July is Disability Pride Month. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed on July 26, 1990, to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Following this legislation, Boston held the first Disability Pride Day event, in July 1990. Since then, Disability Pride events have been celebrated in July in Los Angeles, New York City, San Antonio, and elsewhere. The list of participating cities continues to grow. "Disability Pride Month is an important reminder of the intersectionality of disabled people. Like anyone in the world, disabled people are multi-faceted human beings and should be allowed to celebrate their individuality," says Eileen Bagnall, executive director of Arts Access.
AmeriDisability, an online magazine, describes Disability Pride as "accepting and honoring each person's uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity," and connects this to the larger movement for disability justice. Although people experience their disabilities differently, a sense of community can help them cope, especially given ongoing systemic barriers and stigma. Disability justice movements advocate approaches to meet the needs of people with disabilities that take race, class, and gender into account.
Here at the North Carolina Arts Council, we work hard to ensure that meaningful arts experiences are available to all of the state’s citizens, including people with disabilities, patients and caregivers in healthcare settings, and older adults. The Arts Council ensures that all of our offerings are accessible. All of our grantees sign a contract certifying that they will comply with Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. We provide information on our Arts Accessibility Resources page not only to help our grantees and others to comply with these laws but also to raise awareness of these special constituencies and their needs.
Recently, as part of our efforts to advance diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, we created two funding categories (Arts Equity Project Grants and Spark the Arts Grants) that will support organizations whose work benefits traditionally underserved communities, including disability communities.
The North Carolina Arts Council provides funds to arts organizations for accessibility training. One of our main partners is Arts Access, Inc., a statewide nonprofit arts organization whose mission “is to enable North Carolinians with disabilities to have full access to arts programs and facilities, and to encourage them to participate fully in the rich cultural and artistic life throughout the state.” “The financial support that the Arts Council provides Arts Access is instrumental in the organization’s successes. It has been exciting to watch how accessibility has become a core value for the work of the North Carolina Arts Council,” says Betsy Ludwig, former executive director of Arts Access. “The commitment is vital to the inclusion of disabled people, and it creates opportunities to make accessibility more widely practiced in creative spaces in towns and communities in all of North Carolina.”
The City of Raleigh Arts Commission helped to found the organization in 1984, and two Arts Commission members served on the first Arts Access board. In those days before the ADA, Arts Access lobbied for wheelchair access to local arts venues. Then, in the early 1990s, the organization began providing audio descriptions so that people who are blind or have low vision could experience performing and public arts more fully.
Today, one of Arts Access’s main goals is to educate arts organization staff on best practices for including people with disabilities. The organization’s website, social media, and newsletter offer a statewide platform where information related to arts and disability is shared. It also organizes statewide workshops on a wide range of accessibility topics. Consulting with organizations individually, Arts Access offers facility reviews, ADA accessibility plans, and customized training.
This year, the North Carolina Arts Council awarded 20 Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disabilities (LEAD) scholarships, which fund professional development for arts administrators who are new to the field of arts accessibility and who are proactively developing inclusive arts programs and experiences for artists and audiences with disabilities in their communities. The grants will allow these administrators to attend this year’s LEAD conference, which the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (the LEAD program’s organizer) will hold in Raleigh. The grant recipients will also participate in a statewide arts accessibility learning cohort, hosted by the North Carolina Arts Council in collaboration with Arts Access. "Arts Access is very excited to have the opportunity to expand our network of accessibility coordinators statewide," says Bagnall. "We are looking forward to the accessibility initiatives each of the cohort members will create for their organizations." A series of cohort workshops and meetings began on July 20 and will continue through December 14.
Kathleen Collier, the Arts Council’s accessibility coordinator, shares Bagnall's excitement. “The program aims to provide the learning cohort with a strong foundation in accessibility best practices," she says. "We also want to encourage participants to go beyond ADA compliance and to truly integrate universal design in their arts programming and organizational culture.”
If your arts organization is interested in learning more about accessibility in the arts, check out our Arts Accessibility Resources. For additional assistance, please contact Kathleen Collier, Arts in Education Director and Accessibility Coordinator via email at Kathleen.Collier@ncdcr.gov