Art audio descriptions are latest project for nonprofit Arts Access

sbarr@newsobserver.comMarch 18, 2014 

Debbie Hippler describes “Red Bird,” a sculpture in Fletcher Park by Harry McDaniel, to Will Miller. The city soon will have audio descriptions for a dozen artworks available by phone and online.


  • If you go

    What: Arts Access 30th Anniversary Celebration

    Where: CAM Raleigh, 409 W. Martin St.

    When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

    Cost: $25

    For more information and to order tickets, visit

  • Audio Descriptions

    The following pieces will feature audio descriptions in the coming months:

    “Pas de Chat” at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts; “Sir Walter Raleigh” at the Raleigh Convention Center; “Cree Shimmer Wall” at the Raleigh Convention Center; “Light Towers” at City Plaza; “Acorn” at Moore Square; “Open Circle” at Moore Square; “Hedron” at Municipal Building Grounds; “Toy Defense” at Pullen Arts Center; “Immigrant Gate” at Millbrook Exchange Park; “Red Bird” at Fletcher Park; “Wilder’s Grove Project” at Wilder’s Grove Solid Waste Facility

— A dozen art installations throughout the city soon will be more accessible to people who have limited vision or are blind.

Arts Access Inc., a nonprofit that works to help those with disabilities experience the visual and performing arts, is collaborating with the city to record audio descriptions for the sculptures and murals.

The detailed explanations will describe the size, materials and shape of the art and provide other information about the artist or area and will be accessible by telephone or online.

Will Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Statewide Independent Living Council, is blind and said audio descriptions are very helpful, in part because they allow his friends and family to focus on enjoying the visit with him, not explaining the art they’re viewing.

“When you have that professional description it’s often better than what you would get from someone who’s not trained,” he said. “But it’s also a more enjoyable experience for everyone.”

The audio description project is the kind that Arts Access has been committed to since it launched in the early 1980s. The organization is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, including with a party Thursday at CAM.

Betsy Ludwig, program director at Arts Access, said the nonprofit works as a bridge, by advocating for arts patrons with disabilities and helping arts organizations understand the responsibilities and opportunities associated with that community.

The group provides information and referrals, training for arts organizations and live audio narration at performances.

“We’re proud of the impact we’ve made on Raleigh, but we know we can do more,” she said.

Elaine Lorber, one of the founder’s of Arts Access, said the organization grew out of a survey the city did that showed people with disabilities faced significant barriers to participation in the arts.

“They were being practically ignored,” she said.

Lorber said many arts organizations were receptive to the ideas Arts Access had but couldn’t fathom how to implement them. Slowly though, the organizations realized what they could do.

Many things have changed during the past 30 years to make the arts more accessible, including a move away from institutionalization of people with disabilities, passage of the Americans with Disabilities Acts, and increasing advocacy by people with disabilities themselves, said Ludwig.

But there’s still much to be done, including maintaining existing services, improving downtown accessibility at events and preparing for a wave of baby boomers that may acquire disabilities as they age.

Arts Access plans to be there as a resource, offering a voice to those with disabilities and both a carrot and stick to nudge arts organizations along.

“This is the right thing to do and you can call me, and I’ll help you,” said Ludwig. “But if you do it wrong, I’m going to call you and bug you.”

Barr: 919-836-495

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