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April 29, 2024 - Town Hall on Accessibility


WolfBrown is currently in the early stages of planning a special topic survey on accessibility, where we'll explore shifting audience perspectives towards disability and accessibility resources.

We invited arts and culture organizations to participate in a one-hour virtual town hall to voice questions and share challenges they've faced in expanding accessibility in their organizations. Our hope was that this session would both facilitate information sharing among the participants and highlight what we as a field need to learn about our audiences’ accessibility needs and preferences.

If we can help make the resources on this page more accessible to you, please let us know at

Below, you'll find:

  1. A video recording of the town hall.

    1. Automated closed captions and a transcript should be available through Vimeo's platform.

  2. Slides are available below the video (PDF and PPT format).

  3. Key takeaways from the town hall can be found at the bottom of the page (PDF and Word format). These include an introduction and a short Q&A with the Office of Accessibility, National Endowment for the Arts, Breakout group discussion takeaways, and a timeline of the IDEA Study Phase 2.


  • Below are the presentation slides in PowerPoint format.

Town Hall Presentation v4, 5-6-24-text
Download PPTX • 2.14MB

  • Below are the presentation slides in PDF format.

Town Hall Presentation v4, 5-6-24-text
Download PDF • 1.49MB

Key Takeaways

April 29, 2024


I. Introduction

Town Hall Framing
  • AOM’s focus is on audiences; however, we want to acknowledge that’s only one part of the larger change that’s needed to increase accessibility in the arts (which includes more inclusive programming, increasing access for artists with disabilities, etc.).

  • Our approach is informed by the following perspectives:

    • This is about accessibility, not only disability.

    • Disability isn’t binary.

    • There is no “correct” way to experience art.

Existing Audience Data

In 2023, AOM surveyed over 8,000 performing arts ticket buyers through the Demographics and Buyer Behavior Survey. The survey data indicates:

  • 30% of ticket buyers (or members of their household) would benefit from accessibility services.

  • 19% of ticket buyers would benefit from accessibility services that address mobility limitations or physical disabilities.

  • 11% would benefit from accessibility services that address Deafness or hearing impairment.

  • 5% would benefit from accessibility services that address neurodiversity.

  • 3% and 2%, respectively, would benefit from services that address blindness/ visual impairment and memory impairment.

NOTE: Since the survey was only sent to existing ticket buyers, the data doesn’t reflect the needs of people who are currently excluded from the audience.

Additional survey findings are available in the presentation slides (below the video).


II. Conversation with Beth Bienvenu and Katherine Hayward (Office of Accessibility, National Endowment for the Arts)

About the Office of Accessibility at the National Endowment for the Arts

How does the Office of Accessibility support arts organizations?
  • NEA grant recipients are expected to be both physically and programmatically accessible to all involved in the project – including staff, artists, as well as audiences/community members with disabilities.

  • Most arts organizations that reach out to the Office have good intentions. They want to be accessible, but they have questions about how.

  • There are a lot of questions about “programmatic accessibility,” like: “How are people able to communicate and receive information, as well as fully participate?”

  • We talk to people about how to create a welcoming environment (including ways that don’t cost money!), ways that you can structure the invitational language about an event, how you promote it, and who you promote it to.

  • We can help people find organizations in their communities that are doing arts and disability work, as well as providers that deliver access services such as ASL interpretation.

How and when to consult with disability groups and audience members with disabilities?
  • When? Now! Do not wait until you have a specific project or need. Start educating yourself about who is in your community and start reaching out.

  • Relationships take time. You can’t call someone up a week before your event and ask them to do something.

  • If you’re asking for something, be prepared to also offer something in return. If you can’t offer money, perhaps you can offer space, or promote their events in your networks. It should be a reciprocal relationship.

  • The longstanding disability rights phrase “Nothing about us without us” has evolved to “Nothing without us.” It’s always important to consult with people to make sure you’re being inclusive and accessible.

  • It’s important to develop a large “Rolodex” of contacts – people you can consult with about specific topics – to avoid overburdening each individually.

  • If you develop an ongoing Advisory Group, it’s a best practice to pay them for their time and expertise.

  • There’s also a growing field of Accessibility Consultants that you can hire.

Exciting trends in the accessibility field
  • The growth of the field and the increased interest are exciting. And it now has broad interest; it’s not siloed in a niche little group.

  • One indication of that is the growth of the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability Conference (LEAD), run by the Kennedy Center. It started in 2001 with 25 people, in 2011 they had 200, and now they have 1,000.

  • The LEAD conference will be in Seattle, July 29- August 2.

  • Since a lot of training programs moved online during the pandemic, it’s become much easier to find and access learning opportunities online.

