Point of View

Adrienne Arsht Center Staff Attends LEAD Conference in Washington, D.C.
September 2, 2009, 5:55 pm
Filed under: Out in the Community

On August 13 – 16, Box Office and House Managers, Outreach & Education, Patrons Services, and Marketing & Audience Development staff – all of whom are responsible for accessibility at their respective cultural arts organization – gathered at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. to discuss institutional cultural arts and disability issues. They all share one common goal: the desire to create accessible cultural arts programs that are inclusive of people with disabilities and older adults.

LEADLeadership Exchange in Arts and Disability focuses its work on exploring practical methods for implementing accessibility in cultural environments; communicating information about arts and accessibility; and sharing resources and knowledge among professionals in the field of accessibility.

The Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs provided scholarship funding for two Arsht Center staff members, Alice Fifelski, Senior House Manager, and Nicole Keating, Director of Ticket Services, to attend this year’s LEAD conference.  The conference provided opportunities to discuss issues ranging from physical and programmatic access to ticketing policies and marketing strategies. “The conference was an open dialogue for performing arts professionals to share ideas and learn about best practices, including what has been successful at other arts organizations and cultural institutions,” said Nicole Keating.

Every person in America, including the 54 million citizens with disabilities and more than 35 million Americans who are age 65 and older, should be able to participate in the arts. The Adrienne Arsht Center is focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities as well as older adults in its definition of diversity as an integral part of its long-range strategic plan.

“Our mission focus of inclusion is comprehensive and specific. The professional staff and volunteers are prepared to make every patron’s visit to the Arsht Center a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Accessibility is in our DNA and we’re proud to be prepared for the special needs of our guests,” said John Richard, president and CEO of the Center.

With a commitment to a fully-accessible facility as well as accessible programming, the Arsht Center is fully ADA compliant. There is designated wheelchair seating in all price ranges in all three theaters (Knight Concert Hall, Ziff Ballet Opera House, and Carnival Studio Theater) and all venues are wheelchair-accessible, whether by ramps, elevators, or ground-level entrances.

Senior House Manager, Alice Fifelski, works to ensure that the Center’s front-of-house team, including box office staff, ushers and house managers, is trained to accommodate patrons with disabilities. Wheelchair seating can be purchased by phone (and is available throughout both theater houses), assistive listening devices are available at all performances at no charge, open captioning is available for the Sunday matinee performance of all Broadway shows, and a TTY box office phone line is available for the hearing impaired. Past shows offering accessible services include Liberty City, which had an open captioning performance, and the recent Mos Def concert, offering sign interpretation. The Center also continues its work with VSA arts of Florida to actively develop accessibility programs to serve special needs populations and students at Miami-Dade County public schools.

“Currently, if we receive two weeks advance notice, we make our best efforts to provide sign interpretation or open captioning. At the LEAD Conference, we learned about other services we want to offer to provide better cultural programming for this underserved segment of the community,” said Fifelski.

These additional accessibility services include live audio description from a trained audio describer who offers descriptive narration of visual elements (via headphones) for people who are blind or have low vision that makes performing and visual arts more accessible; accessible print such as programs printed in 18pt. or larger text; sign language interpretation; and more performances with open captioning (OC), captions which translate dialogue and other sounds in print for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals and people whose second language is English.

To set an example for its constituents and assure that all South Floridians are able to participate in the arts, the Arsht Center is forming a coalition with other South Florida arts organizations to collaborate on accessibility services. The first meeting will take place in October.

Next year’s LEAD conference is in San Diego and will be hosted by the San Diego Zoo. For more information, visit http://www.kennedy-center.org/accessibility/education/lead/home.html.


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