December 2022 Accessibility Corner Blog: Need to Know: Accessibility & Legal Measures for Arts and Cultural Entities

Welcome All: Ensuring Accessibility Under the ADA

Paperwork entitled 'ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act" on a desktop next to a keyboard, notebook, and reading glasses

Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act can be daunting.

Don’t know where to start or what is readily achievable? Read this month's AC blog and attend our upcoming webinar

Thirty-two years ago, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. This historic civil rights law protects the rights of people with disabilities. This law, among several purposes, set out “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for eliminating discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” We have just scratched the surface of this legislation's impact on creating full access for people with disabilities.

Who is Protected?

To be protected under the ADA, a person needs to meet the ADA’s definition of disability and be “qualified.” The definition of disability has three parts. A person only has to meet one of the parts to be covered, and this applies to a person who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • has a history or record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more major life activities
  • is regarded as having an impairment, whether the person has the impairment or not.

Protections under the ADA are afforded to qualified individuals with disabilities. For determining participation in programs, services, and activities, a person is qualified if they meet the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or participation in programs. The definition of “qualified” has two forms:

  • For employment purposes, a person is qualified if the person can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • The "essential eligibility requirements" for participation in many activities are minimal.
    • Most public entities provide information about their programs, activities, and services upon request. In such situations, the only "eligibility requirement" for receipt of such information would be to request it.
    • Under other circumstances, the "essential eligibility requirements" may be more specific.

What does this mean for CCI grantees?

Accessibility means all who want to participate can, including people living with disabilities. The ADA touches on many ways citizens across Colorado participate in, experience, and enjoy the arts - from thinking through the accommodations of a performance space to building a creative aging curriculum or broadcasting a live show. At Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), we recognize that ensuring “accessibility” across the state is ongoing work.

CCI is committed to educating and amplifying creative entities providing access to people with visible and invisible disabilities. CCI  grantees are contractually committed to abiding by state and federal regulations that bar discrimination based on race, gender, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation, which require accessibility for persons with disabilities.

CCI grantees and partners are expected to be in compliance with the following:

Public Accommodation

The creative sector (specifically arts/cultural organizations) is generally covered under the “public accommodations” section of the ADA. Title III (Place Of Public Accommodation).  Title III prohibits discrimination based on disability by public accommodations and requires places of public accommodation and commercial facilities to be designed, constructed, as well as altered in compliance with the ADA accessibility standards.

  • A “public accommodation” is any institution or private business offering goods and services to the public.
  • If you offer anything to the public, you are required to provide equal access to what you offer.
  • This checklist is intended to assist public accommodations as the first step in the planning process for readily achievable barrier removal.

Program Accessibility

Program accessibility is a fundamental principle of Title II of the ADA. State and local governments must ensure that services, programs, and activities are accessible to people with disabilities when viewed in their entirety. It is part of public entities’ program accessibility obligations.

  • Title II of the ADA states: “A public entity shall operate each service, program, or activity so that the service, program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.” [28 CFR § 35.150 (a)]
  • Title II applies to all state and local departments, agencies, special purpose districts, and other public entities. All aspects of their operations – including facilities, practices, policies, procedures, and communications – are subject to program accessibility requirements.
  • This includes participants, visitors, staff, patrons, and artists, along with their friends and families.

Program accessibility methods

There are several methods for providing program accessibility that does not require making every existing facility accessible:

Structural methods include altering existing facilities and acquiring or constructing additional facilities. 

Title II requirements state that a public entity is not necessarily required to:

  • Make every existing facility accessible;
  • Take any action that would threaten or destroy the historical significance of a historic property;
  • Take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the program, service, or activity;
  • Take any action that would result in an undue financial and administrative burden.

Non-structural methods include redesigning equipment, assigning aides to assist individuals seeking services, and providing services at alternative accessible sites. 

There are specific guidelines and regulations related to the number of people and the kind of equipment necessary.

This Handbook represents an update of the Arts Endowment’s “The Arts and 504” (1992) with additional information from the 700-page “Design for Accessibility: An Arts Administrator’s Guide” produced by the Arts Endowment and NASAA in 1994. This resource will help you comply with Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act and make access an integral part of your organization’s planning, mission, programs, outreach, meetings, budget, and staffing.

List of Resources

CCI staff has compiled this list of reliable resources and information for those who have questions about making their facilities, programs, and services accessible to people living with diverse disabilities.

It is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but it may assist in understanding obligations to comply with accessibility and nondiscrimination laws and mandates.

In closing, all entities who provide services/programs to the public must understand the legal/tax ramifications and readily achievable barriers for removal under the ADA, in the least to avoid violations and/or a lawsuit. CCI encourages our grantees, partners, and constituents to go beyond the basic legal requirements.

Creating an accessible experience means fully reaching the organization's mission, greater participation, and increased revenue. Programs and activities are more welcoming and inclusive when they engage a broad spectrum of people in integrated settings that provide equal, effective, and enjoyable arts experiences for all.

Learn More

Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act can be daunting. Don’t know where to start or what is readily achievable?

Join us for the upcoming CCI webinar on “Welcoming All: Accessibility & Legal Measures for Arts and Cultural entities” by Rocky Mountain ADA on January 25th from 11:30 to 12:45 pm.  This webinar will provide a brief overview of the ADA as it relates to providing opportunities for patrons with disabilities to access the rich and diverse creative programming across the state.

The agenda will include the purpose and spirit of Title II and  III and detailed information on compliance for arts/cultural entities. Including clarification on such terms as ‘reasonable accommodations, ‘program accessibility, ' 'undue burden,' and self-site evaluations under readily achievable barrier removal.

Free and open to all! Sign up here to secure your spot.


Accessibility Corner Blog Purpose Statement: Colorado Creative Industries is committed to amplifying, catalyzing, and partnering with organizations creating access and services for people with visible and invisible disabilities from all walks of life who reside in or visit the state. For questions or additional information, contact CCI's 504/ADA Coordinator, Marcie Gantz, at Click here to view previous CCI webinars and here to review past Accessibility blog content.

Special thanks to CCI Accessibility Corner blog contributors & staff. Tess Stanton/ADA Rocky Mountain, Marcie Moore Gantz, Sarah Harrison, and Emma Acheson from CCI/OEDIT.