What does Access to Culture Imply?

Definition: Accessible, adjective: 1. Easily approached or entered. 2. Easily obtained 3. Easy to talk to or get along with 4. Easily swayed or influenced. 

Accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the “ability to access” and benefit from some system or entity. The concept often focuses on persons with disabilities and their right of access, enabling the use of assistive technology (see: UNCRPD).

Barriers to Accessibility

The consensus or generic idea of what accessibility implies is seen from the perspective of reducing barriers to accessibility. These are physical and socio-psychological barriers that hinder or inhibit persons living with disabilities to fully participate in society.

We have now reached a stage where governments of the world are paying attention to these barriers – in the architectural, digital and social domains – and taking steps to ensure that accessibility becomes the primary, default step while conceptualizing spaces, geography and navigation.

The global Disability Rights Movements that mushroomed in the last three decades has shifted the focus from looking at disability as a medical paradigm to reframing it in the sociopolitical context of exclusion and rights.

The rights-based approach guarantees that legal provisions and mandates are in place, be it in education, healthcare, financial services, employment or leisure, ensuring a least common denominator of requirements are available for not just persons with disabilities, but for people of all abilities.

Right to Leisure

In this context, when we talk about the basic elements required to pursue a good life, does society (public, legal institutions, governments, corporations) place leisure and fun last on the Hierarchy of Needs? Do we tend to focus rather exclusively on making available food, shelter, education, and employment at the cost of play, relaxation and outings?

Is it assumed that persons with disabilities have much more pressing concerns to grapple with and so entertainment, visit to museums, art galleries, heritage sites, gardens and amusement parks are not priority areas for discussing inclusive policies?

We see the same argument especially applicable in development work or international aid, where donors say that they are ready to fund a school or a hospital, but not a theatre, playground or cultural space for performance or art as these are not crucial to development or GDP.

Mandates of CRPD Article 30

Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities puts the spotlight on this very assumption by highlighting the rights of the community towards Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.

The Article repeats that access to and participation in cultural avenues and spaces, including leisure, sports, playgrounds, as well as cultural materials, including television programs, films, theatre and other cultural activities must be made available in accessible formats.

In real terms, television programs need to be telecast with captions so that the deaf and hard of hearing can understand serials and shows of any format (reality, fiction, game shows, music channels). This means that a live play (theatre) has provisions for captions on a digital screen above the stage, or sign language interpreters or a transcript of the play available. When it comes to watching movies in a cinema hall, every film needs to be captioned in the national language of the country it is being screened in.

When a person who is blind or Autistic or a wheelchair-user visits a museum, they should have the option of an accessible tour by having a guide or curator show her around.

Solutions for Cultural Access

The first step is to begin with providing access before we go around to perfecting it. With the advent of digital communication devices, the idea of providing accessible public and cultural spaces is becoming more acceptable and do-able. Consider for instance, a museum or art gallery. With a pre-recorded audio tour on a CD or mp3 player, a blind visitor can experience the exhibit optimally.

Braille signage also works and so would tactile exhibits where the user can touch the surfaces of a sculpture. But what if the exhibit on display is a book, or a painting or a piece of decorative furniture? Would mere description or touch help them “access” the object?

To what levels do we consider ‘accessibility’ of an object, a physical space or a program? In this sense, we understand that even with physical ‘access’ to a painting, the material still remains inaccessible.

Do we address this issue and if yes, how do we go about making every object, surface or event accessible?

Exploring Universal Design

Universal Design is a tricky business. At parks or playgrounds, we require not just wheelchair access, but also spaces where children of all abilities can freely explore natural environs, run, play, gather around, have relaxing corners and seating options.

Can architects, landscape designers and Public Works Department ensure playground and parks that cater to children who might be deaf-blind, or have motor disabilities as well as provide “regular” areas for children who want their swings, slides and see-saws? We are so used to seeing public spaces fit a certain cookie-cutter model that we haven’t yet developed an aesthetic for newer forms of play and leisure for the 21st century.

If accessibility has to be universal (and uniform?) and guaranteed for every person, how do we go about designing and co-creating spaces that are inclusive for everyone and are yet not sectioned off and discreet?

Reframing Perspectives

Newer forms of physical activities and newer conceptualizations of the idea of ‘play’ have to be designed and curated, crowd-sourced from the public. Did kids see a park and then decide to play catch-catch or did the game always exist and parks evolved as a response to that game?

A question that arises here: can culture be accessed only in institutionalized settings? Do people need to visit a museum or an art gallery in order to participate in a cultural activity? Aren’t parks and fairs also part of culture and therefore liable to the same discourse of shaping public sensibilities?