  • More people are starting to realize that accessibility isn’t just about doing the minimum to comply with funding requirements. People are thinking more deeply about what accessibility means. It’s really about community connection and community engagement.

III. Breakout Discussions

Group 1. Emerging Technologies that Increase Accessibility

Technologies of Interest:
  • Captioning

    • Human captions are preferable to AI.

    • Live captioning is an added expense, but the budget you create is a moral directive.

    • AccessTech

    • GalaPro

    • Creative captions: integrating captions as a design feature and creative opportunity, rather than just adding them as an afterthought for purely functional reasons.

  • Assistive Listening, audio description and voicing on personal devices

  • Vibrotactile devices

  • Sign glasses (showing ASL on lens)

  • There was a general expression of interest in learning about new technologies we don’t know about.


Group 2. Increasing Access through New Formats

This breakout group discussed the “build it and they will come” approach to adding new formats and accessibility services, and how to assess the success of the offers.

  • One orchestra started offering ASL interpretation in response to a request, but has since expanded that to all family concerts and major pops concerts. They see this as a “build it and they will come” strategy, and now consider it part of their DNA.

  • Another organization wanted to be proactive and started including ASL at four performances each year as well as offering sensory kits for audiences to check out, but hardly anyone has taken advantage of those services. They’re now wondering how to do a better job inviting communities who would use the services and letting audiences know that those services exist.  

  • Tracking the number of people that check out sensory kits may not be the right metric to look at. Even if just one or two people use them, they make all the difference for those people being able to stay in the theatre and watch the show.

  • Offering the sensory kits can also signal that this is an environment that is welcoming and inclusive. Many parents and audience members end up bringing their own equipment, but having the kits available lets them know that’s OK.

  • In terms of communications, including images of people using sensory kits and sending an email that lets people know what to expect at a sensory-friendly performance can be helpful.

  • Community outreach, including education programs in schools are also effective in letting people know what services are available and how to access them.

  • Collaborating with Autism Action Partnership to do sensory-friendly family concerts has been successful and that success has led one organization to add sensory-friendly or “relaxed” performances to one of its classical series.

Group 3. Communications & Ticketing

Challenges with current communications and ticketing systems:

  • None of the ticketing systems are Screen Reader accessible. Tessitura is planning a new release of its web product (TNEW) that will be screen reader accessible, but currently tech is lagging behind.

  • How to message about increased accessibility options without cluttering up communications. Too much clutter gets in everyone’s way, whether you're reading or listening on a screen reader.

Working with PDF documents

Generally, PDF documents aren’t screen reader accessible. You can code them on the back end, but it’s best to create a separate version of the PDF that is very linear, without columns, images, or other fancy formatting, and that includes headings and a table of contents so it can be easily navigated with a screen reader.

  • It’s preferable to give people the option to download a Word document and ideally offer a chaptered audio file of someone reading the document.

How do people find out about your accessibility services?

  • Include available services (e.g., CART captioning and ASL interpretation) when posting programs online.

  • Even with an accessibility page on the organization’s website, people may not find the information online, and instead approach a staff member at the venue in person. Having identifiable “accessibility ushers” can be helpful.

  • Ask about accessibility needs when taking ticket orders over the phone.

  • Have areas in the ticketing process where people can write in comments and share their needs.

Group 4. Patron Services & Venue Accessibility (including wayfinding, mobility, safety)

  • For organizations with historically significant buildings, the limitations can turn even minor changes—like improving signage for better way finding or updating the signs on the restrooms—into a drawn-out process.

  • In such instances, how can we be inviting, while also being clear about the limitations of our spaces (as we continue to work to overcome them)?

  • We can find workarounds for the challenges of our venues, but it can be difficult to translate those policies into practice. For instance, we know that the signage for our accessible bathroom isn’t great, so our ushers are supposed to support people who might need help finding it. But recently, I found a patron on crutches trying to get down a flight of stairs in the middle of the performance, because there weren’t any ushers on hand.

  • There is sometimes the assumption that our existing audience doesn’t need additional services (since they’re already coming, and they’re not complaining).

  • People who are newly disabled (often due to age) may not know what accessibility services are available or what constitutes a reasonable accommodation.

  • Working in spaces that don’t belong to us can also be challenging. Sometimes the reality of the in-venue accessibility doesn’t match the descriptions and we don’t know until we get there.


IV. Timeline for IDEA Study Phase 2: Accessibility

June/July: Community input on survey design

August 5: Registration for IDEA Study, Phase 2 opens

September 6: Registration closes

September 13: Online session on survey logistics

October 8: Survey launch

  • Below are the key takeaways described above, in a Word document.

Download DOCX • 192KB

  • Below are the key takeaways described above, in PDF document.

Download PDF • 297KB


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