Expanding Our Resources for Constituents: Accessibility

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“I’m most eager to share a mindset that intentionally considers the fullness of human abilities and disabilities in everyday choices.”

In an effort to broaden the resources available to our constituents, Mid-America Arts Alliance has provided a series of free webinars/recordings with help for making arts programming more accessible to all—with a special focus on those with disabilities. One of four goals in our recently published strategic plan is to prioritize inclusion, and accessibility work is essential to that goal. Overall, we’ve had more than 230 registrants across our six regional states and nationally, including those who have participated in our national program ExhibitsUSA from places like Michigan, North Carolina, and Oregon. We’re particularly proud to have reached participants from all areas of M-AAA programming, be they professional development, traveling exhibitions, or grantees.

In July 2020, we hosted Beth Bienvenu and Lauren Tuzzolino from the Office of Accessibility at the National Endowment for Arts (NEA), along with M-AAA’s Director of Arts and Humanities Grant Programs Christine Bial, for Access for All: Celebrating 30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The goal was to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and how organizations can increase inclusion to their programming and facilities using the resources available from the NEA and more. Bial presented information about the new Accessibility Microgrants that M-AAA has available.

In September 2020’s Accessibility on a Budget, we heard from two regional venues about how they have been able to increase accessibility at their organizations on a limited budget. Fran Sillau, Accessibility Coordinator, Director, and Teaching Artist at Omaha’s Rose Theatre, and Christina Shutt, Director at Little Rock’s Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, discussed accommodations they have made to their programming in order to increase access to their constituents.

Most recently, Scott Artley, Accessibility Program Director for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council in Minneapolis/St. Paul, presented DIY ADA Access Planning. Artley developed a do-it-yourself approach to ADA planning that works for large and small cultural organizations, whether they are just beginning to center inclusion for people with disabilities or ready to level-up their efforts.

Artley’s enthusiasm for his subject was contagious, and we wanted to reach out to get a closer look at his take on the accessibility work that he does so successfully. Please find below more insight into his story, and we hope you will join us in any upcoming webinars.

M-AAA: What opened your eyes to accessibility resources? What made you eager to share what you learned?

Artley: I’ve been working professionally in the arts for about twelve years now, holding a variety of jobs doing a variety of things. The through-line has always been a passion for helping people feel like they belong in a creative environment. I love problem-solving, and I’m a total nerd who loves learning, so I’ve done a lot of work to investigate ADA laws and ramp installation and ASL interpretation as I encountered those needs in my work. But those are technical skills. Technical skills are important, but I’m most eager to share a mindset that intentionally considers the fullness of human abilities and disabilities in everyday choices. In the end, what motivates me to do this work is how dozens and dozens of disabled folks have been vulnerable with me about the barriers they face, and how many of them have gifted me with the strategies, perspectives, and resiliency they use to make their participation possible.

M-AAA: What is your favorite accessibility BONUS of the pandemic? What is the most frustrating obstacle?

Artley: The whole world found itself disabled in 2020. It is a crisis that forced otherwise non-disabled people to suddenly consider what life looks like when you can’t work, when you can’t leave home, when everyday things require so many more steps to accomplish, when you have trouble accessing resources that seem like givens (toilet paper!), when you experience the gnawing heartbreak of ongoing isolation. The pandemic, for the most part, has always been known to us as a temporary thing. It will pass, and we’ll forget how hard it was to do regular things. But what I want people to remember is that sense of isolation from social life. For some people, that won’t pass. I’m confident virtual participation options will continue after the pandemic, but I hope the collective memory of how much this time hurts will inspire more people to remake our normal to be even more accessible.

M-AAA: What did you observe in breakout groups with M-AAA constituents?

Artley: After the workshop, I had a phone call with my collaborator Alison Bergblom Johnson (artist), who helped host the session, and we were thrilled to see so many people ready to dig into the work. We heard excitement and tangible ideas being shared, and challenges being identified and addressed. We only had time for brief hellos, but every room I “stepped” into was engaged in a lively conversation that makes me feel like the folks who were just beginning their journey with access were more empowered to start the work, and those who have been doing the work already are inspired to bring others into the process. If working in so many different roles in nonprofits has taught me anything especially important about access, it’s that everyone is already in a role that can make a real impact on accessibility.