Reaching Art Patrons with Disabilities

Reaching Art Patrons with Disabilities


>>Jason: Okay. Thanks and thanks for coming. Like Victor
said, I’m Jason Mischel, I am his Deputy Commissioner and General
Counsel of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
Our panel today is called Reaching Art Patrons with Disabilities
which to me is pretty much the whole point of our sessions today. What we’re
trying to get across to cultural institutions is how they can open
their doors to people with disabilities and not feel that it is
going to be a heavy lift. That it is going to cost exorbitant amounts of money
that might run your organization into the ground. We are talking
about in effect providing reasonable accommodations. Before
I get to reasonable accommodations I just wanted to give you a
quick stat. As far as how many people with disabilities live in
New York City. The best way to find that out is through something
called the American Community Survey which is sort of related
to the US Census and in 2011 they put out estimates of a number of
different breakdowns across different social characteristics and
according to their survey, presently there are 834,685 people with disabilities
that live in New York City. When I started back in 2004, the
numbers were actually higher than that. I tend to think that they
are over 1 million, and that doesn’t include visitors to the city. So you’re
talking about a huge market of people who live or visit here that
want to take advantage of everything that the city has to offer.
And having said that, not only is that an obvious incentive for cultural
institutions to want to reach out to this community because of the
sheer size of number but another incentive is New York City itself
— a couple of weeks ago I actually was in Rome and then I went to
Amsterdam and I was actually shocked at how inaccessible those
cities were. I was always under the impression, you know, you
hear things about for instance London having a fully accessible taxi fleet and things like that and there are other global accessibility initiatives
that you hear about. I think some of the realities on the ground
are the fact that you have cities that are older cities that are just
not accessible. When I was in Rome the only thing that I found that stood
out to me that was fully accessible was the Coliseum, they have
a lift for wheelchair users. In Amsterdam while it happens to be
a beautiful city, it was disturbing. I went to the Anne Frank House
for instance and there is just absolutely no way that people who
use wheelchairs would be able to get in there. It seemed like
they did reach out to other disabilities such as deaf and hard of hearing
and blind and low vision, but still you want to cover everything and my point being
is that New York City is more accessible than you think. We do have
older buildings and certainly a job that is not done yet. But
if you go to the Project Access New York website what it does is they
have cultural institutions that have signed up to promote
the fact that they are accessible for people with disabilities in
the wide array of disabilities. And that list is getting bigger
and that kind of represents competition to those cultural institutions that are in the city that might be lagging behind. I think that cultural
institutions have to realize that in addition to the large population
of people with disabilities that live here and visit here, there are also, there is the trend of accessibility from their fellow cultural institutions
that are going to be taking those customers away from them if
they don’t start doing the right thing. So I’m trying to impart upon
you that there is a lot of great benefits for reaching out to this
population. Now to talk about a reasonable accommodation. I just want
to read real quick I know in the morning session we had a panel
the first panel was talking about a lot of the legalities behind providing
access and referencing Americans with Disabilities Act.
I’m not going to go over that ground. I just want to read to you
quickly what the New York City Human Rights Law has to say about
what a reasonable accommodation is. It is basically defined
as an accommodation that can be made that shall not cause undue
hardship in the conduct of the covered entity’s business.
It leaves a really wide field of ways to — in order to provide accommodations.
It is not just about — and I said this, this morning but
it bares repeating. It is not just about spending millions of dollars to
make capital improvements to your buildings and being worried
about that. There is all sorts of ways and means of accomplishing
inclusiveness and accessibility that are very low cost, that
are very efficient, and that will exponentially increase the amount
of people that come to your institutions. I can give you one example
that is not really culturally related. Voting is an example where
the law is that all polling places have to be accessible. But they don’t — But
The Department of Justice has put out a checklist to municipalities
to show them how they can make these polling places accessible.
And a lot of it has to do with, well, you can provide a portable ramp
or you can provide some sort of alternate location that might be nearby or provide let’s say transportation to a different space that might be more accessible.
