6 Ways to Make the Art Community More Accessible

Simple ways to make an art community that includes Disabled Artists.
We all Belong in the Art Community. Let's make it more accessible for Disabled People!
We all Belong in the Art Community. Let's make it more accessible for Disabled People!

1) Make applications as simple and easy as possible.

Using them as a test of compliance disenfranchises Disabled People.

Provide clear and complete directions.

Only ask for what you need. Your brain may see 5 steps in it, while my brain sees 72 steps I will need to do, and it can get hung up on any of them.

Minimize or remove application fees. Marginalized people are less likely to be able to afford them.

If an applicant gets something wrong, don’t automatically exclude them.

Some people cannot fill out forms. Provide contact information for help and be happy to help.

Provide as much time as you can for application windows and promote the call as much as possible.

Bonus: goes against white supremacy culture’s either/or thinking and perfectionism.

2) Include accommodations you can provide in your calls for art.

Can the artist’s talk use video, a slideshow or Alternative and Augmentative Communication?

Can the person record it and play the audio at the event in case they have difficulty speaking?

Support all types of communication.

Support the ability for the artist to attend virtually if necessary. You could have a space where people could sit and talk with them on a laptop.

If the proposal requires a space, help connect Disabled Artists with spaces you know about.

Provide physical installation or state what accommodations you can make on installation in the information.

If we have to contact you to ask for accommodations, we already know we probably aren’t wanted and we aren’t as likely to apply, which means you miss out on our work.

Bonus: goes against white supremacy culture’s paternalism and individualism.

3) Don’t prioritize Artist’s Statements that are fluffy and have lots of big words.

Simple, short statements should be just as acceptable. If you’re wanting more to explain it to the public, ask the artist if one of your people can write something about their work based off what they have submitted to augment it in the show. Get the artist’s approval of it before using.

Acknowledge that the current setup rewards artists who are good at BSing and it penalizes those who cannot. Not everyone can easily or at all communicate in the way the system is currently requiring for a wide variety of reasons. Their work can still be good and very meaningful. Make space for those whose Artist’s Statements are different.

Consider having a word limit on submissions and no or a very low word minimum. Figure out the real minimum your group needs.

Artists: Make your statements exactly how you feel and say what you think of your work without added fluffery. Help adjust the expectations of the art community.

Bonus: goes against white supremacy culture’s worship of the written word and quantity over quality.

4) Make the art community less of a popularity contest and accept artists as they are.

Make an environment where it’s not so much about who artists know or if they can schmooze.

Provide connections where you can and introduce people to each other in whatever way works for them.

Recognize that attending an event and interacting with people can take a great deal of energy for many Disabled People and try to provide options to make it more accessible.

If you have a variety of opportunities, feel free to suggest to an artist what you think they should apply for. Remember that there’s a ton of social calculation that your brain does automatically that my Autistic and ADHD brain can’t do at all. You automatically know things that we don’t know. Help us out by telling them to us.

Don’t enforce hierarchies. Autistic people often treat everyone the same because we see everyone as equally deserving of respect. Often people take that as inappropriate or bucking the system when it’s that we don’t see that system or understand it. It’s not disrespectful; it’s how we are respectful. If you don’t want to talk with us, you can always say so.

Be open and honest. I am. I need honesty and truth rather than fluff and talking around things. If you don’t like something, don’t say you do. If you won’t do something, don’t say you will.

If you know an artist doesn’t qualify for something because of unwritten requirements, let us know that so we don’t waste our time applying for it. You can tell us what those unwritten requirements are so that we can work toward meeting them and then apply, and you can add them to the call so it is transparent.

Support small gatherings around the city when possible.

Work with Disabled Artists who are developing ways to make art spaces more accessible for viewers and other artists by providing things like Alternative and Augmentative Communication, events and safe spaces for Disabled People. Work with Disabled Artists who are addressing our experiences as Disabled People. Work with Disabled Artists who are creating work that is not focused on our disabilities. Just like with any other marginalized group, it’s imperative to approach Disabled Artists as whole people who should be allowed to lead the education on our experiences but also not be expected to educate and expose our trauma at all times. You will get the best shows when you give us the opportunity to express ourselves, experiment and push boundaries instead of pushing us in the direction you want.

Our mental and physical health needs to be prioritized when you work with us. I have yet to meet a Disabled Person who wasn’t already pushing themselves to the max. We have to remind ourselves to rest. We may have executive functioning challenges. Be understanding. If you can provide volunteers or staff to assist us, we will probably be able to make a show that is even more meaningful and outstanding.

Bonus: goes against white supremacy culture’s power hoarding, fear of open conflict and defensiveness.

5) Let artists know what to expect at your event.

How is the space accessed?

Where are the accessible parking spots? How many are there? Where is the other parking?

Is there seating available everywhere?

Where is the wheelchair accessible entrance with automatic door?

Do you have wheelchairs available? How many? Are they ones people can push the wheels on themselves, or does someone else have to push them? Some people are ambulatory wheelchair users. They might be able to walk for a while and then need to use a wheelchair.

Do you have mobility scooters available? How many? If you don’t have wheelchairs or scooters, it is better to state that so people know not to hope they will be available. Be sure to keep mobility scooters charged up.

Where is the elevator?

Is every space laid out so there is room for a wheelchair to move?

What kind of food is being provided? We may have allergies and need to know if we will have to bring our own food.

Are your staff trained not to touch people without prior consent? A tap on the shoulder can startle me for hours. A ‘comforting’ hand held on my shoulder without prior consent can be scary and my brain will carry that for a long time.

How will you accommodate nonspeaking people in Q&A and other participatory things? Suggestion: automatically provide both written and text message options.

Is there a quiet room people can access if overwhelmed? Where?

A layout of the space is helpful.

You can create a website page with this information.

Many of us have to plan our outings ahead of time due to physical disabilities and Autistic people and people with a variety of disabilities tend to feel a lot safer when we know what to expect. This information can also be helpful to parents.

Bonus: goes against white supremacy culture’s sense of urgency and idea that progress is bigger, more.

6) Promote and talk about Disabled Artists in the way they want.

Disabled People are often multiply marginalized. Provide calls and opportunities for us.

Ask us what wording we would like you to use in your promotions. Don’t out us or use our disabilities as attention bait; take our lead. Often times the wording that communities use is different than what is used most in media. The wording used will be a cue to other Disabled People as to whether or not it is safe for us and really by and for us.

Avoid anything that positions Disabled People as inspirational or calls us or our work inspirational. It is a form of ableist dehumanization that positions our purpose in life as being an inspiration for nondisabled people.

Listen to us.

Ask the Disabled Artist how they identify themselves instead of assuming or telling them how they should. For example, I am Autistic. I am not a Person with Autism, because autism is my brain’s operating system. It is an integral part of me. I do not exist without autism. Some people do want Person with Autism to be used. By and large, though, person first language is not what most of the Disabled Community wants. It’s what nondisabled people decided to use to talk about us.

Stay in your lane and let us speak to ours.

Research what groups to work with. You want to work with groups run by Disabled People, not by their parents whenever possible. You want to make sure the group is actually helping and not harming. Don’t work with groups like Autism Speaks.

Bonus: goes against white supremacy culture’s idea of right to comfort and objectivity.

Together, we can make our Art Community better.

At the end of the day, things that help Disabled People help everyone!


What do you think?

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