Happy birthday to ADA from everyone

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 20 on July 26, 2010. As a nation, we should celebrate the strides toward equality made possible by this legislation. As appreciators and promoters of the arts, we should intensify our commitment to building greater access using the values of the ADA as a compass. Check out this video celebrating the strides made over the past 20 years.

The measures required by the ADA make it possible for people with disabilities to take part in activities that others take for granted, but these measures also make these activities more approachable and easier for everyone. This is the philosophy behind accessible design. Because the grocery store is often a very democratic space (everyone needs food), one of the first noticeable changes that resulted from the passage of ADA was the widening of grocery store aisles. The advantages of a larger, more navigable space were evident to all customers, not just those who used wheelchairs or other assistive devices. People simply feel more comfortable in areas designed with them in mind instead those with designs suited to the merchandise displayed.

Whether you are an artist or part of an arts organization, addressing physical and programmatic design with regard to access is not only a matter of accommodating people with disabilities. It is also an intentional way to make your space, products, artwork, events and overall operation available to a more diverse audience while providing new levels of comfort for your existing audiences. How has ADA affected the way you deliver or experience the arts?

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

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