New initiatives open the arts to all

Letterkenny this week is home to three initiatives designed to improve access to the arts for people with disabilities.

Letterkenny this week is home to three initiatives designed to improve access to the arts for people with disabilities.

Altered Images, an accessible and interactive art exhibition, will be launched at 6.30 pm tomorrow at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny. Earlier this week, Arts and Disability Ireland (ADI) facilitated their first assisted theatrical production outside of Dublin, when the Fishamble Theatre Company brought Sebastian Barry’s “The Pride of Parnell Street” to An Grianán Theatre.

And also this week, ADI launched “Shift in Perspective: An Arts and Disability Resource Pack”, which offers people in the arts information on making performances, exhibitions and venues more accessible to people with disabilities.

“I’d like to see venues be more willing to take on issues of access,” said Pádraig Naughton, ADI director. The information pack details an extensive range of measures that venues could employ, from providing large-print documents to steps Pádraig referred to as “the Rolls Royce of access”, involving structural alterations.

As an example of some inexpensive steps, he said, some theatres bring visually impaired members of the audience into a green room before a performance and describe that evening’s production to them. Or they may provide scripts of upcoming plays to people who are hearing impaired, so that they can read the play in advance.

“They get more out of it when they are there,” Pádraig said.

Tuesday night’s production of “The Pride of Parnell Street” included a captioned and audio-described performance for people. ADI has been providing the service at the Abbey Theatre and other venues for five years, Tuesday marked the first time the group had facilitated the service outside Dublin.

The captions, which were shown on screens down the left and right sides of the An Grianán stage, appeared verbatim and at the same time as the actors’ speech.

The Shift in Perspective project is the result of a partnership between the Arts Council, ADI, Mayo County Council, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the South Tipperary County Council. The project has provided accessibility training and support to artists and art providers. The Altered Images exhibition, which opens at the Regional Cultural Centre tomorrow night, is also a product of the partnership.

In Altered Images, each painting is accompanied by a three-dimensional version that conveys the essence of the original. There are also mp3 players with audio descriptions of each work. Labels appear in large print and Braille, and a filmed performance offers a sign-language interpretation.

An earlier example of a similarly accessible exhibition made the work accessible for disabled people, said Damien O’Connor, arts officer with Mayo County Council. And “as it turned out, the general public went wild for it,” he said.

The success of the initiatives are “really dependent on audiences both asking for the service and using the service,” Pádraig said. “It is really important that people engage with their arts venues and have a dialogue with them.”

More information is available at the web site, Altered Images runs at the Regional Cultural Centre until June 25.

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