As I mentioned in my first piece for ADA Awareness Month, I recently attended an ADA Plan training session facilitated by John McEwen and Robert Carr of the Cultural Access Network Project. John and Robert are passionate about helping New Jersey’s cultural organizations make their programs accessible to everybody. Robert generously agreed to answer some questions about the work of CAN and about the importance of accessibility for all. He asked John to field the last question. Thank you Robert and John!
-Teresa Carson, Associate Publisher
What is the Cultural Access Network Project and why was it established?
The Cultural Access Network Project, established in 1992 is a co-sponsored program of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The Project provides a wide range of services and programs to assist theatres and cultural organizations in making their programs and facilities accessible to seniors and people with disabilities. It was created in response to the Americans with Disabilities Act signed into law in 1990.
It is comprised of a committee of arts administrators, advocates and professionals that are well versed in the field of accessibility.
Why is it important for NJ cultural organizations to make their programs and facilities accessible to seniors and individuals with disabilities?
According to the recent census, it is estimated that over 10% of NJ citizens identify themselves with having a disability. As organizations in the “audience business”, not to include this population in their audience development efforts makes little sense. Our population is aging and offering accommodation only ensures that this population will continue to consider attending the rich and wonderful programming our arts organizations offer.
Please give some examples of ways in which cultural organizations provide access to programs or services.
Many performing arts organization offer American Sign Language interpretation of plays and musicals as well as providing Open Captioning and Audio Description. Offering large print Programs are an easy way to accommodate those patrons with low vision. We have seen great examples in the visual art world whereby certain paintings in collection have been converted to raised line drawings for patrons who are blind to feel in order to get an idea of the content of the painting.
Have there been changes in technology that make it easier for organizations to provide access?
Technology in the access arena is developing rapidly. More and more technologies are being developed to harness the power of smartphones and other personal devices. The New Jersey Theatre Alliance purchases and loans Assistive Listening devices that work by transmitting an FM signal that is picked up by a personal receiver for use in either Audio Description or Volume Enhancement. I expect 3D printing technology to be a boon for Visual Arts organizations by offering samples of artwork and sculpture that may not be able to be handled directly but can be recreated by having the item be 3D printed as a facsimile.
How does the Cultural Access Network Project support cultural organizations in their efforts to make their programs and services accessible?
We offer a wealth of programs and services such as technical assistance workshops, sensitivity training and equipment loan to aid organizations as they develop their access efforts. We also administer in partnership with the NJ State Arts Council, the collection and evaluation of ADA plans that are a part of the Arts Council grant requirement.
How long have you been involved with the Cultural Access Network Project? What changes, particularly in how cultural organizations approach accessibility, have you seen since you began?
I am currently entering my 10th year of work with the Cultural Access Network. The greatest change I have witnessed is the growing sense of priority in the arts field. More and more organizations are “getting on board” with this work.
Please describe your vision for the future of the Cultural Access Network Project.
I would defer this question to the Founder and Chairman of the Cultural Access Network and Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, John McEwen. I have asked him to answer this one.
As a result of the work of The Cultural Access Network Project, I see a future where every cultural organization in New Jersey has an understanding and commitment to making its programs, services and facilities accessible to all patrons. In addition, I envision organizations, large and small, designing innovative programs to ensure a wide range of constituents, including older adults and people with disabilities, can enjoy and participate in the arts with dignity and independence.
About Robert Carr
Robert is a life-long resident of New Jersey, a spectacular cook and a seasoned veteran in the arts community. Since 2005, Robert has served as Director of Programs and Services/ADA Coordinator for the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, the award winning service organization for NJ’s professional theatres. Previously, Bob served as General Manager for the 12 Miles West Theatre Company. He called Playwrights Theatre home from 1998 to 2004 and in his professional career has worn many hats as producer, actor, director and teaching artist. He has also served on the faculty of New Jersey School of Dramatic Arts in Bloomfield. As a performer he has worked in many of the Alliance’s member theatres including 12 Miles West, The Bickford Theatre, The Growing Stage; The Children’s Theatre of NJ, Luna Stage Company and Playwrights Theatre. Carr is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and is a proud member of Actors Equity Association. Robert is husband to Stephanie and father to Sabrina.