In this scenario, access has two meanings: physical access to a place, which we can address by improving physical infrastructure, and second, the politics of access: where institutions and government place museums and art galleries as pre-eminent to a local park or playground – the latter are neglected, where as the former receive endowments. Public parks and fairs are considered open spaces where there is no regulation.

You don’t have a curator guiding your sensibilities of what is high art and what is folk. There is no question of authorship or authority: who designed the landscape, who affixed the fountain, who created the marble statues, how are these relevant, why are these elements considered necessary for leisure? It’s time that we revisit these spaces from the point of view of access.

Concluding Note

What does access really mean when we talk about accessible culture? Is is physical access to a cultural space (a museum for instance), or are we referring to the aesthetics of access – where we democratize culture and make it available beyond institutional settings (in a subway, restaurant or playground).

I would love to hear from our readers. When you enter a park, art gallery, museum, or historical site, do you find it accessible based on your physical and cognitive needs?

– Nilofar Haja (she/her) | Follow us on Twitter @a11yInMuseums.


Cultural, Sports and Leisure Activities for Persons with Disabilities

Via: Source – International Online Resource Centre on Disability and Inclusion

Cultural, sports and leisure (CSL) activities are very important for achieving the inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities in all communities around the world. CSL can also include sports and adapted physical activities which are non-competitive and which promote movement and well-being.

Of course activities will vary from one context to another, but in all cases, CSL can greatly facilitate social cohesion within communities. When people with disabilities are able to participate fully in CSL activities this can greatly improve self-confidence, a sense of belonging and empowerment, and physical and psychological well-being. Inclusive CSL also benefits society at large through the unique expression of disability arts and culture such as street theatre, wheelchair dancing, poetry and short stories about disability. Disability arts and culture activities often not only express the history of the oppression of people with disabilities but also offer suggestions on how society can move forward.

The participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport is supported by Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This key list presents tools that promote the inclusion and expression of people with disabilities through CSL activities, and highlights specific sports and adapted physical activities which are popular in many parts of the world.

Related Resources

Title: Count me in: a guide to inclusive physical activity, sport and leisure for children with a disability (2006)
Mike Van Ed Lent
Summary: This guide explores the inclusion of children with disability into mainstream physical activity, sports and leisure
Download free PDF: http://www.inclusivesports.org/education/Countmein.pdf

Title: Flourishing through leisure model : an ecological extension of the leisure and well-being model
Lynn Anderson, Linda Heyne
Summary: This resource provides handouts highlighting theories, approaches, strategies and activities related to leisure and well-being
Download free PDF: http://colfax.cortland.edu/nysirrc/articles-handouts/NYSRPS%20Planning%20Handout.pdf

Title: Playgrounds for all children
Author: David Werner
Summary: This chapter presents information about how to involve local people in building low-cost rehabilitation playgrounds that should be built for use by all children, both disabled and non-disabled. Examples of playgrounds and equipment are provided
Download free PDF: http://hesperian.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/en_dvc_2009/en_dvc_2009_46.pdf

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Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Cultural Life: UN CRPD

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol was adopted on 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and was opened for signature on 30 March 2007. There were 82 signatories to the Convention, 44 signatories to the Optional Protocol, and 1 ratification of the Convention. This is the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. It is the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century and is the first human rights convention to be open for signature by regional integration organizations. The Convention entered into force in May 2008.

The Convention follows decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects”  of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.

The Convention is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension. It adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made for persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights and areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced.

The Convention was negotiated during eight sessions of an Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly from 2002 to 2006, making it  the fastest negotiated human rights treaty.

Article 30 – Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport

1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to take part on an equal basis with others in cultural life, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities:

a) Enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats;

b) Enjoy access to television programmes, films, theatre and other cultural activities, in accessible formats;

c) Enjoy access to places for cultural performances or services, such as theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries and tourism services, and, as far as possible, enjoy access to monuments and sites of national cultural importance.

2. States Parties shall take appropriate measures to enable persons with disabilities to have the opportunity to develop and utilize their creative, artistic and intellectual potential, not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society.

3. States Parties shall take all appropriate steps, in accordance with international law, to ensure that laws protecting intellectual property rights do not constitute an unreasonable or discriminatory barrier to access by persons with disabilities to cultural materials.

4. Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.

5. With a view to enabling persons with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others in recreational, leisure and sporting activities, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:

a) To encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels;

b) To ensure that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to organize, develop and participate in disability-specific sporting and recreational activities and, to this end, encourage the provision, on an equal basis with others, of appropriate instruction, training and resources;

c) To ensure that persons with disabilities have access to sporting, recreational and tourism venues;

d) To ensure that children with disabilities have equal access with other children to participation in play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities, including those activities in the school system.

Source: UN Org

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