Did you know that one in five Americans currently self-identifies as having a disability? The number of Americans living with disabilities continues to rise as the population ages. Individuals have a range of disabilities, needs and preferences. Types of disabilities and impairments can include: mobility, hearing, speech, cognitive, visual, and psychiatric. Many disabilities are hidden, such as allergies, epilepsy, and ADHD. This guide will help you navigate your responsibilities as a local cultural council in terms of ensuring accessibility.
Principles of Universal Design
As much as possible, include people with disabilities and people of all ages in the planning process for your events. Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook suggests seven principles of universal design (i.e. accessible to most audiences without requiring modification) that you can consider when planning events and evaluating venues, including:
- Equitable use: Is it useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities?
- Flexibility in use: Do designs accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities?
- Simple and intuitive use: Are uses of the designs are easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level?
- Perceptible information: Do designs communicate necessary information effectively to the user regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities?
- Tolerance for error: Do designs minimize hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions?
- Low physical effort: Can designs be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue?
- Size and space for approach and use: Does the design provide appropriate size and space for approaching, reaching, manipulating, and using regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility?
Addressing and Interacting with Someone with a Disability
You may meet a guest with a disability for the first time at a voting meeting or event. Do not make assumptions about what the guest wants or needs. Ask the guest directly how and if he/she needs help, and respond accordingly, even if that means not assisting the guest if that's what he/she prefers.
Please note that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes that you are not required to provide personal services. Examples include pushing a wheelchair, feeding, or toileting a guest.
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LCC Responsibilities as Grant Funders
As per MCC guidelines, everything you fund or host must be accessible. This includes grants, council-sponsored projects, voting meetings, and other events. Below is the specific guideline for Local Cultural Councils:
"Non-Discrimination. In accordance with state law, local councils may not discriminate against applicants on the basis of race, gender, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation or age, nor may they fund projects that discriminate on the basis of these attributes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that persons with disabilities have access to public programs or services on an equal basis with the rest of the general public. Furthermore, federal law mandates that any programs or service that receives federal or state funding must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Therefore, all events and programs funded by the LCCs must be accessible to persons with disabilities, including the facility or event location as well as the content of the program."
Applicants to LCC grants sign a contract certifying that they will comply with ADA and Section 504 in the application. The MCC aims to help grantees understand their obligations and recognize the opportunities that increasing access can provide for both the public and the grantee.
Compliance Tools for Grantees
A helpful tool to ensure compliance with ADA and Section 504 requirements is the National Endowment for the Arts' (NEA) Accessibility Planning and Resource Guide for Cultural Administrators . The guide is designed to help organizations not only comply with ADA and Section 504 but to assist in making access an integral part of planning, mission, programs, outreach, meetings, budget, and staffing.
The NEA also provides forms designed to assist organizations in performing on-site evaluations of their organization's policies, programs, services, and facilities:
All events and programs you fund must be accessible to persons with disabilities, including the facility or event location as well as the content of the program. Applicants for grants you fund agree to make their projects accessible by placing a check next to this requirement: "LCC grant funds will not be used on programming that discriminates or discourages participation on the basis of race, gender, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation or age."
That said, you may encounter a grant application that proposes a program or venue that you know is inaccessible. If you approve the grant, it may be a conditional approval - for example: you will fund them only if they hold the project in a venue that is accessible. If the project has already happened and you discover that it was inaccessible, a partial reimbursement of the original award is an option.
If you receive a complaint from the public about a program your council funded that may be inaccessible, even if it has already happened, gather as much information about the problem as you can. Contact your staff coordinator at the MCC, who will work with you to understand the situation and then provide assistance as appropriate.
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Meetings and Events
Choosing a Venue for Your Meetings
Everything your council hosts or funds must be accessible, including voting meetings. When choosing a venue for your voting meetings or other events your council hosts, take care that these areas are accessible:
- Exterior accessible route
- Parking spaces
- Entrances and doors
- Interior accessible route
- Amenities, services, and conveniences
- Work areas
(Source: Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook
You can find a detailed list of removable barriers here: http://www.ada.gov/racheck.pdf
Identifying and Accommodating Specific NeedsPreparing for an Event
In your invitations and publicity, underline that your event will be physically accessible. Invite individuals with other specific needs to identify those needs by responding to the invitation or contacting a certain person. It's a good idea to request two weeks' notice so that you have ample time to accommodate the request.
Please note: A guest can request accommodation at any time but not require it as long as you show due diligence in trying to secure it. If you receive a request for accommodation and you are not sure whether you can accommodate it:
- Never say no before investigating your options. Do your best to accommodate the request in some way. Be sure to keep the guest updated and respond quickly, as a lack of a response is a de facto "no."
- Contact the disability office or coordinator in your municipality as a starting point for information on existing resources and accessibility. They may already have resources in place or directions on how to secure them. Remember that the municipality is responsible for providing accessibility services (such as an ASL interpreter), either via invoice or by directly securing the service. Your council does not have to cover the cost, as the council is part of the municipality and has access to the same rights. Here is a sample letter requesting a service from your municipality.
- If you can't accommodate the original request in time, consider creative workarounds, or compromises that the guest may be willing to accept. For example, if you can’t make an entire program or venue accessible before a meeting, you may be able to make part of it accessible so that the guest can participate in some way. Also, if a guest has a chemical sensitivity, you may ask that those attending the meeting not wear perfume, then let the guest know that you can ask but not guarantee that guests comply with your request.
If the municipality or hosting organization has certain policies and practices in place, it is acceptable to modify these policies so that people with disabilities can participate. This concept is called "reasonable accommodation." In addition, if a request causes undue burden (significant difficulty or expense), you are not required to fulfill it. If you're not sure whether a modification is acceptable or qualifies as an undue burden, contact the legal counsel or accessibility coordinator in your municipality, who can help you determine whether you meet these requirements. The ADA Center for New England will also be helpful.
Sometimes service animals may be present at your events. Service animals are professionals, not pets. They are not always labeled, licensed, or certified. The owner is not required to carry proof of a disability either.
You'll find a helpful Q&A from the ADA here: http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm
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The best place to start with questions is by getting in touch with the disability office/coordinator in your municipality. The town's legal counsel should also be helpful.
The New England ADA Center is a free resource that can address your questions about programming, meetings, and many other issues. The following resources are meant to provide general information, help you comply with accessibility laws, raise awareness, and improve overall customer service.
MCC's LCC staff and UP-Inclusive Design Program Officer teamed together to deliver a webinar on accessibility for our LCC members. Guest speakers included two LCC grantees, the Discovery Museums and ArtsNashoba. Watch the webinar below for ideas about how your LCC can think about approaching accessibility through your grants and help best reach members of your community:
National Endowment for the Arts, Accessibility Office
Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD)
Americans with Disabilities Act Website
Cultural Access New England
New England ADA Center
Charles G. Baldwin, UP-Inclusive Design Initiative Program Officer, Massachusetts Cultural Council
The Massachusetts Office for Disability
The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing
The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind
The Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination
The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health
Executive Office of Elder Affairs
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