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Arts and Culture Public Officials Breakfast 2015


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15 Notes On Accessible Communications

There is always more to learn. A lot, if not most of the time at CPAC, we learn from research and convening the arts and culture sector. We have also been more quietly committed to learning our own internal strengths and weaknesses as individuals, and through our strategic planning process, as an organization. In the past couple of months, I’ve been to two workshops on inclusion; the most recent was a discussion of accessible marketing, courtesy of University Circle Inc.

VSAOhio and Services for Independent Living presented to a group of arts and culture administrators on accessibility in marketing and communications. There was so much information condensed into the time frame, I couldn't possibly share it all here. I did, however, take away a few simple ideas that can quickly be put into practice.


(some of my own; most from the presenters)

  1. The presentation was given by a person with an observable disability and a person from an organization with a mission “to make the arts and arts education more accessible and inclusive for people with any disability and their support networks.” I am in neither of those groups and have provided links to the experts.
  2. Effective communication for people with disabilities is the law. Most of arts and culture fits within Title III of the ADA as places of public accommodation.  We obviously won’t stop there, but it’s important to remember the basic foundation. You can learn more about rules for effective communication and auxiliary aids on the ADA website.
  3. American and global society is still shifting its mentality from “fixing” a person with a disability, to building a society that can accommodate everyone regardless of physical and mental ability.
  4. Some barriers are the same for everyone, and solutions are simply good customer service practices. Others require specific accommodations. Here are barriers as listed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Disability and Health, they may look familiar...
    1. Attitudinal: stereotyping, stigma
    2. Communication: small print, videos without captioning, persistent “use of technical language, long sentences, and words with many syllables”
    3. Physical: steps and curbs
    4. Policy: denying reasonable accommodations such as allowing service animals in a facility or denying access to a program due to physical barriers
    5. Programmatic: scheduling, equipment, inadequately trained staff, etc.
    6. Social: unemployment, poverty, violence
    7. Transportation: inconvenient distances from public transportation
  5. No two people are the same. While one disability may look the same for two people, the methods they implement to communicate effectively may differ greatly. Asking questions can also be an important budget decision. For example, hiring a sign interpreter may be unnecessary if a person needs real time captioning.

Things you can do right now 

  1. Give everyone a point of contact: Put accessibility information in the same place you put the general information, such as where to enter. You can also add a short access statement to all marketing and communications material.
  2. Check your lingo: A person comes first, not the label placed on them. View a list of outdated terms published by the CDC. Use plain language.
  3. Ask: Add a fill-in accommodations request line on event forms: “What accommodations do you need?” If you see someone who looks like they need help, ask. Just remember that “‘no’ means ‘no’” applies here too.
  4. Add it to presentation prep: Provide audience members with flexible document formats including options to zoom, increase font size or add contrast. Provide presentation material ahead of time for participants who need to review and interpret accordingly.
  5. Use ALT-Text image descriptions and descriptive in-text links: Screen-readers rely on these to dictate the content of “graphic” or “click here.” This also helps Google find your page for those of us who live in the world of SEO and algorithms.
  6. Recruit people with disabilities: audience members, employees, board members, consultants, the list goes on.
  7. Build it in: Add an “accessibility” agenda item to policy discussions, a strategy in marketing plans, component of programming, evaluation and planning.
  8. Take inventory: how do people find out about, travel to, experience and reflect on the programs and services you offer.
  9. Add a budget item: If a request is made, it is illegal to ask a person with a disability to front the cost.
  10. Eliminate policies that are unnecessary or make exceptions for those who need it: For example, service animals are not pets and are an exception to a “no dogs allowed” policy

Please Tell Us

Much of this may be well within your area of expertise, so please feel welcome to comment and share additional information I’ve left off here. We know we have a lot of work to do here as well.

We also hope you will take the poll on our homepage to tell us how comfortable you are with providing necessary accommodations for people of all abilities.

An added note on advocacy

The Accessible Icon Project

There is a strong movement regarding the international symbol of accessibility (ISA).  The U.S. Access Board issued new guidance last March regarding a new symbol (right) that has emerged from "The Accessible Icon Project". In short, the ISA (#2 in above graphic) is still required.  ADA Standards require use of this ISA to label or provide direction to certain accessible spaces and elements, including parking spaces, entrances, toilet and bathing facilities, and check-out aisles. Consistency in the use of universal symbols is important. You can read this blog post about the ISA with more information and explanation.

Categories: accessibility, communication, community, marketing, public policy


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