In sessions about Open Access, artist and organizer Carmen Papalia works with participants from all departments and levels of management to reconsider their accessibility and public engagement practices toward the goal of a new, relational accessibility program that evolves with the culture of the institution. In one-on-one and small group activities, participants model trust and mutual support and consider their work in relation to the principles of Open Access. Sharing examples from his extensive work in the field, Papalia shows how the Open Access framework can be employed as a methodology for assessing the conditions of institutional access and publicness; inspiring a broad reframing of the ways that institutions engage those at the margins.
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A 2015 study by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs found that disabled constituents had the least representation within the cultural sector of any other minority group; research that informed “CreateNYC”, a 10-year cultural plan that referenced strategic initiatives in line with accessibility and disability inclusion. While still in its first year, the effort managed to inspire a number of cities in the US and Canada to follow suit and launch cultural plans that address inclusion in the cultural sector; revealing just how widespread barriers in the area of accessibility are at some of the most valued cultural institutions in the world.
In addition to highlighting a community’s limited access to platforms where they could claim visibility, represent themselves, and direct their narratives to the wider public, the study foregrounded just how easily a community’s limited influence within a space can nurture a culture of exclusion that can thrive alongside policy that aims to ensure equity. Sadly this trend of limited access for those with atypical bodies, minds, and behavior is not specific to the cultural sector alone; it is pervasive, one of the many reverberations from a tradition of ableism; a system of oppression that those in positions of power have relied on since there were hierarchies to enforce. But how can new accessibility initiatives account for the effects of ableism when the models that currently guide “best practices” focus on impairment-specific access accommodation?
The current model:
- Is employed through enforcement.
- Fails to meaningfully address subjective, complex and changing needs.
- Requires those who are seeking support to entrust a system with private interests with their overall care and well-being.
- Does not nurture mutual exchange across communities or between those in need of support and those with access to support-based resources.
- Does not account for the ongoing or systematic effects of ableism and its intersections with other forms of oppression.
- Does not address that barriers to access vary from context to context, change over time, and are different from each person’s point of view.
- Fails to recognize that oppression is ongoing and systematic and enforced by those in positions of power.