Accessible Arts CEO Morwenna Collett tells us about her recent attendance at the LEAD (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability) Conference, which is the leading national arts and accessibility conference in the USA.
Morwenna presented at the conference, which is run by the Kennedy Centre and was held from 8-10 August in Austin, Texas.
With approximately 450 delegates, 15 of which were international, the conference focused on a range of different content areas including access services and programs, built environment, customer service and staff training, organisational buy-in and planning, inclusion outreach and engagement, legal requirements, evaluation and research, technology and universal design. It catered to beginner, intermediate and advanced experience levels, and many attendees were access coordinators for state arts agencies or arts organisations and institutions.
Overall, conference delegates were welcoming and open to sharing ideas, tips and tricks. They were also open to sharing stories of what was not working as well as they would like, and where they needed to seek advice and learn from others, which was incredibly useful and honest. The conference focused on practical solutions and problem solving, resources, starting with the ‘low hanging fruit’ and having a holistic approach to access.
Many sessions addressed the Americans with Disabilities Act and the legal obligations of arts organisations, and other sessions focused on the broader inclusion and diversity agenda. Interestingly, the conference focused almost solely on audience access, with little mention of access for artists with disability and their work. This may be an area that LEAD wish to explore in partnership with other organisations in the future. While there was great geographic representation of delegates from across the country, the bulk of attendees were white, middle aged women without disability. A smaller number of people with (visible) disability appeared to be in attendance and it would be great to see even more in future years, so that delegates can learn from those with lived experience of disability.
Overall, the conference was very informative and provided a useful sense of what is happening in the USA right now, in relation to a wide range of access practices. The sessions on technology were of particular interest, as the potential for technology to improve the experience for audience members with disability is vast. Highlights included learning about virtual reality being used at the Smithsonian, augmented reality work with Aira and software being developed with Prime Access Consulting.
Moving to a different location each year, the next LEAD will be held in Atlanta in August 2018. For the first time in 2020, LEAD will be held outside of the USA in Dublin.
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