22 simple tips for a more accessible arts & culture event
By: Alicia Hopkins and JT Styles Toomer
“Accessibility is being able to get into a building. Diversity is getting invited to the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. Belonging is having your voice heard at the table.”Shelly Piece Loose, President of Ms. Wheelchair America, Inc.
We live in a world that is constantly changing, and while much has improved with accessibility over the years, we still have a long way to go to ensure our spaces and events are accessible to all. The good news is, many people in the disability community, including right here in Akron have challenged what accessibility actually means.
While there are many different aspects of accessibility, most people mainly think about wheelchair accessibility. With this narrow mindset, so many people miss out, including those who are visually or hearing impaired, have mobility limitations, cognitive disabilities and much more.
One of the first things people with disabilities (both visible and invisible) will want to know before joining an event or activity is whether the space is accessible. So, with that in mind we want to share some simple ideas to help organizations improve their spaces and events so that more people can access their communities.
Accessibility includes adaptive equipment, closed captioning, accessible literature, sensory friendly environments, inclusive marketing, and much more. There are five areas of improvement we would like to focus on, that don’t take much effort but can make a big difference:
- Consider adding people with disabilities to your organization’s board or event planning committee.
- Train employees on disability discrimination and inclusion.
- Learn terms around Disability etiquette.
- If your organization publishes marketing materials with graphics online, add “alternative text” to describe the picture so those who have screen readers can know more about your content.
- Consider using colors that are neutral and friendly for people who may be color blind.
- Use a font size 12pt or bigger
- Add images of people with disabilities
- Make a couple of brochures or programs in large print or Braille.
- If you are using social media to broadcast an event, turn on the closed captioning settings so more people can be included.
- Add information to your event if it wheelchair accessible, sensory-friendly, or even an ASL interpreter will be present.
- Let people self identify. There are folks who may take offense to terms such as handicapped, special needs, or differently-abled.
- Talk to people in the community about their accessibility needs.
- Assess your parking situation. How many handicap spots do we have to offer? Is there at least one spot available for a person with a van or bus? How close is the ramp to these spaces?
- Use a tape measure to see if your doorways are 36 inches wide.
- Is there a clear path to the door of business? (Gravel, sidewalk, long path)
- Do I have an emergency evacuation plan that includes people with disabilities?
- Check to make sure you have an area of accessible seating. Not everyone in wheelchair likes to sit in the back. They want to be part of the conversation.
Costs & Timing
- If it’s sustainable, could your organization offer a discount for people with disabilities?
- Do caregivers have to pay an extra fee or full price?
- Are my events scheduled during a time where access to transportation is limited to people with disabilities or even able-bodied people who utilize public transportation?
- Assess whether your events or services are within ¼ of a mile from a local bus stop.
- Download a copy of VSA Ohio Cultural Planning guide for people with disabilities.
Accessibility doesn’t happen overnight but simple ideas will open the doorways for great change. Our efforts to be accessible must be sustainable and done in small steps. By building this foundation, we will unlock the key ingredient to having the best recipe for accessible spaces and places in our city.
About the authors
Alicia M Hopkins is a local artist, advocate, author and wheelchair dancer. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Malone University and a two year vocational certificate from EHOVE Joint Vocational School. She is involved with many advocacy organizations on the state and national level advocating for people with disabilities. She has a passion for healthcare and arts advocacy. She has created many pieces of artwork about accessibility and inclusion over the last two years. She is the founder of the All Abilities Art Expo and the Art Speaks program that gives recycled art supplies to people in need.
JT “Styles” Toomer is a musician, performer and advocate for people with disabilities. Born in Akron, Ohio, JT moved to Atlanta when he was a child and grew up there. Upon returning to Akron, JT had a vision about starting his own music business called JT Styles Music Vision. He wanted to create his own music while promoting other musicians, with an emphasis on encouraging musicians with disabilities to believe that they can do it too. JT did not find a welcoming community response to his vision. Many doors were closed in his face. However, when he discovered Ardmore’s Theatre on the Spectrum, the doors were opened wide!
He has learned to speak up and advocate for his needs and for others with disabilities. Finding himself in a positive and welcoming environment and surrounded with an ensemble of performers who share his vision, JT has blossomed! He has performed for a wide variety of groups around northeast Ohio with Theatre on the Spectrum and has helped give workshops to people with disabilities. JT has a vlog called JT Styles Files in which he promotes the arts and disability which can be found on YouTube.
Header image: Alicia Hopkins and JT "Styles" Toomer at the ArtsNow Cultural Plan United Disabilities Services Meetup. Photo: Fitzwater Photography