Making the Arts Accessible to All

 Shane dittmar at Blind Idol Semifinals

Shane dittmar at Blind Idol Semifinals

By Carol Wills
Photos courtesy of Arts Access

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Arts Access began in 1984 with a few individuals who were convinced that enjoying and participating in the arts should be made possible for everyone—including people with disabilities such as autism, blindness, or physical challenges. Betsy Ludwig, who has worked with Arts Access for nine years and has been the executive director for the past four years, describes it as the only nonprofit in North Carolina dedicated to making the arts accessible to everyone, and it is currently serving more than 1,600 people annually.
    “We are the only organization in the Triangle to offer audio description (AD),” says Ludwig. AD is a narration service for individuals who are blind or have low vision. The audio describer provides an ongoing description of the visual elements or action taking place on the stage or screen. The patron using this service wears an ear piece, so they can hear the describer explain the visual elements and be able to more fully enjoy a performing arts event.
    “We do not narrow our mission or work to any one disability, age, or art form,” Ludwig explains. “Organizations like Raleigh Little Theater, CAM Raleigh, VAE, N.C. Museum of Art, and many others partake in our workshops and training to better include children and adults with disabilities in their programs. When you make things accessible, you make them better for everybody.”
    Another service and outreach effort of Arts Access is the annual spring artist series “A Series of Fortunate Events,” where the organization hosts talent showcases featuring artists with disabilities in various fields such as visual art, music, theater, and film.
    Shane Dittmar, who was one of 52 artists participating in last year’s SOFE, is a perfect example of someone who has navigated the issue of a visual impairment to create a career in the arts. Although legally blind, Dittmar, a 24-year-old music educator and composer, is also a vocalist and has sung with numerous choral groups. He has worked extensively in musical theater, including as a composer and music director for Raleigh Little Theater and throughout the Triangle.
    “Music and theatre have changed my life and defined who I am, but my blindness often makes seeing shows or finding opportunities harder,” Dittmar says. “Art Access’ work helps to level the playing field for me, for my students, and for everyone.”

Tickets, sponsorship opportunities, and event information can be found at FortunateEvents.org or by calling 919.833.9919.