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A Perspective on Accessibility

This post is part of our Marketing Equity and Content blog salon.

I’ve worked in the “accessibility field” for many years. When I thought about writing a blog for the National Arts Marketing Project, a topic of “3 ways to look at accessibility” was offered up. That made me start to think—how do I look at accessibility? I provide accessibility, so I don’t often think about what accessibility means to me. Which, of course, led me to other thoughts not only about accessibility but disability, diversity, and inclusion on a larger scale. Since those ideas are way too grand for a short blog post, I thought I’d use this opportunity as a starting point to a much larger and deeper conversation—hopefully at the NAMP Conference in Memphis? I’d like to throw out some ideas I’ve been kicking around that will hopefully get the field thinking about diversity and disability and how this can be part of a larger discussion on diversity—we might all start to think and approach diversity in a different way, and then who knows!

A little about me—my field is not arts marketing per se. By trade, I’m a sign language interpreter and have worked as an administrator in the “deafness” field for more than 30 years. I’m also an arts service provider, running a small nonprofit organization, Hands On, which provides accessibility services to theaters, primarily through sign interpreted performances for deaf audiences in New York City. Oh, and I’m disabled.

I’ve long held that audiences with disabilities, including deaf audiences, would benefit from being considered from a marketing perspective—to understand disability from a multi-cultural standpoint, rather than a strictly legal requirement/service perspective. For most of us, when we think about accessibility, we think about what we do that a disabled person can’t do—we think about the barriers that exist to prevent a disabled person from getting in, from understanding—whether by not hearing or not seeing but generally not being able to “access” what we offer. From there we think about how to accommodate, how to adjust or adapt what we do to allow a disabled person in.

I wanted to start this conversation this way to allow for some reflection and intentional thought into how we think about disability and accessibility. We think about disabled people and inclusion because we’ve created structures and programs that don’t allow for everyone’s inclusion.

We’ve all seen the marketing field take the view that this work is more than just trying to put more “butts in seats.” We’re now looking at audience engagement—the audience experience as a large part of what we need to examine. But I haven’t seen those ideas and this approach necessarily transfer to the area of disability. For disability, I think we’re still relegated to looking at programming and the issues of accessibility often at the expense of trying to achieve a greater understanding of the individual and the community we serve. With all the conversations about diversity and inclusion, disability is often forgotten. For other constituencies, we look at the community, we look at the experiences—but do we really think about people with disabilities beyond the accommodations we must provide?

We think about providing an equivalent experience—but is any experience the same for any two people, and why should it be? We’re all different. We bring our backgrounds, our histories, our experiences to everything we do—and we want that difference, that diverse perspective—so why not that from disabled people?

I hope I’ve given you pause to think—or rethink—how we approach disability, diversity, and accessibility. I know that the more I consider these issues, I’m thinking differently as well.

We in the disability community need allies—we need people to keep us in the conversation about new audiences. We need to work together. I offer these ideas to get the conversations started. 

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