Braille Monitor                         July 2021

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Creating Access in the Arts and Beyond

by Precious Perez

Precious PerezFrom the Editor: Precious is currently the president of the National Federation of the Blind’s Massachusetts Student Division and a board member of the National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division. She is also a tenBroek Scholarship winner, meaning she has been acknowledged twice by the NFB for her academic accomplishments, leadership, and willingness to make a difference in the world. She will do her student teaching in the fall and will graduate in December prepared to teach music and performance. Here is what she says about taking the initiative to get an internship and making it all it could be:

I first encountered Mark Degarmo Dance through the Berklee Career Manager in the fall of 2020. At the time they had posted a full-time community engagement internship position for school credit, and I thought it could be a great experience. I applied then, but didn't have as much availability as I knew they would have wanted. I saw the job posted again, this time listed as a ten-hour position in December of last year. I knew an internship would be really helpful with my credits, and I wanted to gain new experience in the nonprofit sector within an arts discipline I was always interested in—dance.

I got a part-time teaching job right after I was offered the internship for the duration of the spring semester. When I wrote back to my now supervisor Hannah DeGarmo about not being able to put in as much time as they deserved and needed, her response was to offer me the opportunity to create and lead independent projects around my interests, putting in as much time as I was able. I'd never seen a company do anything like this, and it was so refreshing. I knew right away that the company's intentions were genuine and that I'd be happy to be a part of the team.

I began by writing a proposal for my independent projects. As a blind Latina performer myself, I knew I had a unique perspective to offer.

Mark DeGarmo Dance (MDD) is a small nonprofit dance company based out of New York City that provides dance education to underserved communities and also puts on virtual performances. As a remote intern, I proposed building connections between MDD and the NFB Performing Arts division, potentially having the company advertised in our newsletter and via our listservs or a membership call. I also proposed expanding MDD's outreach to Spanish-speaking communities, as well as ensuring that their web presence and virtual events were optimized for accessibility. My projects were enthusiastically approved, so I set out with my overall goal being to further the company's mission of accessibility and inclusion not just in statement, but in practice.

My first task was creating a document to keep track of web accessibility. I listed the elements to check for: labeled buttons and links, radio buttons, check boxes, images with alt text, form fields, combo boxes, and headings. I spent my five hours for a few weeks going through each page of the website testing each of these elements with multiple screenreader and browser combinations including NVDA with Firefox, NVDA with Chrome, Jaws with Chrome, VoiceOver with Chrome, and Voiceover with Safari. I noted any images that weren't identifiable and any aspects of the pages that worked or didn't work with different combinations. Once completed, I checked MDD's social media pages, noting the need for alt text on the majority of images and posts made. I found that the website was fairly accessible overall, and there were only a few things to fix. I connected with two fellow interns, one who dealt with social media, and the other who dealt with the website to discuss my findings and explain anything they needed to know about what alt text is and what screen readers are and what they do.

My next task was something I wasn't expecting, but it was great experience nonetheless. MDD had a virtual event coming up, so part of my job was to find organizations that we could push the press release out to who would also share it. I was able to find a fair amount of local organizations in Massachusetts, as well as circulate the information through the NFB performing arts networks.

My final project is one that also encompasses accessibility. I realized that I couldn't market MDD's events to the blind community if they weren't fully accessible. The first thing I did was look into captioning, and I found that Zoom had recently integrated this, so MDD was able to go in and set this up. The next thing I did was to research organizations and companies that provided audio description services. I created a spreadsheet containing all of the information requested by MDD regarding pricing and live versus pre-recorded virtual events. I'll be following this up by reaching out to the founder of the audio description project and the creator of the database I found with a ton of contacts to inquire about volunteer audio description options given that MDD is a small company with a budget.

My time with MDD is coming to a close, and I will soon be handing off all of the information. I've passed this to a fellow intern who will continue where I left off on the search for audio description to make MDD truly accessible. I can honestly say that this company is committed to accessibility and inclusion for all and has been completely receptive to my perspective, my feedback, and my work. It is important for me to talk about my experience because it relates to the arts, to dance, but most of all, to access needs. This company has demonstrated what it really means to follow through with a commitment to access and inclusion in truth. Creating accessible experiences and opportunities begins with a seat at the table, and MDD pulled out a chair for me and saw the significance in my expertise. These are the steps I took to help create a more accessible and inclusive space within the nonprofit sector and the arts. This is a conversation about advocacy, but it is also a positive example. Any company looking to cement its mission within these causes should look to Mark DeGarmo Dance for an example on where to start. I am confident that even after my departure as an intern, they will use this new information to continue evolving and moving forward to achieve equal access and inclusion for all.

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