BACKGROUND OF A11Y INITIATIVE
Theaters across Boston and the nation are shifting their priorities towards diversity and inclusion. Through the development and implementation of the A11Y Initiative, StageSource seeks to create systemic change in Boston and provide an archetype for how to embrace diversity.
There is a limiting stigma that surrounds the term “accessibility” in Boston and around the country, particularly in the theater industry. Not enough people understand what it means to be inclusive, for example, of the Deaf community. What is more, there is a shortage of competent American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters both in box offices and backstage of our local theaters and a general lack of knowledge of how to communicate effectively with Deaf theater artists and audience members. Of the over 546,000 Deaf persons in Massachusetts, there are only 28 ASL interpreters that are registered with the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to sign for the performing arts. Boston theater companies are competing against larger, wealthier institutions like universities and hospitals for the same small pool of ASL interpreters to provide even the baseline for this support. This is not for lack of caring. Theaters are often only able to minimally adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act enforced rules due to lack of funds or capacity and rarely have the means to be fully inclusive of the Deaf community. This lack of consultants and expertise causes a barrier of entry into theater participation for Deaf audiences and even more so for Deaf theater artists.
The goals of the A11y Initiative are twofold – to think beyond the limiting language of “accommodations and accessibility” and create a deeper level of inclusion practice of the Deaf community in the greater Boston theater industry. StageSource will work with partners to establish avenues for training, personnel, and information. While some of this work will require funding sources, we will endeavor to create change with the resources at hand.
Interpreters & Coaches: There are different resources for performance coaches and interpreters. StageSource is working on creating a resource list of members with those capabilities. Organizations may search for interpreters and coaches here.
NEA: The NEA has several useful documents on their website. One of them is their Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook.
ASL Interpreted Shows: Standard Practices Guide: This guide was created by Boston University's Disability Services and BU's School of Theatre in collaboration with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, the Huntington Theatre Company, and VSA Massachusetts.
Open Captioning Resources/Information:
Audio Description Resources/Information:
ASL Class Suggestions
For More Information
Massachusetts Cultural Council UP Initiative: The MCC's UP Inclusive Design Initiative seeks to inspire organizations to use design to anticipate and accommodate the full spectrum of human ability. UP is Universal Participation.
VSA MA: Massachusetts organization on arts and disability.
VSA Minnesota: Has practical information for administrators, artists including those with disabilities, and audiences who have questions about creating and/or attending the arts.
CA-NE: Cultural Access New England (CANE) was founded to advance access to cultural facilities in New England for people with disabilities of all types. CANE defines accessibility broadly, to include programmatic, architectural, physical, communication, attitudinal and other forms of access. CANE takes as a basic tenet that increasing accessibility for people with disabilities increases accessibility for everyone.
Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing