By Anne Smith
A few weeks ago, we received a call from Plymouth resident Sandy Spekman. She is new to the area, and wanted to know what accommodations South Shore Conservatory could make for someone with hearing loss (Sandy uses cochlear implant speech processors to hear.) We assured her we would have the lyrics printed for her so that she would know what the singers were saying.
After the concert Sandy shared her personal experience as an arts patron with hearing loss. She told me, “My husband and I moved from the NYC Metro area one year ago. In New York City there is more hearing accessibility (than in Massachusetts). Just as a person with mobility issues can’t access a building without a wheelchair ramp, I can’t access most cultural events without some kind of accommodation. You would never say to a person in a wheelchair that you can’t go into my facility. Yet, someone deaf or hard of hearing doesn’t have the same access to many arts organizations.
I am used to going to an organization’s website and looking up what kind of accessibility features they offer. When I went to the SSC website, I saw right away that you had an Access tab on the home page. I learned whom to contact to learn about what accommodations you could make available for me.
When I arrived at the concert tonight, I was given a set of lyric sheets. I was able to follow along with the lyrics as the performers sang. Hearing people take this all for granted! I can’t tell you what a joy it was to be able to laugh along at the humor in the songs, just like everyone else. Thank you for welcoming me and for making the concert accessible. I had a great time.”
This experience with Sandy was an exciting and pivotal moment in the life of this organization. We have spent the last two years thinking deeply about accessibility. Access to the arts is at the core of SSC’s mission: we have large Community Partnerships program and a flourishing Creative Arts Therapies department. Until recently, though, it never occurred to me what a large (and steadily growing) segment of our population requires accommodation in order to fully participate in the arts.
Last year, SSC was chosen to be a founding member of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s UP Inclusive Design Initiative. Through this year-long series of workshops, we learned to ask, “What more can we do to include and welcome people of all abilities?” across the full spectrum of our organization – classes and concerts, to development and marketing. The answer is, “So much more!”
The new “Access” tab on the home page of our website is the most visible sign of this culture shift. There, our friends can find information about the physical accessibility of our two campuses, watch “Social Story” videos introducing our programs, and learn who to contact for American Sign Language interpretation. We are also working on creating training manuals for our front-desk staff and volunteers, professional development sessions for our faculty, large-print programs for our friends with vision limitations at concerts, and (new this week!) arm chairs available for those with mobility issues at all events.
SSC has grown so much over the last 18 months, yet we still have a ways to go. Sandy had some valuable, constructive criticism for us that we welcomed whole-heartedly. Please, come visit us. Come to a concert. Sign up for a class. Tell us about your experience. Help us learn. Everyone is welcome at South Shore Conservatory!
Anne Smith is the South Shore Conservatory’s Director of Community Partnerships.