer or stenographer uses a keyboard or stenographic machine to transcribe spoken speech into written text, which is then transmitted onto a computer monitor or video screen for viewing.” CART services allow people to view real-time, accurate captions.
- Touch tours allow people who are blind or have low vision to interact tactilely with elements of a space. During touch tours, patrons can handle artifacts at a museum, feel props and costumes on a set, and so on. This may be accompanied by verbal descriptions from staff members or actors. In performance arts settings, touch tours can also be a great opportunity for audience members to become acquainted with actors’ character voices.
- You could also include quiet hours at your facility for patrons with disabilities. Arts and cultural experiences can be overstimulating, so designating time outside of regular hours for patrons with disabilities to explore in quieter, less crowded environments can be extremely helpful. Also, if the experiences you offer include elements that could be triggering, such as loud noises or flashing lights, always make sure you provide a warning before people buy tickets. You could also consider doing away with those elements altogether if they are unnecessary.
These are just a few of many accessibility practices you can implement. Not sure where your entity stands in terms of accessibility? Consider assembling a disability advisory group to assess your services and provide feedback. It’s always best to include people with disabilities in decisions that affect them. Chances are, if you’re taking those extra steps to ensure inclusivity, people with disabilities will take notice and so will their friends and family members. As we always say, good access is good business.