Arts Access makes arts more accessible, while supporting artists with disabilities.

by Brandon Cordrey

Learning that you may be excluding nearly one in six North Carolinians is a tough realization for an arts organization. Tasks that are seemingly simple for some individuals — such as reading, walking and hearing— can be barriers for individuals with disabilities, preventing them from experiencing the joys of theater, dance and visual arts. Even the timing of an arts event can make it inaccessible to some. Events that are costly or held in the evenings may not be accessible to those who live on fixed incomes or rely solely on public transportation. Having a visual or hearing disability could be a deterrent from attending performances, exhibitions, museums or galleries.  For artists with disabilities, it can be difficult to find support and training, or to show your work.

Luckily an organization in the Triangle has been active at the intersection of arts and disabilities for over two decades. Arts Access was one of the first organizations in the United States to concentrate solely on making the arts accessible to people with disabilities. Since their beginning, Arts Access has been working to bring people with needs and resources to the table to communicate with each other and to provide education. As Program Director, Betsy Ludwig recently said, “Being at the table is not the same as helping to prepare the meal. We urge organizations to involve people with disabilities on your boards and advisory committees.”

Online resources make the arts more accessible.

According to a statewide survey conducted by Arts Access in 2010, lack of information about available events and opportunities was one of the main barriers for art patrons with disabilities to become active in their arts community. To engage this problem, Arts Access has built a website full of events, advice, consultation and training sessions. The information they provide is key for arts administrators to become more aware of accessibility and for people with disabilities to get involved in the arts community. Anyone who feels they have a resource or event that is inclusive or educational is encouraged to share information about them through the Arts Access website, which is one of the organization’s most valuable resources.

Arts Access provides information and training for arts organizations on accessibility.

Arts Access fee based services include training and consultations to art venues and organizations about the often small and inexpensive changes they can make to be more accommodating. Additionally, they provide Audio Description to patrons who are blind or low vision so they can attend a play or performing arts event.

Events to support and highlight artists with disabilities.

Through grants and donations, Arts Access is able to take on other projects for artists with disabilities. For instance, in the past year, Arts Access coordinated a children’s art exhibition at Marbles Kids Museum and partnered with Wake Enterprises to provide artist residencies and education to adults with intellectual disabilities

Their future plans include an exhibition at Mercury Studios in Durham of painter George Mitchell and several other adult artists with disabilities and audio description training for new describers. These events and all of Arts Access’ upcoming events are made possible by the community’s willingness to sit down at the table, communicate, and offer what resources they can. Like every great organization, funding is key.  All donations make a difference by supporting Arts Access’ influential work.

As one famous leader who did not let his disability deter him said “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

For more information about Arts Access visit their website or visit their FB page.

Brandon Cordrey is a studio artist working mainly in collage with found or reused materials. He also manages the Lee Hansley Gallery on Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh. While his main concentration is visual art, he has love for all the arts! Follow Brandon on Twitter: @BMCordrey or email.

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