There Is No Such Thing as an Excess of Access

Today’s guest blog post is written by Natalie Petruch, Implementation Specialist, Patron Technology.

Once upon a time when I was a young audio apprentice in Maryland, I went on a backstage tour of Everyman Theatre in Baltimore. While the whole experience was phenomenal, what really stood out to me was the fact that they offered Closed Captioning of their performances through an app called Simultext that allowed patrons to follow along with the play being performed while reading the script from the comfort of their own (or a loaner) iPod/iPhone.

As I, at the time, was in a seemingly constant battle to keep an antiquated assisted listening system up to date, this seemed like the wave of the future. It has always been my opinion that as artists, we have an obligation not only to create art that emotionally resonates with our patrons but also to ensure that this art is accessible. However, upon seeing that Closed Captioning system, I realized that I had been ignorant not only to newer accessibility options but also to lesser known ones. And with that, I began my foray into arts accessibility.

When discussing the accessibility of your organization and artistic offerings, there are a few different questions that must be asked:

  • Are there any accessibility needs within your organization’s patron demographic?
  • Are those needs being met?
  • Are there other communities that could be better served?
  • Is there room in the budget for accessibility improvements?
  • If some accessibility options exist, are patrons able to provide feedback on their availability and ease of use?
  • Is your organization compliant with federal and state accessibility laws?

With all of these things in mind, let’s talk a little about what communities may require a little more access:

Patrons With Mobility Concerns:

While a large portion of an organization’s ability to be cognizant of mobility-impaired individuals is ingrained in the venue’s architecture and must comply with ADA regulations and standards, there are some other things to consider. Does your organization offer early seating or advanced entrance? Are there chairs in your lobby or front entrance for individuals who may not be able to stand for long periods of time?

Patrons Who Are Hearing-Impaired:

While your organization may have at least one accessible option for hearing impaired patrons, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be another! It’s important to remember that not all deaf or hearing impaired people have the same accessibility requirements; some may not understand sign language or some may simply prefer captioned experiences. I’d encourage looking into including a mix of ASL (American Sign Language) services, assistive listening devices, closed captioning devices, and early material requests (such a scripts or informational pamphlets).

Patrons Who Are Sight-Impaired:

Much like the hearing-impaired community, the ‘blind community’ is not homogenous and as such, different individuals require different forms of access. Some options your organization can offer to patrons with sight impairments include touch tours, large print programs, tactile maps, near-stage seating, and audio description services.

Patrons With Cognitive Disabilities:

For patrons with sensory and communication disorders or other cognitive disabilities, performances or exhibitions can sometimes be overly stimulating or difficult to process. Some steps your organization can take to better serve the needs of these patrons are having designated relaxed/sensory-friendly performances, hosting orientation visits, using pictures as supplementary material, and establishing designated quiet areas.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I deeply encourage you to explore the organizations linked to above and look into Arts Accessibility resources in your area,

I’m sure there’s more than you may think. On a national scale, take a look at the National Endowment for the Arts Accessibility Resources, specifically Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Adminstrator’s Handbook or even the American Alliance of Museum’s Resources on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion.

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