The ADA and the Performing Arts
Twenty-eight years ago this month, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. This landmark piece of legislation and the regulations it generated provided a huge step forward in the rights and protections of people with disabilities all over the country. The act works toward all aspects of society being fully accessible to people with disabilities, whether that be access to information, physical spaces, or opportunities. In subsequent years, the ADA has been amended and revised to ensure that the original intent and scope of the act is upheld, and to better serve Americans with disabilities.
Progress may be slow, but the ADA's continued impact on our society has led to a marked increase in visibility for the disability community. Last July, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs published its first ever cultural plan, a system of recommendations for sustaining and supporting art and culture throughout the city. Of the eight major issue areas that the Cultural Plan addresses, "Equity and Inclusion" directly deals with strategies to make the arts and cultural worlds of New York more accessible to people with disabilities, both as artists and audiences. Acting on this plan, the Department of Cultural Affairs launched the Disability Forward Fund, granting funds to cultural organizations with projects to deepen engagement with people with disabilities as audiences, staff, and performers.
The goal of making the arts accessible for all has long been tied to the mission and vision of Lincoln Center—summed up in the famous quote by John D. Rockefeller III—"The arts are not for the privileged few, but for the many. Their place is not on the periphery of daily life, but at its center. They should function not merely as another form of entertainment, but, rather, should contribute significantly to our well-being and happiness."
So how does Lincoln Center provide access to the arts for audiences with disabilities in order to "contribute significantly to our well-being and happiness"? In some cases, such as the Big Umbrella Festival and Lincoln Center Moments, Lincoln Center has created or curated programming specifically for audiences with disabilities. In others, such as Passport to the Arts, Dance for PD® at Midsummer Night Swing, and La Casita, steps are taken to ensure that a wide range of guests are able to enjoy an event that is open to the public.
Presented by Lincoln Center Education (LCE), the Big Umbrella Festival included 80 theatrical performances, workshops, and film screenings designed for children with autism. Over the course of three weeks, the international festival was well attended by families with children on the autism spectrum and received national attention. Families interested in upcoming relaxed performances and family events with LCE can sign up to receive e-mails from the LC Kids e-mail list.
Families are also welcome to participate in Passport to the Arts, a program that provides free tickets for families with children with disabilities to attend performances and workshops all over campus. In the 2017–18 season, 1,917 tickets were distributed to over 500 families for performances and workshops at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, Big Apple Circus, New York Philharmonic, Chamber Music Society, Big Umbrella Festival, and more. Families interested in registering for the upcoming Fall 2018 season can reach out to [email protected].
Lincoln Center Moments, designed for people with dementia and their caregivers, completed its fourth season this spring. Each program includes an hour-long performance co-presented with a resident organization or programming team on campus, followed by an hour-long art and music-making workshop led by trained facilitators. Programs this year included presentations by Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic, Juilliard, the Library for the Performing Arts, Chamber Music Society, Atrium 360°, and American Songbook. Guests interested in registering for the upcoming Fall 2018 season can reach out to [email protected].
In June, for guests interested in learning more about the campus of Lincoln Center, a free guided tour was given in American Sign Language, and two free Verbal Description tours were provided for guests who are blind or have low vision. We hope to offer these options for free again in October; if you would like to be added to our interest list, please reach out to [email protected].
This summer, Dance for PD® returned to lead an adaptive dance lesson before Joe Quijano's salsa night during the first week of Midsummer Night Swing. American DanceWheels performed during tango night the following week. Guests who arrived for an evening at Midsummer Night Swing may have been greeted by Access Ambassadors, high school students with developmental disabilities in a job-training program to foster professional skills. The Access Ambassador program began during Lincoln Center Out of Doors in 2016, and runs for a few weeks each summer and for full semesters in the fall and spring.
During Lincoln Center Out of Doors, we are thrilled to continue to ASL-interpret La Casita both on Lincoln Center's campus on Saturday, August 4, and at Teatro Pregones in the Bronx on Sunday, August 5.
Available accommodations are listed on all Lincoln Center event pages, and guests are welcome to call 212.875.5375 or e-mail [email protected] two weeks in advance to request additional accommodations for upcoming events.
The programs and opportunities being offered on our campus are designed to ensure equitable access to the arts for all, and we are excited to continue to expand these opportunities moving forward. The focus on Equity and Inclusion in the NYC Cultural Plan, already being put into action with the Disability Forward Fund, serves both as an indicator of a long-awaited shift in cultural consciousness to actively include people with disabilities in the arts, and as an incentive for cultural organizations to focus not only on accommodating audiences with disabilities but to equally include the stories and art of people with disabilities on their stages and in the fabric of their organizations.
Katie Fanning is Temporary Assistant Manager, Accessibility and Guest Services, at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.