Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network

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Accessibility is an Asset–Part 2

Some of you may have read my first post on Accessibility from August. But even if you didn’t, I thought now is the perfect time to revisit the subject, especially since Pittsburgh had the pleasure of hosting Betty Siegel, Director of the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) from the Kennedy Center on February 13 for the first workshop in this spring’s “Adventures in Accessibility: A Journey toward Inclusion” series from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Betty made her case for why accessibility is an asset to a group of over 60 people from various arts and cultural organizations in Pittsburgh. Her presentation started off with going over the various models of thinking about disability, and she posited that the United States is in the midst of transitioning from the medical to the rights model, a model encapsulated in its model “Nothing about us without us.” Then she presented a historical scope of the laws that govern the civil rights of people with disability and the implications of those laws for us non-profit organizations. Vanessa Braun, the Accessibility Consultant and Educational Liaison for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, also spoke about the Trust’s and other arts organizations’ strides in accessibility in the past year–and there were many many examples she cited.

Some of the attendees who heard her presentation were at the highest level of decision making power–board members, executive directors, and senior staff. Others were individuals who would be on the front line of making accessibility happen–marketing,ticketing, and community engagement personnel. Still others were simply just interested in the topic and wanted to learn more about it. And then there were some organizations who brought many–upwards of 10-15 people–to the event.

This wide make-up of attendees hits at the heart of her presentation and begins to help us define the crux of her argument: good accessibility is good for everyone. How? Accessibility within an organization cannot be achieved by just one person alone. It can be started that way, but it requires many hands to sustain and grow the services and accommodations you provide. Does this sound familiar? Like any change in organizational culture, it takes many and it takes time. To see such a wide variety of people there shows that this topic means something for not just those people who need or request the services, and not just those people who are passionate about inclusion, but everyone.

I personally was so excited and heartened to see such a large group in attendance, and I know I wasn’t the only one. Betty even pointed out how the community of Pittsburgh is primed and poised to become a national model for accessibility and inclusion in the arts. She remarked more than once on how we’re coming together in ways that she has never seen a community do before. So once again–accessibility isn’t only an asset to each of our organizations, but our community as a whole. It’s a great time to be living and working in the arts in Pittsburgh!!

I hope to see more of you at the upcoming workshops that GPAC is hosting this spring. 

Alyssa Herzog Melby is the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. 

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