Making the Arts More Accessible

Jul 30, 2020

A new effort is underway throughout Illinois to help make arts and culture accessible to all, including people with disabilities and older adults.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26th, the Illinois Arts Council announced a new partnership initiative with the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium and creation of a new Illinois Cultural Accessibility Network.

Brittany Pyle, Director of Audience Services at the Chicago Humanities Festival, and steering committee member of the six-year-old CCAC, is program manager for the new volunteer statewide network. She says the ICAN is extending what CCAC has done in the Chicago area.

Brittany Pyle

“This would be a great thing to do around the 30th anniversary of the ADA, and they were thinking the resources, the professional development, that exist for Chicagoland, through CCAC, would be of great benefit to have through the whole state of Illinois, so that’s what was the spark for creating a wider network throughout Illinois for all arts and culture organizations in our state, in order to become more accessible to people with disabilities.”

Pyle says CCAC is a volunteer-run nonprofit that offers professional development workshops, free equipment loan programs, e-mail information, and a calendar to promote accessible events. On Monday, CCAC put out an open call to all Illinois-based cultural arts groups for the first ICAN meeting, and asked them to respond to a survey to gauge needs regarding accessibility issues, including serving patrons who have hearing or vision impairments.

Arts groups that get funding from federal and state governments are required to show they are accessible to everyone, and communicate how they do that.

“It’s sometimes hard for arts organizations without the right tools to know how to do it, how to get started, or how to really expand what they’re doing.”

In Covid times, many organizations have moved their operations online – whether it’s through Zoom, Facebook, or they’ve had to scale down what they’re doing in person to be more intimate, with smaller groups, masks, and cleaning procedures. Pyle says those changes must adequately serve people with disabilities.

“There’s a lot people could be doing now in order to prepare for those reopenings. That would apply any time. There’s also special considerations we can help illuminate, even if it’s something as simple as clear masks, instead of masks that obscure your mouth for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, so they can lip read.”

 Technology improvements could include offering captioning on Zoom for deaf or hard-of- hearing people. The new network plans to offer its first webinar in late September, and other resources depending on what the survey reveals.

Pyle says the network throughout Illinois will include theaters, museums, orchestras, parks, zoos, and more. The Illinois Cultural Accessibility Network is an initiative of the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, with plans of becoming a stand-a-lone group in the future. The workshops and webinars will always be free, and registration is offered with an option to donate any amount if people choose.

For more information about CCAC, visit chicagoculturalaccess.org,