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3 Min Read

The Art of Understanding Diversity, Accessibility and Inclusion

The Performing Arts industry has always taken a lead role on social issues. Arts centers and theatre companies were some of the first safe spaces for individuals who identified outside the social ‘norms.’ ‘Rent’ explored issues of social diversity, helping an audience explore its own misperceptions of the LGBTQ community. The TV series ‘Roots’ called us to examine our racial attitudes in the 20th century and the story of the African American community. The Performing Arts continue to call audiences in communities worldwide to reflect, reexamine, and rethink their attitudes towards social, racial, and ethnic diversity themes.

Accessibility is about making the arts available to all audiences. One in 4 U.S. adults – 61 million Americans – have a disability that impacts major life activities, according to a report in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. These disabilities are not always visible. Performing Arts Centers led the charge to adapt their physical spaces as well as their artist offerings to ensure the arts were accessible to everyone. Accessibility is a difficult initiative to act upon. A center’s size, budget, age, location can impede the physical changes necessary to meet accessibility requirements in the US as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enacted nearly 30 years ago to ensure all Americans could enjoy equal opportunities.

Transforming your space to provide an accessible experience is indeed an investment, but one that pays dividends for your organization. Sadly, some organizations still have farther to go in creating environments that meet the needs of their entire audience. If your organization would like to learn more about developing best practices for working with customers who have disabilities, check out the “Welcoming Customers with Disabilities” web course, http://www.wiawebcourse.org/. A project of the ADA National Network on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If accessibility is about leveling the playing field, inclusion is inviting them to join in the game. Is your culture inviting and welcoming? Are your people respectful and non-judgmental? Is everyone aware of any unconscious biases they may exhibit in their behaviors? What steps can your organization take to transform your culture into an inclusive one?

Initiatives and programs your performing arts center offers to improve diversity, accessibility, and inclusion must be embraced and celebrated. Advertise to your community the services you offer. You will widen your audience base and your expanded audience will become advocates for your program, spreading the word about the diverse, accessible, and inclusive artistic experience you shared.