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Weaving Access into Community Building

Charles G. Baldwin, Program Officer

The Universal Participation Initiative 2022

Michael is seen in his chair on the right side of the photo reaching left through a metal gate to touch the bowed head of a cow. Erin is tucked close behind him. Both are wearing winter garb, the sun is shining on their faces, and they are both smiling.
Michael and Erin at Drumlin Farm. (Photo: Mass Audubon)

This year’s Universal Participation (UP) Initiative kicked off in January with a virtual event announcing the FY22 UP Designated Organizations and introducing the cohort for the FY22 Innovation and Learning Network.

To acknowledge the access work being done by cultural institutions across Massachusetts, the UP Initiative is creating a community of practice that highlights ambitions in the field, provides grants for innovative solutions, and offers stipends for professional development.

UP Designation is for organizations demonstrating inclusive practices. Congrats to the FY22 UP Designated organizations:

The UP Innovation and Learning Network (ILN) is an educational opportunity provided by Mass Cultural Council which includes a stipend for staff time; a series of learning workshops in design principles, legislative compliance, policy development, and engagement strategies; a user/expert consultation; and a website audit by the National Center for Accessible Media. Upon completion of the ILN, organizations receive UP Designation.

Organizations participating in the FY22 Innovation and Learning Network include:

At the January kickoff, Monique Holt from Gallaudet University delivered a keynote on designing access into theatrical productions. Karen Krolak and Nicole Harris from Monkeyhouse in Malden shared dance videos produced for NACHMO 21 (National Choreographers Month) with live audio descriptions for the videos provided by Gamalia Pharms and Andrea Doane. A wonderful example of audio description was recorded during the event:

During the event several participants also provided calls to action around universal participation: 

Cheryl Cumings – Executive Director, Our Space our Place

“We want to encourage you to take full advantage of the time you have here in the UP program to go ahead and ask the questions. It is important to take the time to learn and this is where the hard work starts. Reach out to people you know. Reach out to people you don’t.  And I say to you, be bold, be creative!”

Christopher Robinson – BU Outreach & Training Coordinator with Disability & Access Services, Access Advocate, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Access Consultant, Boston Landmarks Orchestra

“We enter the learning space together and we say, “What’s UP?” We ask you to speak UP, but know when it is time to shut UP and listen
. Step UP and into this work but be sure you do not beat UP on another. Avoid arrogance as we share space and time, add some “humility” to keep UP.”

Nicole Agois – Managing Director of Open Door Arts

“We cannot allow the liberation of disabled people to be boiled down to logistics. We must understand and practice accessibility that moves us closer to justice, not just inclusion or diversity. So hold that with you. Disability justice calls for interdependence, and that includes nondisabled allies. As long as you are deeply aware of your responsibilities and committed to your role on this journey, then in partnership, and in solidarity, I leave you with “Access is Love.”

The Innovation and Learning Network meets each Tuesday through May 12. Applications into the ILN are accepted annually.  

UP Initiative office hours are open to the public and occur weekly on Thursday mornings at 9am.

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