Art is often thought of as a way to transcend boundaries and communicate a message without the limitations of traditional communication or expression. However, those living with disabilities are often neglected and not provided the accommodations they need to interact with art. The following page contains information on many different disabilities and the best ways to accommodate them in an arts-related space. While using this guide, please keep in mind that it is always important to keep a dialogue about accessibility open with those who may require additional accommodations. As a general rule, an organization should incorporate basic training about accommodations for clients with disabilities into their general training. Along with general practices, this page contains information on accessibility symbols and how to discuss accommodations with those who need it.
How do I advertise that a performance/exhibit is accessible?
The disabled communities have a number of agreed-upon symbols which represent different accommodations. These symbols are available here.
What are my legal responsibilities while working with disabled individuals?
According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, organizations are required to provide “reasonable accommodations,” including interpreters or live captioning services for the Deaf, readers for the blind, and other accommodations for those with other disabilities. This also means that people with disabilities may not be barred from employment or participation in any activity purely on the basis of their disability. Full information relating to required accommodations can be found here.
How do I accommodate Deaf/Hard of Hearing individuals?
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires an organization to provide effective means of communication for a Deaf/Hard of Hearing person wishing to participate in your activities. This often means providing an interpreter or a captioning program.
Many Deaf/Hard of Hearing individuals rely on sign language for communication. Most speeches, plays, classes, etc. will require more than one interpreter. Contact the interpreting agency about how many they would recommend hiring. The NorCal Center on Deafness offers qualified interpreters across the Sacramento area.
However, many other Deaf/Hard of Hearing people were born hearing and are not fluent enough in sign language to follow an interpreter. In these cases, it is most appropriate to have captions. These can either be pre-recorded or a live-captioner can be hired.
Additionally, most Deaf people and many Hard of Hearing people will require light alerts in place of sounds. All ADA compliant buildings should already have lights built into their fire alarms and other alerting systems.
How do I accommodate blind/low vision individuals?
The two primary ways to support blind/low vision individuals is through providing audio or tactile experiences to help them fully absorb arts in the same capacity as sighted people.
Audio description provided by qualified describers is one way for blind/low vision individuals to experience the visual arts. Even in scenarios like performances or concerts, having a describer to describe the instruments and movement is important to full comprehension of the event. To aid in performance describing, many blind people appreciate being able to come before a show to feel costumes, walk the stage, and hold props. Then, while things are being described, they have a better idea of what’s happening.
If patrons are able to request an advance copy of the production program, ideally as a PDF, this will allow the patron to read it via computer or have someone at home read it to them before the event.
In general, it is important to be understanding and ready to accommodate not just a single blind person, but those in groups, especially when they will have a service dog with them.
How do I accommodate developmentally disabled individuals?
Developmental disabilities include, but are not limited to, autism, behavior disorders, brain injury, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, intellectual disability, spina bifida. Those who are developmentally disabled often need general building ADA accessibility, however specific accommodations should be discussed with that who they are being made for so they can succeed best in the environment.
How do I accommodate individuals on the autism spectrum?
All people with autism are different, so accommodations will vary. Typically, autistic people will appreciate additional break times, and general sensitivity and understanding of their needs.
How do I accommodate cognitively disabled individuals?
Those who are cognitively disabled have the same mental capacity as those who do not, but often lack the skills to express it. Much like many other disabilities, it is best to ask what accommodations would best suit the person who they are being made for. In general, many cognitively disabled people will require a patient and understand supervisor to assist them when needed.