By Tim Storhoff
Maureen McKloski joined the Division’s staff in July of 2012. Prior to her work at the Division, she was the visual arts coordinator for Pyramid Studios, an art center serving developmentally disabled adults. She is a painter and restorer of fine art and antiques. Maureen earned Bachelor of Fine Art degrees in Art Education and Ceramics. As the Division’s Accessibility Coordinator, I wanted to ask her about the importance of accessibility in the arts.
Along with managing grant programs, overseeing arts in education and underserved communities, you are the Division’s accessibility coordinator. Accessibility is clearly important to all aspects of life, but what makes accessibility especially important to the arts?
Accessibility is a word that simply envelops and provides inclusion for all. People with disabilities are as diverse as any people. They have diverse experiences, expectations, and preferences. They use diverse interaction techniques, adaptive strategies, and assistive technology configurations. People have different disabilities: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual — and some have multiple disabilities. Even within one category, there is extreme variation; for example, “visual disability” includes people who have been totally blind since birth, people who have distortion in their central vision from age-related degeneration, and people who temporarily have blurry vision from an injury or disease.
As we all age, we find ourselves utilizing more provided accessibility services, whether we fully recognize and label them as disabilities or not. We find that these considerations, when seamlessly integrated, are helpful to every user. Accessibility is especially important in the arts because it encompasses and directly affects everyone – whether they are an audience member, a listener, a patron or an artist.
The therapeutic aspects of art, whether we are actively or passively engaged, have the potential to greatly impact our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It also can have an economic impact on the individuals that create or perform art – opening up an opportunity for individuals to earn income, as well as benefit of increased revenue for arts communities that hold accessible and inclusive events.
The Division believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida” and stressing the economic value the arts have for our state. How do you see accessibility relating to Culture Builds Florida?
The arts are integral to the lives of our citizens. We appreciate them for their intrinsic benefits — their beauty and vision and how they inspire, soothe, provoke, and connect us. The arts ennoble us as people. They provide bridges between cultures. They embody the accumulated wisdom, intellect, and imagination of humankind. Government and private-sector support are essential to promote full access to and participation in exhibitions, performances, arts education, and other cultural events regardless of family income. The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities and our nation. They improve the quality of life in our cities and towns. They enhance community development; spur urban renewal; attract new businesses; draw tourism dollars; and create an environment that attracts skilled, educated workers which build an innovative workforce.
If you could name just one or two low-cost things that arts organizations and businesses can do to improve their accessibility, what would they be?
Many organizations are already accessible in a number of ways. One of the first things that an organization can do is to include appropriate accessibility symbols in all of their marketing materials – from brochures to email blasts. Another low-cost practice would be to provide large print versions of all printed material. Generally information is typed out in word format before included in a distributed format. If an organization changed the font and the font size, they could easily provide information in this format. Another low-cost practice would be to walk through their facility with a three-foot ruler or stick to make sure that all routes are easily accessible to wheelchairs and make sure that nothing blocks doorways or access to any of the facilities amenities.
Where should arts organizations and businesses go for more information about accessibility in the arts?
We have provided information to our grantees regarding their 504 plan, people first language, accessibility symbols, and more. We are providing this information on our website, and the informative links there are continually updated. We are also providing a series of six webinars in 2013 for our constituents catered to their desire to learn more about and provide services to those individuals with disabilities in partnership with VSA. For more information on the upcoming webinars, subscribe to our e-mail list and like us on Facebook.