Emily Sara, adjunct professor of art foundation and graphic design, recently took to arts blog Hyperallergic to address the obstacles that disabled and neurodiverse audiences face as they navigate the art world. In this open letter, Sara draws from controversy surrounding the New York City monument Vessel—a massive work comprised of 154 staircases—to illuminate the many ways that galleries, schools, websites, theaters and other platforms for the arts continue to exclude people with “physical, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities.”
In addition to stair monuments, more than 75 New York galleries have come under fire for alleged ADA violations related to website accessibility. Images without tagged descriptions for screen-reading software make accessing the internet for the visually impaired next to impossible. Though some dismiss these efforts as the work of opportunistic law firms, others see legal action as a means of achieving long-overdue justice. These are but a few examples of inaccessibility in the art world.
Navigating and addressing these issues will require taking fundamental steps toward inclusion, from implementing practical solutions to increasing awareness among art institutions and community members. Carolyn Lazard’s pamphlet Accessibility in the Arts: A Promise and a Practice, commissioned by Recess in 2018, contains practical guidance for “small-scale arts nonprofits and the potentially expansive publics these organizations serve.” Accessibility in the Arts breaks down specific accommodations, as well as how to list access information appropriately, and how to budget for inclusive spaces. Even modest shifts in practice could make an enormous difference.
Sara is the recipient of the 2019 VCUarts Excellence in Adjunct Research Exhibition at the Anderson.
Lead image by Emily Sara.