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Accessing the Arts: Exploring Models of Access

On Tuesday, February 18th, 2020, Creative Users, Luminato, Tangled Art + Disability, and Bodies in Translation hosted a two-part Think Tank with community members and stakeholders in the arts. We came together to explore how Toronto might work together to create better access for artists, arts organizations, and audiences using the Good Host model designed by Inside Out Theatre in Calgary, AB.

Additionally, attendees were introduced to the Accessing the Arts initiative that aims to create digital solutions that a.) help organizations with limited resources to better implement inclusive practices and b.) make accessible events and opportunities more discoverable and vital to people with disabilities in a digital world.

This event was made possible by the Canada Council for the Arts.

About the Good Host Program

Facilitated and led by artists and consultants with lived experience of disability, The Good Host Program acts as a community chest of accessible practice expertise and equipment. They have an in-house roster of Audio Describers and Relaxed Performance consultants and a network of ASL Interpreters experienced in live performance interpretation. The Good Host team schedules and coordinates ‘Access Artists’ and works with partnering organizations to implement accessible performances. At the performance Good Hosts are onsite to support the partner in FOH duties, orientate the cast to what’s happening, greet and guide audience members, etc.

About the Accessing the Arts initiative

Funded by Canada Council for the Arts Digital Strategy Program, the Accessing the Arts initiative is an exploratory research and development approach bringing together arts organizations, disability artists and communities to co-create a digital strategy, tools and/or service, that removes barriers and creates more opportunities for people with disabilities to experience and access the arts across Canada.


Summary

There were a lot of different issues raised and it was clear that the Good Host Model wasn’t quite right for Toronto for a number of reasons, including the fact that various groups and institutions are already working on various initiatives and overall, the work of the Good Host program involves a variety of people and institutions and in Toronto that is several entities. It would be too onerous for one organization to do all the aspects of “good hosting”.

Below are key takeaways as we explored the opportunities and challenges of a program like the Good Host, the systemic challenges faced by Toronto arts organizations, what might a ‘good host’ look like in Toronto’s art sector and finally, what are some digital solutions that Creative Users might consider to support these practices as part of the Accessing the Arts initiative.

The Good Host Program: Challenges and Opportunities

Leaders from the Good Host Program in Calgary were invited to present at both Think Tanks on the challenges and opportunities they experience behind the scenes.

Opportunities

  • Has made theatre accessible for folks, especially in the blind/low-vision community. The Good Host program made her realize that theatre could be accessible again.
  • You’re giving people opportunities as audience members to imagine themselves as artists and performers. “If you can’t be an audience member, how do you expect to imagine yourself on stage?”
  • Gives opportunities to Deaf and disabled folks to work as consultants in various environments outside of accessible theatre (i.e. relaxed or sensory friendly Santa-visiting events, audio-described Calgary stampede parade).

Challenges

  • Community engagement. Newsletters, social media, phone calls. Sometimes you have to use many different methods to engage people and meet them where they’re at.
  • Funding. Audio description, ASL, and relaxed performance are expensive. Theatre companies need to put this money in their grants, and put this money aside from the get-go. We also don’t want to increase the cost for the audience.

Systemic challenges for arts organizations

A group of participants from organizations had a conversation about the systemic challenges that organizations are facing as they learn to advocate, influence, adopt and improve inclusive practices.

The relationship between organizations and funders was explored as participants expressed the need for more education and holistic thinking and approaches to access and inclusion by both parties. Currently, the policies and structural programs that are put in place by funders force organizations to compartmentalize access due to the fact that partial funding is provided for these activities.

Organizations also need to understand that “we can’t do it all” and to plan for short term and long term strategies while being very thoughtful about the decisions you make on what projects you make accessible. And finally, the question of accountability was raised as participants considered issues of capacity and whether or not the size of an organization should be taken into account when measuring these expectations.

Good hosting in Toronto

Participants expressed a need for more work opportunities for people with disabilities to work with organizations and implement “good host” practices. The conversation expanded to consider what this position might look like. One participant used the phrase “accessibility design” as a way of describing a production management type of role and activities related to creating accessible experiences in the arts sector.

