It wasn’t opening night at a smash hit on Broadway. And it wasn’t a swanky VIP reception with the First Family. But the guest list would have made you think it was just such an event, with representatives from institutions including Agnes Gund Foundation; Carnegie Hall; Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Museum of Modern Art, NYC; Guggenheim Museum, NYC; Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC; Museum of Modern Art, NYC; Center for Puppetry Arts, Atlanta; Museum of Science, Boston; Smithsonian Institution; Birmingham Museum of Art; Art Beyond Sight Institute/Art Education for the Blind; National Gallery of Art, DC; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Institute of Museum and Library Services; North Carolina Museum of Life and Science; American Association of Museums; National Endowment for the Arts; National Endowment for the Humanities; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Cincinnati Museum Center; and American Institute for Research. Instead, these legendary arts institutions came to the White House to discuss accessibility to their institutions for people with disabilities. Such is the influence of the President, who has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to ensuring the inclusion of Americans with disabilities throughout the fabric of our country.
Hosted by Social Secretary Desiree Rogers and the Office of Public Engagement, these major institutions came together to discuss how they have succeeded and how they can further improve and help others succeed in making arts institutions more accessible to people with disabilities. Ms. Rogers opened the meeting by explaining the White House’s commitment to accessibility and expressing the importance of art in the White House and how it is important both to broaden the type of art that is displayed in the White House and broaden the range of people who visit the building.
(Photo credit: Trenton Arthur)
The meeting participants seemed to agree that no similar meeting in this industry had ever taken place at the White House. Significantly, the group expressed how simply bringing these institutions and groups together fostered discussion and idea generation on an unprecedented level. They discussed interpreting for the deaf, audio description for the blind, tactile maps and art work, and other mechanisms for making institutions accessible. Perhaps most importantly, the institutions engaged in discussions about developing a long-term permanent strategy for institutions to ensure accessibility. For example, they mentioned hiring or working with people with disabilities in their local communities to help develop accessibility plans.
The group departed from the meeting determined to keep the discussion alive in hopes of increasing accessibility for all Americans. Indeed, they plan to create an on-line dialog about these critical issues.
Kareem Dale is Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy.