Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Arts Accessibility

Hello again,

It has been suggested that I write about access to the arts for people w/disabilities. I have to confess that I avoided this in the first blog, probably because my last effort to resolve an accessible issue was met with silence until I made several requests for a response. I will begin with this experience but will preface it with appreciation for the many accessible design features of the remodeled Clemens Center as well as efforts by OSFL to provide access to music for seniors who don’t drive and/or can’t afford tickets.

I have spoken to the Clemens Center and parking garage personnel many times over the last twenty two years about accessible parking for ticket holders. Parking garage’s are generally a problem for many women with disabilities or who are elderly and traveling alone. Most of the handicap spaces are above the first floor, requiring one to use the elevator. Women who are perceived as vulnerable, and may in fact be physically vulnerable, are fearful of being attacked. Most people w/disabilities fear additional disability so may be unwilling to take the risks involved in using the parking garage. The alternatives are to park at Star Gazette and cross a four lane highway. This may be hazardous for people who fall easily, have difficulty walking or use a wheelchair (no curb cut in the median). It is very difficult to find available on street parking or parking in the lot under the viaduct as there are no (or perhaps one) designated handicap spaces. Consequently I don’t purchase season tickets for many programs as I cannot risk falling on icy walks or crossing CC Parkway.

I had a season ticket for OSFL the 07-08 year, at Norte Dame and CMG. Parking at ND was equally difficult as there were no handicap parking spaces available near the entrance to ND. Although I arrived 45 minutes early there were no available handicap spaces. I found one handicap symbol on the pavement (occupied) but no upright signs to designate handicap parking spaces, although they are mandated by the ADA (Federal law 1990). Thus, I parked close to the porch in the fire lane.

One of the concerts occurred during a storm that coated the steps, walk, and drive with ice. There was no hand rail on the steps so I tried to use the upright poles to help me down the steps. The ground level was all ice but I made it to stepping off the curb (no curb cuts) whereupon I fell, and injured my back. Because of disability, every fall is serious; it not only upsets the CNS and body, it may also cause further injury. For whatever reasons, no one had spread salt to prevent people w/disabilities and elderly from falling.

I wrote to the Orchestra (& copy to ND) to inform them of my fall and to make several suggestions for increased sensitivity in regards to several accessibility issues:

“I’m sure it was difficult to find suitable, affordable concert space with the Clemens Center closed. The auditorium at ND is reasonably accessible and OSFL surely appreciates its availability. However, it does not meet the ADA requirements for accessibility in terms of parking and an accessible entrance. I am fully aware that religious institutions are not required to follow the ADA

The OSFL has an obligation to be fully accessible to all in the community. One third of every community is living with a disability. 95% of those living past age 65 (a rapidly growing number) will experience disability as will an increasing number of people injured by technology, medicine, accident, and war. Many of these disabilities are not visible (head injury, heart disease, diabetes, vision impairments, and neurological conditions). Like many people w/disabilities and seniors, I studied music and want to support the OSFL and its musicians. I live with a disability and expect facilities and programs to be accessible and inclusive.

The solution I can suggest is to borrow upright parking signs and a reliable hand rail for the steps for future concerts at ND. Ideally, ND would address accessibility but I realize that isn’t for you or I to decide. I would also make one further suggestion: that musicians, choristers, staff, and families not use the handicap parking because they are late, in a hurry, or inconsiderate. This appears to have been the case at youth concerts for the last three years.

The last youth concert in Corning was in an inaccessible church: no ramp, too many steps, no nearby handicap parking, no handicap bathroom. Again, some thought needs to be given to OSFL accessibility. Accessibility also includes print materials. Vision impairments are common as people age. The post cards announcing concerts this year were completely unreadable. The tiny pink print on dark purple background cannot be seen by many people. Larger print and better contrast between print and background are required for print accessibility.