Or let’s say having a drinking fountain that you take and
you lower it so people can get to it. There is a laundry list of
things that you can do and my office, we are, I would like to describe it as
a clearinghouse for reasonable accommodation solutions, so
I would invite you, if you have further questions of solutions that
you want to employ in your institution, do not hesitate to contact
us. Victor mentioned the website before at www.nyc.gov/mopd. You can
also talk to me offline. But we’re here for you to put aside
your concerns about construction and major projects in order to
create accessibility. There is things that can be done. The only
other thing I want to say is that one of the things that we — I’m not
going to say is that we have a problem with but landmarks are kind of an
issue. I know there is some crossover between landmarks and cultural
institutions. As it stands, landmarks are more or less exempt from providing
accessibility. What we try to do when we work with the Landmarks Preservation Commission is just to talk to them about some
of the things that I’ve already said which is you might be exempt
but if you just bring in some programmatic solutions, you’re going
to find, in my opinion, that people are not going to — not come to
your landmark because all of a sudden they see a portable ramp outside
and they think that some sort of aesthetic was compromised.
Life doesn’t really work that way and in fact most of us who I guess you
would consider able-bodied know people that are wheelchair users
or deaf or hard of hearing or blind or low vision. And we’re
in the 21st Century and we understand that inclusiveness is only — it
can only benefit everybody. The last final thing I’ll say and then I’ll turn
it over to my fellow panel members is there is one gray area which is
a little bit difficult which is the idea of a defense to providing accessibility
that the ADA provides which is something called fundamentally altering the nature of the service provided which gets involved in cultural institutions
because if you’re thinking about art projects such as let’s say
video art where you want to provide captioning on that art and then possibly
the artist might have a problem with that because it is somehow fundamentally
altering the nature of the art. Well, I’m always going
to come down on the side of advocacy and the fact it is the right thing
to do to make sure you get as many people in your institutions as possible, a there are ways around that. Like I said if you come
to us, we’re more than happy to discuss ways with you that you
can get this done and we can meet with the artists and we can meet
with your superiors and yourselves and we can come to solutions
that are going to benefit everybody. So thanks for listening.
I’m going to turn it over to Joan on my left from Art Beyond Sight.
>>Joan: Thank you. As Commissioner Calise said, we worked with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to run a series of focus groups with adults with diverse disabilities in the summer, fall and winter of 2012. And wonderful things came out of that, including lots of compliments for New York City cultural organizations that have really exceptional programs and a lot of just little practical ideas. We asked people to tell us about their attendance at zoos and aquariums, botanical gardens, theaters,
dance, concerts, museums, sports arenas and our group of several groups of
people also told us they wanted to talk about films because they were
avid movie goers and these were particularly people with low vision. They said the first
thing that would really help is if programs for people with disabilities
are scheduled for times that are less crowded in your institutions
and also that let them avoid trying to travel through New York City during rush
hour. They — there was a lot of talk about training staff, telephone
staff that answer at your institutions and don’t always know what is available
or when things are and front of house staff. They should know what is
available. They should know if there are listening devices in
theaters, if there are audio guides, if there is ASL. They should also
know when a performance or a program ends because many
people with disabilities rely on Access-A-Ride or car service to pick
them up and if they don’t know when that ends they can’t make those
arrangements. Teach — be sure your staff can give concise directions.
We’ve been told time and again that over there is totally
meaningless to someone who cannot see the gesture and people
want to know where the elevators are, where accessible bathrooms are, where the coat check, where the cafeteria is
and where the gift shop is, so they can also explore those areas.
And make sure your information desk is wheelchair accessible.
