For 25 years, Art-Reach has helped open doors to culture

Marianne Lock is hard of hearing. She has a powerful hearing aid, and can read lips, but before Art-Reach she wasn’t able to attend theater.

“It’s really exciting to be going to a play and feeling like a normal person. Participating, seeing the play, going out at intermission and getting coffee–we’ve never been able to do that before,” she said.

Art-Reach acts as a kind of broker between people like Lock and cultural venues such as concert halls, theaters and museums which may not understand the range of small details that add up to major deterrents. Parking spaces, closed-captioning, wheelchair aisles, and large-print signage are just some of the considerations that can make–or break—an enjoyable visit.

On Sunday, Art-Reach celebrates 25 years of making Philadelphia cultural events accessible to those with disabilities. Every year, the organization helps 15,000 people with physical or economic difficulties partake of the area’s cultural offerings.

“For you, as an arts organization, they walk through the door and you think that is when the experience begins,” said Michael Norris, Art-Reach executive director. “But for the person walking through the door, it may have started hours ago when they had to get para-transit to your museum and para-transit was two hours late and they couldn’t find an accessible parking space and all of those details go into making the experience successful and meaningful.”

Norris said the disabled represent an eager, but largely untapped, audience for cultural events. He says they are more than willing to pay full ticket prices at accessible venues.

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