These issues and suggestions may seem like a huge bother to people (e.g. board and staff) stretching budgets, scrambling for space, unable to imagine disability or infirmity, or wanting to be artistic without constraints. However, these issues affect your bottom line. People with disabilities, their families, and people over 65 have money to spend for arts and programs. Accessibility is important; without it you eliminate and shut out possible donors to OSFL.

I hope reasonable accommodation can be made prior to future concerts. If I can be of constructive help in resolving these issues or educating skeptics and resisters, I am willing to offer my knowledge and experience.” [end of quoted letter]

Visiting The Arnot Art Museum and galleries in Corning can be difficult. As I recall, the Arnot’s accessible entrance is at the rear and not close to handicap parking. I haven’t used it so may be wrong about parking space. The steps are so problematic that I very rarely go there.

The West End Gallery is equally difficult to visit for openings. Corning has several handicap parking spots on Market St. and if one drive’s around long enough may be able to park within a short walking distance, but not always. Although I have ventured up the stairs a few times, it is painful and difficult to do so I don’t go as often as I prefer. The stairs make it virtually impossible for people with limited mobility or who use wheel chairs or scooters to view art work upstairs.

Finally, vision and hearing loss affect many seniors as well as people with certain disabilities. Attending many talks and musical events becomes difficult for people with hearing impairments when conductors or other announcers fail to use a microphone. Too often one will say ‘I don’t need a microphone with my voice. Microphones and speaker system are rarely for the speakers benefit; they are primarily for the benefit of attendees who want to hear what is being said, sung or played. Seniors generally have some hearing loss and rarely admit it. However, if they can’t hear, they eventually stop attending which is another loss to them and a loss of revenue for the program. Likewise, printed materials in fine print, or colored and on colored paper, may be too difficult or impossible to read. The internet provides numerous resources for tips on how to make your print materials accessible to ALL people.

Accessibility is about welcome and inclusion of all people from babies in strollers to seniors using assistive devices for mobility, vision, and hearing. Accessibility is never simply about people in wheelchairs; it is about making all of life accessible in our architecture, communications, and attitudes of welcome and inclusion.

2 comments on “Arts Accessibility

  1. Connie Sullivan-Blum
    March 31, 2009

    These issues only begin to acknowledge issues of accessibility. I have a friend in a wheelchair who is essentially house bound due to public transit limitations. Her absence at cultural and artistic events causes me grief. I miss her. But, it is also a loss to the community. We all lose her thoughts, insights, and humor.

    I recently went to a wonderful OSFL concert with my father who is in a wheelchair. I was grateful that the newly renovated Clemens Center has a wheelchair lift and a section for wheelchairs. Being able to be there with my father was incredibly important to me.

    These issues seem so large – so systemic and expensive. I love old buildings, but they are not cheaply converted into accessible spaces. I think a feeling of being overwhelmed may stop arts and culture organizations from thinking about what we can do – legible printed materials, good mics and sound systems, ramps. At least these things are a start.

    And, of course, we can lobby for better transit, grants to renovate old buildings and other political solutions.

    One last thought, last summer my partner took her 90 year old mother to Canada. Her mom is pretty mobile, but at that time required a wheelchair. Usually I have nothing but positive things to say about Canada. However, she found Canada practically impossible to negotiate. The bathrooms weren’t accessible, there weren’t ramps, the doorways were too small. It reminds me that these things are political. The difference between Canada and the U.S. in this regard is the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  2. Akua
    May 6, 2009

    Your article was part of an epiphany. After a year of struggling to identify resources and begging various Human Resources and
    legislative representatives to fix the situation in the Corning area,
    without success — I have now embarked on starting a paratransit nonprofit. The New York Times recently reported that nearly one in fifty
    American is paralyzed! If that rate holds true in Steuben County– that’s
    nearly 2,000 people. The Rural Institute reports that 20.8% — over 19,000 people in Steuben County, are disabled! As I have made my calls and written letters, I’ve been asked “are there others.” I now know there
    are– MANY– who for lack of access are made invisible. Thank you
    for your clear reportage and sharing.

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