An interview with Denise Giardina
ADA: Becoming Accessible
From the Director
A convergence of printmakers and potters
Monoprints of Barbara Marsh Wilson
Interview with Mark Wolfe
By Maya Nye, Charleston Stage Company administrative and Summer Arts Camp director and 504/ADA coordinator
After the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) mandated that all arts organizations receiving NEA funding become fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), positive changes began to occur in arts organizations across the country — and across the state of West Virginia. For a community of people who have traditionally been excluded from the arts, a door to arts programming began to open.
Charleston Stage Company, among many arts organizations across the state, began planning to make these changes. The first question our organization asked was, “Where do we go from here?” Years earlier, CSC had established a plan that assisted in making reasonable accommodations when asked to do so. But was this really enough? Our answer was no.
In the fall of 2000, the WV Commission on the Arts held an ADA Workshop that outlined ADA requirements for arts organizations. The first step we took was going to this panel to search for resources.
The day-long workshop gave specific examples on such issues as website maintenance, wheelchair accessibility and creating safe and accessible environments. In particular, it addressed the difference between reasonable accommodations and making your organization accessible, and demonstrated how becoming truly accessible only shows a commitment of inclusiveness of all people. After all, when we as arts organizations fight so hard to keep the arts in schools and in our communities, why would we turn any interested person away?
The next step was to spell out our organizational commitment to accessibility. The following is a statement of diversity and inclusion adopted by CSC’s Board of Directors in June 2002.
“Charleston Stage Company is committed to the goals of diversity, inclusion and the principles of equal opportunity for all who participate in the art of theatre. To these ends, we encourage production opportunities in all theatrical disciplines and areas of theatrical production to include persons of every race, color, culture, age, gender, physical challenge and sexual orientation, thereby contributing to a theatre (both on and off stage) that reflects the full diversity of our community and American society.
While we recognize that there can be no interference with the artistic integrity or contractual rights of the playwright, director and other theatre artists, we challenge participating artists in our own theatre community to confront traditional stereotypes. We acknowledge that the growth and vitality of theatre is dependent upon the inclusion of diverse voices and impulses in all theatrical disciplines.”
In attempts to pro-actively let people know of this commitment, we adopted a statement to be placed on all audition publicity materials. This statement reads, “We [CSC] encourage non-traditional and multicultural casting and cast people with disabilities.”
As a person who does not have a disability but who is responsible for coordinating the accessibility services of a small, non-profit community theater and advertising it, I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. If I came into the theater for the first time prepared for an experience in live performance and I had a visual disability, what would I need to make my experience fulfilling? If I were in a wheelchair, it would be nice to know in advance that an event I want to attend would be accessible to me and that I would have the same facilities provided to me as to anyone else. That’s where marketing comes in.
When advertising, you’re always trying to get the word out as quickly and effectively as possible. Many times, this means less is more. What is going to catch someone’s eye to make them read your ad? Is there something that can be added that’s going to invite someone else to come? Isn’t that the point of advertising — to get people to come? We added logos to tell people about what we’re doing to become more accessible. By adding these logos to our ads, we hope someone might turn their head and say, “Hey, this place wants me to be involved.”
One of the main issues CSC has run up against in our efforts to become more accessible is the fact that we do not own the building in which we hold most of our events. Therefore, we don’t have much control over the physical space we use. Since we were unable to make renovations, we had to set our sights on how to make our organizational planning more accessible. We now make multiple programs for our performances (including large print, which we print ourselves, and Braille that is printed at WV State College’s Office of Collegiate Support & Counseling). We are constantly redesigning our website to make it more navigable for people with visual disabilities. We designate tasks to our volunteers based on individual ability level. We hire sign-interpreters to sign one performance in the run of a production.
Another subject discussed at the Arts Commission panel was the Cultural Facilities and Capitol Resources grant. This grant makes funds available for new constructions/renovations and equipment. We decided to apply for this grant in an attempt to significantly enhance and increase our resources. Included among the items requested (and funded) in our grant application was technology that would allow us to be more accessible. We purchased assistive listening headsets that amplify the sound coming from the stage for people who have hearing disabilities. These headsets (Gentner brand, Telex model) will also transmit the voice of a person describing the performances for people who may not be able to see the movement across the stage. A TTY machine will allow us to communicate with people who have hearing disabilities and is available for patrons and volunteers to be able to use if the need arises.
With the addition of new equipment came new expenses. CSC had been saving up for a few years for capital expenditures, so we had our 50% match for the grant in the bank. Even purchasing was an expense, since it took hours to research. Since we don’t own our own building and thus can’t install a permanent system, we purchased a portable system. Once we got the equipment, we had to figure out how to set everything up, and for us, setting up is an ongoing process because we constantly move in and out of theaters.
We were granted and raised enough funds for the equipment. We hope to get some funds from the Arts Commission and enough people in the seats to offset the cost of the interpreters and audio describers. We have a paid staff of only one person and are constantly seeking volunteer assistance. However, it costs very little money and effort to provide most of these services, and we can do it with minimal staff.
Taking that extra step helps you include more people and diversify your organization. It increases your chances of gaining new audience members, volunteers and donors. In other words, it may cost time and money but it pays off.
Where does CSC go from here? We still don’t have anyone who experiences life with a disability on our board of directors, serving on our committees or directing plays (interested?). We still haven’t implemented our audio description system. We still need volunteers to help set up our assistive listening headsets for each show (any takers?). We still haven’t learned how to use our TTY machine. The fact that we offer these systems still isn’t widely known (please tell your friends). So where do we go next? I guess we start here.
To volunteer your time, or for more information on CSC’s accessibility programs and special needs assistance, please call Maya Nye, CSC’s 504/ADA coordinator, at (304) 766-5721.