Have a pad and pencil there for people who are deaf or hard of
hearing. You might also if possible ask an ASL interpreter to let
you videotape on an iPad® something that says we’re very sorry
there is no one who knows ASL here right now but there will be
somebody at and give the time or we have a special ASL tour on
such and such day. We did — one of the focus groups we did had four
people who were deaf who could not read and they totally rely on ASL
to communicate and so they expressed incredible frustration when they
go in and there is no one that they can talk to via ASL. You also should
have large print and Braille, large print is so easy to do
now with your computer. You can also, if you have Braille materials
that would be very helpful. If you can’t Braille them in house the
Lighthouse does Brailling for a very reasonable fee. Train staff on sighted guide technique. I wrote down what one man said who was
describing being taken to a seat. He said they grab you any old
way and run with you and you were dragging and bumping into
everything and they don’t even see you. They are on a different
path and you were hitting all the obstacles. I think they need to be
a little more educated and allow the disabled person to instruct
them on how best to help. And this whole sighted guide technique
was a big issue, a lot of people said well they grabbed my left
arm and that is the hand that I have my guide dog on. And then
others said well whenever I go to a museum, if they don’t know it I try to teach them so that they will know for
the next person, when they try to pull me with my arm. As sighted guide
technique is very simple, the person who is blind or has low vision
just takes your arm instead of you taking theirs and they walk half a
step behind you. If there is a narrow path coming up just put your arm behind your back and then they know and they move behind you and of course you can alert them to steps or doors or special barriers. It is not hard to
learn. We have it on our website on www.artbeyondsight.org and I’m
sure it is on a number of other websites also. Websites, we talked about
a little bit this morning and signage are problems. We — I’ll tell
you a bad story about Art Beyond Sight when I first started there, we were just
building our new website and our designer had our name in red on a
blue background and it was up and we have our website tested by
students at Perkins School for the Blind, and so we knew all the tags were
there and screen readers worked and everything worked. Then we
got an intern who was visually impaired and he said why isn’t your
name on your website? What do you mean of course our name is
on our website. He goes no, no, it is not. He said look. I said Matt
it is there. It is in red. Don’t you see it? And he goes, no. I can’t —
it is just all gray to me. The colors were the same values and he
could not see our name. Too often signage and labels and
particularly in museums where the curators want them to be very
tasteful are so subtle that it is very hard for anyone who has any
kind of vision problems to read them. Steps can be very difficult to
see and people at one of the discussion groups or one of the focus groups
said, you know, it is especially bad when there is a whole
staircase and we can tell we’re coming to a staircase, but when there are just a few
steps going from one space to another. Particularly if they’re light
we can’t see them. And if someone could just put some tactile
tape on them so that our cane can see them maybe yellow tape so
that people with low vision can also see them. It would it really help.
It is horrible to go into a museum and have the first thing that happens is you fall down. We had people having difficulty finding accessible entrances and exists. They usually knew, they were usually told when they called to make
an appointment where the accessible entrance was. Once they get
into the museum itself they sometimes get turned around and they
can’t find their way back. One man talked about the
embarrassment he had when he went out. He finally found a
ground floor door and he went out and alarms went off and guards
came and it was a really bad moment for him. Aggressive elevator doors were mentioned. They suggested and this
probably costs a little bit but they said if you could just have your
elevators say door opening and door closing and if you could have
the timing for the doors adjusted just a little bit so they’re longer.
People with walkers, people who are blind, people with
wheelchairs take a little longer to get on and off the elevator. There
is nothing worse than having your walker or cane stuck in closing
doors. Movies. I told you people love to go to movies. The people
who were in our discussion group that identified themselves as blind said if they could have audio description of movies it
would really be meaningful to them and they would go more.
People with low vision said you know what we would like, we’d like to have — to be able
to go to see the movie twice for one ticket. We really can’t afford to buy
two tickets for the theater, but the first time we watch a movie we work
so hard trying to understand and telling who is saying what, that we
don’t get any emotion from the film and if we could just stay. Maybe
you could limit those tickets just to day time on weekdays when the
theaters are half empty anyway. If we could stay and watch it a second time maybe we
could get the emotion of the piece. I was so touched by that
because I thought how terrible to have to work so hard and you finally
come out of the film and it was not uplifting or didn’t mean much to you. Zoo’s and botanical gardens. The big problem that people raised with them was getting lost.
They were very worried about getting lost. One man worried about
falling into ponds in botanical gardens but the rest of the
people said no, no, no. One man told me it took him an hour to find
an exit when he had finished exploring the garden he was so turned
around, and he was with a group of other people who were blind. And they wandered around for an hour. And so I said how can you
solve that? He said two ways. First he said the Brooklyn Botanical
Garden has something that these people refer to as blind gardens and that this morning the person from the Botanical Garden in the Bronx called a sensory garden and they are
smaller gardens and they have herbs and other aromatic plants
that have good scents and people can also handle and feel the
plants. They said you know we get great joy from those
multi-sensory experiences, so that would be great. The other thing is
why can’t they just put some seating areas in these botanical gardens
and when they do if they could just put a tactile map and a large
print map that has that “you are here” and “here is the closest exit.”
He said then we would know as we wandered around trying to find out
how to get out that if we found a seating area we could find a map and
the map would tell us how to leave the gardens. Makes sense and
like so many things you can do for people with disabilities. I think
all of us would appreciate seating areas in botanical gardens. Performance, we had a lot of praise in several focus groups for
Carnegie Hall which I’m told their ushers and their staff all understand
sighted guide techniques. That if a group goes and they have to leave
early they tell the usher and usher comes and tells them when it is time.
