Lincoln Center: Going All Out to Let Everybody In

By The Slatin Group

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has long been recognized as a pioneer in making its world-leading arts organizations and venues accessible to all comers. This spirit is evident in programs such as an array of guided tours for people with disabilities. The adaptive tours can include American Sign Language interpretation, assistive listening devices, touch and verbal description and other sensory aids. Lincoln Center suggests that reservations for these be made three weeks in advance. For those who would rather check out the Center at their leisure, download the handy campus accessibility guide (PDF) and start exploring.

Luckily, Lincoln Center isn’t content to stay with the status quo. As one of NYC’s cultural gems—comprising more than 30 performance spaces and 11 different organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and New York City Ballet—it draws on feedback from existing accessibility programs to broaden its offerings and form new pathways to the arts for patrons. The accessibility office, part of its guest services department, recently launched two programs that “are a direct result of the perspectives we have learned from our visitors,” says Miranda Appelbaum, assistant director of accessibility and guest services. The first of these is Lincoln Center Moments, a performance-based program created for people with dementia and their caregivers.

We strive to make sure anyone interested in the arts can fully participate.

Associates with the guest services program observed that those with dementia became less able to attend evening performances as their disease progressed. In response, Lincoln Center designed an intimate afternoon concert program followed by an art- and music-making workshop, providing a social setting in which patrons can reflect on the performance they have just enjoyed. The events are free, but reservations are required. Email access@lincolncenter.org or call 212-875-5375.

Lincoln Center’s Passport to the Arts Program targets potential fans at the other end of the age spectrum. The service not only makes it easier for children with disabilities and their families to experience the performing arts (and at no cost to them), it also continues to support arts exposure for youths as they progress toward adulthood. “We noticed that there are fewer engaging programs for teens and young adults than for children,” Appelbaum explains. “So we expanded our offerings to this age group by adding new workshops and performances to the Passport Program, and we started a new program to assist in preparing teenagers for the transition to adulthood.” The Access Ambassador Initiative provides job training to high school students with developmental disabilities, allowing them to learn skills for front-of-house work and increasing awareness of occupations in the performing arts.

Other entertainment options for visitors include the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which provides captioning devices and audio description for films where available, and Lincoln Center Theater and the Lincoln Center Festival, which offer captioning, audio description and sign language for select performances. Some of the organizations at Lincoln Center also showcase relaxed and adaptive programs, and many of the venues on campus have headphones and earplugs for audiences with sensory sensitivities.

The main thrust of Lincoln Center’s accessibility programming is that its entire performance calendar is available for all to enjoy, in venues that are accessible and equipped with appropriate aids, including induction hearing loops at two theaters, assistive listening devices, wheelchair rental and seating, and—perhaps most important of all—a well-trained and -informed staff. Upcoming on July 11, the organization will present a performance of Opening Skinner's Box, a theatrical exploration of the 20th century's great psychological experiments, with live audio description for guests who are blind or have low vision, along with complementary single earpiece receivers.

“We strive to make sure anyone interested in the arts can fully participate,” Appelbaum says. “Lincoln Center is driven by the knowledge that the arts have a profound power to connect us, to inspire us and to create new understandings of the world around us. We hope that the performances on our stages impact the lives of all of our guests.”

To learn more about Lincoln Center and its accessibility programs, visit lincolncenter.org.

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