“In the conversation around equity, diversity, and accessibility and inclusion, we generally tend to leave people with disabilities out of that dialogue … or at least people tend to forget,” said Michelle Patrick. “I want to really push for bringing that back to the table and continuing to remind people that this is part of the conversation, too.”

Patrick is the community arts development specialist and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator for the Nevada Arts Council. Patrick is located in Las Vegas, but her position covers the entire state of Nevada. Her role includes helping art nonprofits with program development and grants. She also helps organizations comply with disability laws.

Do you feel like the pandemic raised more awareness for accessibility issues?

Oh, absolutely. Unfortunately, when there’s a big shift—culturally, socially—unfortunately those things tend to be monetized, politicized, racialized. I think it definitely made people stop and pause and think outside of their own experience and their own privilege. … I think that there’s still definitely room for improvement in terms of this dialogue as conversation and how we move forward with talking about accessibility.

We can continue to have conversations until we’re blue in the face, but until we actually start practicing these things, we’re just going to keep running in circles about what this looks like and what this means for everybody. … People just think that [only] someone who’s trained or certified should be dealing with someone who has a disability, but one in five Americans have someone in their family with a disability. … Over 60 million people identify in the U.S. as someone having a disability. I think that people just need to be OK with practicing and normalizing everybody into the conversation and not just making an observation from a distance.

Do you have any specific goals on that front?

We are looking at starting a statewide initiative that will specifically help arts organizations to review their venues and facilities to make their areas much more specific to people with disabilities, and to be aware of accommodating their needs as well. So whether that’s sensory friendly technology—in terms of helping people hear and see the programming—to just accessing information about the programming itself. We’re reviewing those things, as well as our website, to make sure that we’re not just providing information about accessibility, but that we’re also practicing it by reviewing how people get access to it.

We’re also going to continue the conversation about inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. We generally have a workshop titled “Ideas Through Reconciliation,” where we have constituents just come and meet in the middle. … Everybody comes to the table and just kind of dissects where their biases began. That helps to inform how they make decisions in programming, in hiring, and really within the arts. That workshop is going to be in Reno this fall. I think it’ll be a really good way to continue the conversation because my fear, and I think the agency’s fear, is that [biases] will just become this trend topic where people will get tired of talking about it. But we have to keep talking about it just so that people can recognize that … no one is immune from this.

This Q+A has been edited for length.

Posted by Charis Nixon

Charis Nixon is a former local news producer with a passion for Reno's arts community. She graduated from UNR's Reynolds School of Journalism with her BA in 2019, and she is preparing to attend UNLV for her MEd in curriculum and instruction in the fall.