Inclusion by Design is More Than Just a Ramp


Last week, ArtsBoston partnered with the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) for the workshop “More Than A Ramp: Building Audiences Through Inclusive Practices.” This workshop is part of our continued commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in the arts & culture sector of Greater Boston and beyond. Charles G. Baldwin, Program Officer of the UP Inclusive Design Initiative at the MCC moderated the discussion with panelists Maria Cabrera, Supervisor for Community Relations at the Museum of Science, Steve Slowinski, National Inclusion Manager &
Communication Manager for Partners for Youth with Disabilities, and Larry Stephen, American Sign Language Consultant for Wheelock Family Theatre.

 The ultimate goal is Universal Participation. Making sure that everything, from your website through the physical experience, is accessible by design. – Charles G. Baldwin

Fear of litigation and/or familiarity with a disability on a personal level is often the driving force behind an institution taking steps toward Access. “That is not necessarily a bad thing,” says Charles, who reminds us that taking those first steps, even incremental steps, make a world of a difference to audiences with disabilities who are eager to engage in Greater Boston’s rich arts & culture scene.

Ultimately, decisions and actions around Accessibility features for audiences could be embedded into multiple departments, but there are some changes that can be made now to move an organization toward equitable inclusion.

Champions, Ambassadors & Experts

“Nothing for us, without us.”

Identify champions and ambassadors within your institutions, from your Board of Trustees to your volunteer base, who can help your organization get started and stay motivated. As you develop accessibility programs, make sure to engage people with disabilities in the review and assessment process, either from within your institution or from external relations. “Nothing for us, without us,” says Charles.

Mia Tavan, Director of Marketing for Actors’ Shakespeare Project talks about how her own experience with hearing impairment influences ASP productions.

Building Trust

“We walk around as an individual, not as a disability.”

Maria Cabrera has spent much of her tenure embedded in the various communities MOS seeks to engage. Disability is on a spectrum and the needs of each community are different. Maria urges organizations to meet communities where they are, engage with them, get to know their wants and needs before making “the ask” to get them through the door. She reminds us that it is important to see the person first and the disability second, which will go a long way in helping organizations build strategic partnerships.

Print & Digital Presence

“Some easy ways to incorporate accessibility into marketing is the simple inclusion of icons on your website and printed collateral.”

Steve Slowinski asserts that making small changes in marketing strategies ensures that all audiences feel intentionally welcome. Include accessibility icons on your print materials and website to send a clear message that your space and events are welcome to all. After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words! In addition, Steve also encourages adding a dedicated page on your website with detailed information about your accessibility services.

Stephen Wuycheck, Audience Services Manager for American Repertory Theater poses a question to the panel.

“Know Before You Go” document

Traditionally, arts & culture organizations expect audiences with disabilities to divulge their needs before attending a show or visiting their venue. Larry Stephen asks us to rethink that strategy. Why do we expect patrons to divulge their disabilities? One very simple solution provided by Charles is the “Know Before You Go” document. In his previous position as Director of Marketing at Wheelock Family Theatre, Charles would include an addendum in each confirmation message detailing all available services to ensure each patron was well informed.

Elbert Joseph, Performing Artist, Sabrina Dennison, American Sign Language Consultant for Stage Source, and Larry Stephens, Panelist and American Sign Language Consulant for Wheelock Family Theatre

These recommendations are but a few of the many wonderful suggestions that came out of the #BeyondTheRamp panel discussion. As we work to generate more dialogue, questions will continue to develop surrounding the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the arts. At ArtsBoston, we are committed to facilitating that dialogue and helping find answers to those questions for the entire sector. For some other local resources to support your organization in this work, check out the list organizations and programs →

Additional Resources

Made possible with support bybofa_enterprise_logo 2-5-14

Special thanks toMCCLogo2


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