If you are an arts and culture enthusiast living in or planning a visit to The Windy City, the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium is definitely worth checking out. It highlights over twenty Chicago-area cultural organizations with accessible offerings. We took a look at several and were excited by the creativity that these institutions have incorporated into their services to make their offerings more relevant, thoughtful, and accessible to all. Here are three of the organizations that stood out to us:
Shedd is at the top of our recommendation list because of their tech-savvy options for people with disabilities to more fully engage in the aquarium’s offerings. Here are a few examples of the cutting-edge work they are doing:
Sensory Friendly App
Designed for guests with autism and sensory processing disorders in mind, the app helps make Shedd more accessible to all guests. It offers videos explaining each exhibit, details about the temperature and the noise level throughout the aquarium, maps and improved communication tools. Users can also play games and create their own schedules on the app for their next visit. The app can also be translated into Spanish! You can download it from iTunes or Google Play.
Tactile models can be found throughout the aquarium. When touched, the model of a seahorse (seahorses exhibit in the Oceans gallery) or a penguin (Penguin Playscape in Polar Play Zone) plays back identifying information about that body part.
Shedd also encourages their patrons to utilize Aira. This free smartphone app can empower people who are blind or have low vision by connecting them with a highly trained sighted live agent through a video call. The agent will narrate what they see through your phone’s camera in 30-minute intervals. They can guide you through purchasing a souvenir, wayfinding to the nearest dining area, shop or restroom, describing the exhibits with details about the animals, signage and more. If you would like to continue beyond the allotted 30 minutes, you can call again for a new agent.
Lyric jumped into our top three recommendation list because of Lyric Unlimited; a division of the opera that offers education, community engagement, and artistic programs beyond the main stage programming.
Each year, Lyric Unlimited creates tremendous new work with and for the Chicago community. And when we say “community,” we really do mean everyone including public school students and teachers, grassroots organizations, seniors, people with disabilities, people who have never heard of opera and people who aspire to be opera stars.
In November 2019 (in less than a month!), they are presenting a new opera for young people, Earth to Kenzie. The main character and namesake, Kenzie, is a fifth grader “with asthma and a big imagination.” In true opera form, the storyline sounds like it will sweep audiences away on an emotional rollercoaster along with dreamy sets and costumes that are sure to captive audiences – all within the easy-to-sit-still-for time of 45 minutes!
We love Lyric Unlimited’s commitment to showcase multidimensional characters who have a range of abilities, income levels, talents and interests. If you’ll be in Chicago November 9th or 10th, you can buy $10-$20 tickets here. Otherwise, you can stay connected to their boundless offerings on the main Lyric Unlimited page.
Lyric also offers several accessibility options including services for patrons who have mobility disabilities, who are hard of hearing, and who are blind or have low vision.
One of their most accommodating services for those who are blind or have low vision is an Audio-Described Performance and Touch Tour. They offer this for at least one performance date of each of the operas and musicals in their season. Touch tours begin at noon and performances begin at 2pm.
Here are a few of the upcoming Audio-Described and Touch Tour Performances:
- The Barber of Seville Oct. 27, 2019
- Dead Man Walking Nov. 10. 2019
- Don Giovanni Nov. 17, 2019
- Three Queens Dec. 1, 2019
- Madame Butterfly Feb. 9, 2020
This event caught our attention because it is totally free (plus offers refreshments!) and is reserved specifically for children with special needs and their families. The preparation that goes into the event focuses on the autism spectrum and other sensory processing disorders as well as physical disabilities. It provides a time to experience the Museum in a calmer, less crowded environment (they cap the event at 300 attendees so registration is required). Some lighting and sound will be muted, and additional sensory activities and cool down spaces will be provided.
The next available Family Night Out is on Saturday, November 17 from 5:30-8pm. The event is completely free but registration is required and does sell out most months. Registration for the November event opens Monday, October 21 at noon.
As you will find on Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium’s website, these three institutions are just a sampling of the planning and innovation that many Chicago organizations have put into making their spaces engaging for all audiences. If you are able to experience these services or others, please share your feedback with us in the comments below.
To learn more about why it’s crucial to have inclusive design throughout our communities, read our previous post on The Importance of Inclusive Design.