Kentucky Cultural Accessibility Summit will celebrate successes, challenge us to continue to serve more diverse audiences

S.Ridgway Photo

Stacy Ridgway
Manager of Accessibility Services at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts

The Kentucky Cultural Accessibility Summit is March 30 at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC) in Bowling Green. One of the speakers scheduled to present at the summit is Stacy Ridgway, manager of accessibility services at Louisville’s Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The Kentucky Center has been a model for accessibility to a diverse audience. Ridgway took a few moments to discuss the Kentucky Center’s accessibility initiatives and the importance of attending the upcoming summit in Bowling Green.

Q: How has the Kentucky Center’s approach to access helped build your audience?

A: Our commitment started a long time ago. We began providing audio description in 1994, captioning in 1997 and as a result of that we have an ongoing dialogue with the community. The Kentucky Center has seen an increase in patrons using access services every single year since we began tracking those needs in 1994. Not only do we develop this audience for our venues and resident companies but we provide services to other arts organizations in our community.

As a result, individuals with disabilities know they have a variety of options when it comes to attending the theater and they take advantage of it. So, not only are we developing the audience for the Kentucky Center, that audience is also attending shows at Actors Theater of Louisville and the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.

We have worked with the Muhammad Ali Center, the Speed Museum and other visual arts organizations to help them develop that audience. Once patrons know they have these options they will attend. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it will happen.

Q: What would you say to other venues who may struggle at making the investment in access?

A: The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in effect for 26 years. Still, people with disabilities in many communities do not have the access they need to quality arts experiences. Why should arts venues make this investment? The better question is why wouldn’t they? I have four very good reasons: it’s the law; it’s the right thing to do; it’s an audience development tool; and finally as the baby boomers are beginning to reach ages where they have accessibility needs their expectations for that access is going to be high.

Speaking as a person with a hearing disability I can say that, as a child, I saw theater and took trips to museums and I never had the access I needed to fully participate. When I would go back to my classroom and take a test on the play or a follow up assignment on the museum tour, I stood no chance of doing well. That is a perfect indicator of the need to understand the value of making an investment in accessibility. It is an investment in the community.

Q: Who should attend the summit and why?

A: Visual and performing arts administrators for ideas and steps towards making your organization more accessible to the disability community and a better understanding of the ADA; artists, especially those that work in educational settings, for ways to plan how all students regardless of ability can participate; special education teachers for information on how to include arts programming and for ways to secure artists with the best training to educating students of all abilities; disability service agencies for information on how to how to reach out to your local arts agencies to request what those you serve need in order to participate in arts programming; parents of students with disabilities, to become more effective at advocating for arts experiences on behalf of their child in the educational and community setting; artists with disabilities for networking and to meet other like minded professionals.

For more information on the Kentucky Cultural Accessibility Summit, contact Sarah Schmitt, arts council community arts and access director, at sarah.schmitt@ky.gov or 502-892-3116.

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