Disability Arts Panel at the White House

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Let me tell you about the Americans with Disabilities and the Arts panel held at the White House to celebrate Deaf and disabled artists and their achievements. It’s part of ongoing series of events all over to honor the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA.

Screen shot of a White House panel on disability arts showing various access features. Panelist represent different ethnicities, genders, ages, and disabilities.[Image Description: Screen shot of a White House panel on disability arts showing various access features. Panelists represent different ethnicities, genders, ages, and disabilities and Deaf.]

What I labeled in this picture are the following: A ramp onto the stage, an ASL interpreter onstage for Deaf audience (live and watching on YouTube), ASL interpreters in the audience to sign to the Deaf panelist and voice for audience when the Deaf panelist signs, Closed Captions for YouTube viewers, and Open Captions typed in real time and displayed on a screen for audience. Not too shabby, White House!

While I’ll admit I didn’t watch the whole thing due to my internet going down and then the streaming service going down and then getting very sleepy, what I saw and heard was a great panel. Nothing inspirational or brave or courageous. Nope. Pay disabled people as performers and content creators. Utilize technology and access. And perhaps one of my favorites, that being accessible is NOT is not the end goal. That what we want and need is to change minds and attitudes about disabled people toward respect and integration. One beautiful route to achieving that is making more space for disabled-made art and culture, making arts and culture accessible and inclusive for creators and audience members, and to take inclusion and integration for what they are, not burdens or expenses but ways in to enrich culture. While it might not have been the most radical or political panel, I did enjoy that there were a variety of political and social ideas about disability represented, none of which were about curing us, telling us to quit complaining, or laughing that our art is only good for therapy.

After the panel, Deaf West Theater did some pieces from “Spring Awakening” performed in English and signed language simultaneously. While not all Deaf audiences feel the production was done optimally during the times when hearing actors sign and voice simultaneously, it is a fantastic leap in the right direction. They’re honoring the richness of Deaf culture and the importance of valuing Deaf culture, language, and experiences. The cast includes Deaf and non-Deaf performers, including at least one who uses a wheelchair. Then, some of the Deaf and hearing performers of “Spring Awakening” had a moderated panel. They talked about breaking down the barriers that keep disabled people out of the media.

You can watch the entire presentation streaming anytime now. I hope that you will. Because this is such a great response to the non-disabled media makers who continually ask us disabled folks to maybe start working toward getting ourselves out there more. We are. Perhaps now that we’re representing at the White House you will take a minute to watch and enjoy! But don’t stop after this. Look up “disability art” and “disability media” and get ready for a great ride.