Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Making Our Region's Arts Education More Accessible with Art-Reach and VSA Pennsylvania

Wrap Your Mind Around This
Adapting theatrical arts education to accommodate people with disabilities
August 10th

On Wednesday, August 10th, leaders from 11 area theatres and dance companies gathered at the Adrienne Theatre to participate in a workshop hosted by Art-Reach and VSA Pennsylvania. The goal of the workshop was to develop teaching methods that will make arts education in our region more accessible to people with varying developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Mimi Kenney Smith, Producing Artistic Director of Amaryllis Theatre and VSA Pennsylvania gave an engaging introduction to the world of accessible resources for theatres. She discussed the difference between open and closed captioning (do you know it?) and shared her experience with hiring and directing actors with disabilities. 

 Presenter William Pearce specializes in teaching arts to students with disabilities and while leading the day’s workshop, he shared insightful examples of how he has created a rich learning environment for students with ADHD, autism, physical disabilities and sensory disabilities. We discussed teaching models that will enable theatres in the Philadelphia region to better serve a class, camp or other program in which attendees have varying ability levels and needs. For example, a student with dyslexia may be able to memorize a script more easily if the colors are reversed to read white letters on a black page or if every other paragraph is highlighted.

In one exercise, participants were challenged to fold an origami frog using different sets of directions that were modified based on different disabilities that a student might have. In this photo, participants attempt to fold the paper without the ability to bend their left arm.

At lunch, Stephanie Carr, Managing Director of Pushcart Players in Verona, NJ presented a Children’s Theatre program for kids with autism run by Pushcart and Papermill Playhouse. Their program enabled audience members to “meet their seats” and get used to the theatre’s space before the performance. The performance itself featured consistent lighting and sound levels and kids in the audience were free to talk, sing along and leave their seats during it. Families were able to enjoy themselves without the usual worries about their child being upset or disrupting other patrons.

Participants share ideas and plan on how to implement inclusive teaching methods in their education programs. Maureen Sweeney, Director of Education at Philadelphia Theatre Company shares her experience and how she could adapt some of her activities to reach more students.

All in all, the day was inspiring and rewarding. We all walked away with a new understanding of what students with disabilities might need from our arts education programs, how to ask them or their parents, and what resources can help us make these changes.

Art-Reach thanks the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation for their support of this project and the cultural organizations partnering with us to make Arts Education more accessible for all students.