August Accessibility Corner Blog - Accessibility, Advocacy, and the Arts

August Accessibility Corner Blog - Accessibility, Advocacy, and the Arts

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed thirty two years ago on July 26th, 1900. In honor of this achievement, we are examining how the fields of accessibility, advocacy, and the arts intersect. 

There are two ways to think about the intersection of these subjects:

  1. How the arts have been used for accessibility advocacy
  2. How advocacy can increase accessibility in the arts

This brief introduction to the subject will discuss how to engage in advocacy as individuals, organizations, and institutions.


What is Advocacy?

Advocacy can be defined as “the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support” (Source). Many people think of advocacy as lobbying but many different kinds of action fall under the definition of advocacy. Advocacy can include: organizing, educating the general public, educating legislators, organizing rallies, litigation, lobbying, and more.

Advocating for Accessibility

There are many ways people can advocate for accessibility as an individual, including advocating for new laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities or advocating for organizations to comply with existing laws. We do first want to acknowledge that often compliance requires individuals with disabilities to take legal action, which not everyone can do. The onus shouldn’t be on the people with disabilities to make that shift. It is important that people with and without disabilities work together to make positive changes that go beyond mere ‘compliance’. 

Riva Lehrer, an artist who lives with spina bifida, described her experience with advocacy work: 

“The problem with disability advocacy means not just getting people to do attitudinal shifts, but to literally make structural shifts—putting aside money for building accessibility, presentations, for ASL [American Sign Language] and whatever other accommodations are needed,” Lehrer said. “It would be great if it was just about getting people to perceive differently but you’re asking for a lot more if you’re really asking for equity.” (Source)

our cocentric circles are in the center. The circles are labled from inside to outside as internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and ideological. An arrow labled "pathway to oppression" shows that oppression happens from the outside in - starting with ideology, then institutions, then interpersonal relationships, until the oppression is internalized. The arrow labeled "pathway fo liberation" goes from the inside of the diagram out. Liberation comes from removing internalized oppression.


There is a lot of work to do to reach equity. If oppression comes from external forces, then positive change comes from the inside out. The path to liberation starts with undoing internalized oppression, then making changes in interpersonal relationships. After that, change happens at the institutional level until finally the change is so pervasive that our culture’s ideology has shifted. A larger version of the diagram can be viewed here.

How Individuals Can Advocate for Accessibility Through Art & Other Mediums

The arts have a long history of being at the forefront of a variety of advocacy movements. The arts share messages in creative, compelling, and memorable ways. These pieces often educate people, cultivate empathy, raise awareness, and spark dialogue. Any kind of art can be mobilized to advocate for any group or cause to the public and key decision-makers. (For historic examples of advocacy through art, check out the New York Times article The 25 Most Influential Works of American Protest Art Since World War II.)

When creating art/works to advocate for accessibility, think through the following questions:

  1. The phrase “Nothing About Us, Without Us” (made prominent by author James Charlton) “express[es] the conviction of people with disabilities that they know what is best for them” (Source). Whether you are advocating for accessibility or another cause, no advocacy for a policy or group “should be decided without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy” (Source). If you do not belong to the group(s) affected by the policy you are supporting, be sure to collaborate and speak with people who may be affected by it. (For example, our Accessibility Corner features are sent to our “brain trust” of artists with disabilities and accessibility advocates to review each month before publishing.)
  2. Define the issue you want to address. Research it and see what other kinds of work people are doing in the field.
  3. Define your target audience: Who are they and how might you reach them? 
  4. Define your goal: Are you looking to educate? Raise awareness? Start a dialogue? Pass legislation, or something else?
  5. Are there any unique angles or approaches that might be more effective with your audience? Here are a couple of options that different people or organizations might find compelling when advocating for a policy:
    • Narrative - Tell a story to illustrate the importance of the issue and cultivate empathy. This can be written, visual, or through performance. (Please be careful to not fall into stereotypical narratives around disability. If you are sharing someone else’s story, get their consent and have conversations with them about how they want to be portrayed.)
    • Data - Use statistics and quantitative data to show why your solution is effective. 
    • Ask Questions - Start a conversation with your art piece. Creating thought-provoking art can start a dialogue where you can promote your cause.
    • Business Case - Show how adopting this new policy could benefit someone’s business in terms of the bottom line, efficiency, morale, etc.
    • Showcase Examples of Past Successful Policies: Your work can educate people about previous situations where the change you want to create was implemented and led to a successful result.
    • Be creative! - Try something new! Creativity is a strength in this field because it presents potentially familiar ideas in a new and memorable way.
  6. What are different ways you can use your preferred artistic medium to convey a message? Please think of ways your artwork can be made accessible to people with a wide range of abilities. 
  7. As you continue to do this work, please keep your own wellbeing in mind. The Commons Social Change Library has an excellent article on 10 Resources for Activist Wellbeing.


How Organizations Can Advocate for Accessibility

In addition to raising awareness, educating people, and following accessibility best practices, organizations can advocate for accessibility on a state-wide or national level. There are four different kinds of advocacy activities that nonprofit organizations can engage in: education, advocacy, lobbying, and electioneering. Americans for the Arts has an excellent guide on Education, Advocacy & Lobbying: 501(c)(3) Rules of the Road that clearly explains the rules and guidelines around these. For example, did you know that charitable nonprofits may spend up to 25% of their total allowable lobbying expenditures on grassroots lobbying? 

We also recommend checking out the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies’ practical guide to Advocacy vs. Lobbying. While this resource focuses on arts advocacy, the same rules generally apply to nonprofits engaged in any kind of advocacy.

Advocacy can also occur at the organizational level. Share information about accessibility with your colleagues, start discussions about how to go farther than just ‘compliance’, and implement best practices with your colleagues. If you want to assess your current accessibility, Access Gallery offers ADA site surveys and has recently started working with organizations on website accessibility.

Ways to Get Involved

If you want to get involved with accessibility advocacy in Colorado, we highly recommend reaching out to the following organizations: 

  • The Colorado Cross Disability Coalition
    • Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) is the premier organization in Colorado advocating for disability rights. Our mission is to advocate for social justice for people with all types of disabilities (what we call a cross-disability). Members consist of people with disabilities and our non-disabled allies (coworkers, employers, family members, friends, and neighbors), all working together to support disability rights.
  • Atlantis Community, Inc. 
    • They advocate at the individual and systems levels to promote positive change for the disability community. Individual advocacy focuses on increasing self-advocacy and promoting personal empowerment. Systems advocacy creates an awareness of the barriers that exist for people with disabilities and how those barriers can be removed at the local, state, and national levels.
    • ADAPT uses the tools of civil-disobedience and direct action with the guiding principles of intersectional justice, non-violence, respect and love to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom.

Continue the Conversation

CCI's Accessibility Corner is hosting a panel discussion on this subject on Monday, August 15th 2022 from 1:30 - 2:30 pm (MDT). We're honored to feature the following panelists: Dawn Russell (Atlantis Community Inc. and ADAPT), Kayln Heffernan (Wheelchair Sports Camp), and Josh Miller (IDEAS xLab). Sign up for the Accessibility, Advocacy, and the Arts Webinar today!