By Jim Speirs, Executive Director, Arts South Dakota
We all know about the power of the arts to change lives—my own life as a performer and arts advocate has created opportunity, forged friendships and shaped my personality. The arts lift us, transform us, save us—but are we doing all we can to ensure that the power of the arts is available to people of all abilities across South Dakota?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a major step towards physical and programmatic accessibility for differently abled people in our country. But somehow, although 25% of all Americans live with some form of disability, this community is represented in just 3% of film, television and media. While we’re making our concert halls and art galleries accessible to everyone, are we making our planning committees, governing boards and program-building groups open to input from people of all abilities in our communities?
We need to not just include people of all abilities, but also welcome everyone. Open doors provide learning and growing for all people, and sharing arts experiences—as well as planning and creating those arts experiences—builds community in exciting new ways.
Most of all, our approach to inclusion and accessibility must be intentional. That means factoring all-ability programming and participation into our community and organizational planning from the beginning—and making sure that there is a place in the budget for the unexpected extras that true accessibility requires. Listening to everyone, including the 176,000 South Dakotans who live with some form of disability, should be part of our missions as arts providers and arts advocates.
Arts South Dakota has recently been part of three webinars on accessibility, from the national perspective, the state perspective and the personal, welcoming, human perspective. You can view these thought-provoking webinars on our website, artssouthdakota.org/webinars. Please check them out to learn more about the dramatic work being done to share the arts with people of all abilities here in South Dakota.