These activities include:

  • Supporting organizations in designing inclusive programming that represents Deaf, disabled and Mad communities.
  • Helping to establishing a culture of inclusion within the organization so that responsibility does not all fall onto one person.
  • Ensuring venues are prepared to welcome people, including training front of house and production staff, having equipment prepared and ready, upkeep of access supports including elevators and lifts and available seating and procedures,
  • Creating scripts or texts for audio description, ASL Interpretation, working with producers to design a relaxed performance, and
  • Marketing and outreach to the community

Digital solutions: brainstorming

Deaf culture:

  • There is a real cry for online text/communications to be translated to video ASL to be accessible to Deaf communities where English is not their first language.
  • It’s difficult to access information if it’s a wall of text; a contained vlog is easier to understand.
  • It’s important to bring out a Deaf audience. You could have a Deaf focus group during show development, and you could get those people by putting something online and contact Deaf communities that way.
  • Create job opportunities for Deaf artists.
  • Opportunities are limited. Having more Deaf-led activities/opportunities would be great.
  • There’s very little for Deaf people, there’s so much more in the hearing community and it’s often overlooked.
  • Similar to Facebook – maybe I can create a profile, and put in my info, like “I’m deaf, this is how you’d contact me…”

Access

A ‘wall of text’ is inaccessible, plain language is important for people with cognitive disabilities.
When it comes to resources for interpreting, having the option of captioning is important too. Also, making sure you’re reaching out to Deaf organizations

Resources

It’s important that we train and hire people who have lived experience to create the resources made available on the platform.

Intersections and disability ‘categories’

  • It’s really important that we try to do our best to meet these intersections for people to find information that works for them. Like, here’s a place I can go as a queer person, here’s a place I can go as a disabled person…where can I go and be fully me, and bring all parts of me into the community?
  • Everyone has their own lived experience, so we can contribute what we need, like an ASL vlog, a deaf consultant, a blind consultant. People with various disabilities can get this started and then we see where the intersection happens.

Digital solutions: What do you think is needed?

Workshops and training, because that’s what’s lacking for my community, never mind if it’s accessible. Things have to be known to me before I can do that.

Consultants and resources would be my priority. I think I see a lot of hearing people who think they know about our culture, or about access, but *I* have that knowledge… I don’t want people to make assumptions and take the lead when it’s not appropriate.

Deaf consultancy is not for hearing people, it’s for Deaf people… that seems to often be misunderstood. It’s not about sharing knowledge, it’s language and culture and how it’s intertwined… it’s our way of life, we’re very protective of it, and I want hearing people to respect that and not take it away from us. Hearing people think it’s so complex, but for me it’s not… there’s a risk in this misunderstanding. There’s a lot of emotional labour that goes into it.

The possibility of inter-community support is exciting. But it’s also important to have community building with other groups. It’s hard to do the work in these spaces… I feel like sometimes we’re all re-inventing the wheel… How do we have support in multiple ways?

I want to be able to connect to a variety of people. As an audience member, if I’m interested in relaxed performance or other types of performance, I could go to the hub and see what’s going on. As I’m getting older I’m finding tech being more scary. I wouldn’t want it to be overwhelming, at the same time as it being a useful tool.

Discoverability and vibrancy. Thinking about someone new to disability arts coming into the community and seeing that this work is established is really encouraging. This DIY spirit is really important to me.

Sometimes I miss deadlines for festivals because I didn’t have access to the information on time. So the hub could be a good place for that. There’s shadow interpreting, there are Deaf performers like myself. I’m hoping there could be more collaboration and understanding. If you’d like to know what a Deaf festival looks like, Sound Off is a good place to start, it’s an annual festival.

Who is accessing the hub? Can we post on a job board if we were looking to hire a consultant?

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince different organizations that disability arts is even a thing. I’m excited that there’s a resource I could turn to and be like LOOK!

There’s a real credibility that comes with discoverability. There’s a sense that if you’re not online, you’re irrelevant. I think it’s really important that this movement/progression is part of this tech movement forward in the future.

Representation

  • Disability Writers as an online platform where people with lived experience can write about particular issues.
  • Could Creative Users have a space for disability review? and/or guidelines for people who are reviewing disability art? Reviewing from non-lived experience is a problem… we could create a culture of disability reviews, which could also include access notes on the show!!
  • I imagine some artist from Nova Scotia not aware that there is a Deaf festival happening could come across this community and be like “Oh, I don’t have to do all of this alone.”

Central hubs that people currently use to find information:

  • Deaf Spectrum.
  • NOW magazine (unfortunately it’s in print, it’s not accessible)
  • Bodies in Translation
  • Akimbo – Disability Arts reviews and criticism is happening on Akimbo, and other places… this is why the hub can be useful, because we can discover and connect with who is already doing this work.
  • Instant Coffee (open source newsletter every 2 weeks)

Challenge: Where do we start?

If we want to try to create a hub where we all contribute, how would that be done because we’re all across so many different specialities, communities, locations.
think locally first because we know our own communities best.