Metropolitan Regional Arts Council works toward greater accessibility
by Scott Artley
Recently, I hosted an accessibility training for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) staff. It was jam-packed with resources I had prepared in the last two years about things like preferred language for disability, how to host an accessible Zoom event, how to make an accessible document, where to find ASL interpreters, and more. In that meeting, for the first time in a while, I took a step back and saw how far MRAC has advanced its journey to better serve people with disabilities.
We’ve made a number of changes (big and small) in the last two years, but I want to highlight four specific steps forward in our accessibility journey that represent where we’re going:
Arts and disability community research – Through surveys, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and statistical analysis of past grantmaking, we dug deep into the community to determine where there were challenges and opportunities for MRAC to support the expanded participation of people with disabilities in the arts. While the pandemic changed our plans to develop new grant programs specifically for this work, the lessons that came out of this research and community engagement process brought insight and urgency to embedding accessibility in every aspect of our new programs.
Accessibility resources – My experience as an independent consultant before I joined MRAC showed me that accessibility resources are almost never targeted to small cultural organizations and their unique needs. I developed an access workbook and related training, a new do-it-yourself approach to addressing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This training is available on our Accessibility Resources for Arts Organizations page, along with a hefty list of resources for groups to begin tackling accessibility one concrete tactic at a time.
Alternative applications – Recognizing that our typical written application process in the online grant interface is inaccessible to some people with disabilities, we began accepting applications in alternative formats. For some, that meant filling out a Word document outside of our grant interface, and for others that meant working with an MRAC staff member to submit an audio application. We worked closely with each applicant and found solutions that were unique to their needs.
People with disabilities as decision-makers – Panelists are the heartbeat of MRAC’s grantmaking process. They represent the region and bring their expertise in the local arts community to help the board of directors make funding decisions. We increased the number and proportion of people with disabilities who served as panelists (11 percent in 2020), and offered new access services to panelists (like ASL interpretation for panel orientations).
We also engaged Cow Tipping Press, a creative writing organization, to pilot a new process that engaged panelists with developmental disabilities and neurodivergence. Applying their mission and experience to the panel process was a radical reimagining of how people with disability, often the stated beneficiaries of MRAC-funded projects, could be vested with the same decision-making powers as their peers.
Scott Artley is the MRAC accessibility program director.