Ushers have also helped people out of the Carnegie Hall and to the Access-A-Van out front that has just made a huge difference in people’s
experience. We also had a lot of praise for broadway theaters
which we were told were very accommodating with accessible
seating; however, some of the people with vision loss asked if
some of the seats up front could be discounted for certain
performances for people who are low vision or blind that — that if
they can’t afford the really expensive tickets but if they sit further
back they can’t — they don’t get anything out of the show because
they can’t see anybody on stage. We also had complaints from
one group about headsets for audio descriptions and I don’t know
what theater they were at but it was a small group and they had paid $8 for
headsets so that they could have an audio described performance and they never could hear anything over the headsets.>>Joan: My last comment is people say those
who have good programs need to learn how to publicize
them better. We had a lot of people talking about things they had
done and other people in the group said oh, wow, I wish I had known
about that. That is what Tahra is going to talk about.
>>Tahra: I have a Powerpoint so…yes. I’m here to provide some
insight on how to effectively reach this largely untapped market
once these accommodations that Joan was speaking to — more of these
tactical initiatives are in place. Keeping in mind that your approach should
remain as committed and on-going and adaptable as, you know,
you would, with any market. Addressing this broad community’s
needs and concerns and interests again as you would any. So first
and you have a sense of this from an earlier presentations but it is
important to understand and recognize the scale and the breadth of
this community. There are over 57 million adults with some form of
disability and it is a largely untapped market of people who
command over one trillion dollars in consolidated buying power and disposable income collectively. So we’re talking about a massive
and growing community. The largest minority group, in fact, in the
world even surpassing the Hispanic market. And more so than
other markets this includes not only individuals with disabilities
themselves but their significant others and their friends and their families
whose activities are to an extent guided by their companions
lifestyles. Once you account for all these added markets you’re
looking at almost half the planet. So with this in mind I think this
community should immediately become a crucial component in
every marketing and public relations plan. I mean you’d essentially
be leaving money on the table. You would be doing your institution
a disservice not to recognize the value in connecting and not to
recognize this community as a viable market niche. I think it is also
worth noting that individuals with disabilities have proven to be
incredibly brand loyal especially to fully accessible businesses which are unfortunately still in the minority. So here is an opportunity to uniquely position yourself and make a powerful cultural statement about inclusion and awareness. And in generating materials I think it is important to keep in mind — Joan
touched on this a little — is that the internet is increasingly valuable especially for people with disabilities many of whom are not as mobile. So as the place of
accommodation, the internet and your website provides you with
added opportunity to expand your reach. Unfortunately many
businesses still struggle with accessible sites and again when text
is obscure and sites are heavier on non-captioned images and flash
your site immediately becomes exclusionary and screen readers cannot be
as effective in relaying information. And also as you know especially
when working with markets within a minority group paying special
attention to preferred language becomes increasingly important. People
with disabilities should never be identified or defined by their
disability. In that same vein words like special needs should be avoided as it suggests there is a burdensome need there when instead it is really our
delivery and our accommodations that need to change to be fully
inclusive and fully accessible. And as with all of PR and marketing
campaigns you must leverage the diversity of your consumer base
and your potential consumer base so images and materials should
be a reflection of your markets and in this case, the images should serve to empower and redefine disability to represent
qualities like inclusion and strength. Going beyond what is legally
required I think makes a really powerful statement about your
institution’s core values. I think it just sends a signal that you really get
it. I find value in entering awards campaigns. Once you’re in a position to do so of course
for added recognition and added exposure especially within the
communities of people with disabilities. For example, the Access
Awards, Helen Keller Achievement Awards, the Ruth Green Advocacy Award etc and I think it can also be helpful to connect with a national or local disability
organization to see what opportunities there are for partnerships to
generate added exposure and to capitalize on their platform and their
existing consumer base and their networks. Art Beyond Sight for example and the
Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. And then pitching items and listings to the media on these special opportunities
and special tours and special days for people with disabilities is
invaluable I think and should take just as much priority as, you know,
the other events that you’re doing year-round. Because these
opportunities are really — they’re extremely valuable to individuals —
for individuals with disabilities who can find solace in not having to worry about accessibility that day. And I’m also
going to use this opportunity to note the importance of ensuring that
your team reflects the diversity of your markets. Not only because of
the value of having these first hand contributions but while unemployment
amongst individuals with disabilities is high, statistically their turn over
rate is actually low and they have higher rates of retention. And while it is
key to incorporate this community into campaigns it is just as
important to keep your finger on the pulse of the evolving needs
and concerns of this global market as you would any. I wanted to just
quickly share an anecdote from a book “No Pity” where author
Joseph Shapiro dedicates a chapter to the demise of Everest and Jennings the once leading wheelchair brand that was essentially overthrown by a new brand
that entered the market. So Quikie Wheelchairs kind of came into play and they were more
nimble and they used colors and they were essentially just generally more in touch
with the needs and changing interests of this community allowing for
their ultimate hold on the market. And then lastly I just wanted to
end with a commercial that you may remember from the
Super Bowl a few years ago which generated an outpouring of
support and meaningful dialogue and even added revenue for
Pepsi. I think my AV guys have to press play on that. So I think it is important that
this team recognized, this marketing team recognize the value
of targeting and including people who are hard of hearing in their
marketing plan and put substantial resources into exercising that
core value. I mean Super Bowl adds are not cheap and I think
they understood that you have to speak to everyone if you
want to be heard. And in closing I just think that what kind of began
as a sporadic pilot campaign to target this demographic has now
become or should become a vital part of every marketing and PR
plan and most of you already have a grasp on the tremendous
opportunity with this underutilized market and I just hope this serves
to re-emphasize the value in dedicating real-time and real
resources into this outreach. That is all I have.
[Applause]>>Frank: Are we up? Excellent, I don’t
know if many of you were in the morning session but I spoke about
the Historic House Trust. We are an umbrella organization and
we help advise and manage 23 historic house museums in New York
City. So when I speak, I speak from the perspective of very
small cultural organizations with very small budgets. I would
say that one of the major things that we’re doing right now and
I spoke about that briefly is the anarchist guide to historic house museums and
that is a real kind of in-depth reassessment of what it means to
be a historic house museum as a cultural institution in New York City and realizing that one end of the
spectrum we have physical disability and the other end we have
cognitive disability. And how historic house museums have traditionally been difficult to access on almost
all of those levels and I would say that probably the number one
thing and I will just piggyback on what you had to say is we’re not reinventing
the wheel. We’re going to organizations that already know what is
best. How to target this market. What we should do. How we should make
ourselves a better more welcoming place. So at one level
a small cultural may seem that we only have two people on our staff and we don’t have large budgets. Well, guess what, there are
other nonprofit organizations out there who would love to
work with us. They can bring just tons of information just as you
are presenting and that you were talking about that we really don’t
have to spend years trying to consolidate that. One thing that
we’re doing is not only are we asking nonprofits that specialize in this
information. We’re also going to peer discussions and peer conversations
and in this case historic house museums on LinkedIn we have
a rather large discussion group where we’re talking about issues of
disability and access and special notions of tactility and things that
we can do to kind of systematically change what it means to visit a
historic house museum. So not only are we asking nonprofits
that specialize in those issues but we’re asking professionals
who by and large are somewhat frustrated in wanting information.
One of the first steps was working with Art Beyond Sight. As I said
we have 23 historic house museum sites. The first thing that we
have done is we partnered with Art Beyond Sight, New York
Beyond Sight in having verbal descriptions of all our sites and they
are all online. And this really established our partnership. We have a partnership with the New York Department of Education with respect for all
and not only is this an anti-bullying campaign, this is also a campaign that heightens respect for all types of in this case students and it includes
disabilities so all of our houses have special programming for that
week that deal with not only anti-bullying but anti-bullying with
people against people with disabilities. So again these are two
examples of partnering with other organizations where we don’t have
to do the heavy lifting. We can bring to it what we have. And then
a simple issue is our website we’ve had quite a bit of discussion
about websites. I happen to be dyslexic. If you’ve noticed this
morning and this afternoon I don’t really have notes to speak and that
is primarily because I’m visual and this is my notetaking so my note
cards are the slides. And we’re also looking into typology and font
that may make our website not only in terms of contrast with
colors but also the font itself would be readable. One thing that we are
realizing and I know personally a great deal of information just
kind of gets jumbled together. Those are just a few of the more simple things.
As I said this morning our house museums, their budgets could range anywhere
from 40 to $100,000 and so the staffs may be two people. So
what we want to do is provide these issues of accessibility and
marketability and access for all in ways that don’t just totally
absorb the budget because I know for a fact that all of our
house museums want to be as inclusive as possible, they’re just
afraid of what that may mean in terms of budget and in terms of man
power. Thank you. [Applause]
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