's multi-year effort to expand arts access for people with disabilities is having a real impact, according to a new report compiled by the organization.
"While we’ve come a long way in changing attitudes and promoting inclusion of people with disabilities," says Kristy Trautmann, FISA's executive director, "it is still very upsetting how many organizations and individuals consider accessibility as an afterthought, if they think about it at all. Too often the focus of accessibility planning is still about meeting the code," – doing only what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires – "as if to communicate that we would have done less if we could have."
To get past that way of thinking, FISA has spent the last five years bringing arts groups to a deeper understanding of how arts accessibility is not only the right thing to do, but it's good for business as well. The report
reviews the changes arts groups can make in their performances and presentations, from more accessible seating to sign-language interpretation, assistive listening devices, large-print programs, captioning and "touch tours." More than that, it shows how local arts groups have benefited from changing their practices, with City Theatre and Pittsburgh Opera leading the charge.
FISA teamed with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to help local arts groups discover low-cost accessibility aids. They held accessibility workshops for the groups and involved those with disabilities in assessing needs, building an audience and creating and staging disability-focused art pieces.
"It’s inspiring to see how many arts managers are now champions of accessibility and inclusion," says Trautmann. "They are driving this agenda because they deeply believe in it. We can all learn a lot from their example.
"One of the challenges is that many people who could benefit from these efforts don’t think of themselves as disabled," she adds. "They just know their hearing or vision 'isn’t what it used to be.' Many people used to love the arts but have reluctantly stopped purchasing tickets because it stopped being enjoyable. We want them to know that it’s time to come back and try again."
Rona Nesbit, executive vice president of the Cultural Trust, notes that "adding diversity to our audiences enhances everyone's experience. We believe that half of the pleasure of artistic engagement is being able to experience it with others."
And other cities' arts groups are taking notice, she adds: Representatives from the Cleveland Playhouse attended the recent autism-friendly performance of "The Lion King." The Trust also has received a request to serve as a consultant for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as well as other arts groups around the country.
"We are up front about the fact that this is a work in progress," says Trautmann. "The most important thing any community member can do is to give feedback. If you have a good experience – if something works for you – let the arts organizations know. And if you see an opportunity for something to be better – let them know that too."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Kristy Trautmann, FISA Foundation; Rona Nesbit, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust