Accessibility · Arts & Access · Call to Action · Events

Pledging on

John Kristel, CEO of Good Shepherd, addresses the guests of the Launch Party.

What a phenomenal launch of the Arts & Access celebration this weekend!  More than 150 proud celebrants attended the launch party at Good Shepherd’s Health & Technology Center last Friday, while two local theatrical performances accommodating people with visual and hearing loss, both “Rapunzel” and “Hello Dolly,”  sold out!

After nearly eighteen months in development, more than 30 cultural organizations have teamed up with social service agencies to create a schedule of more than 40 performances,  exhibitions, film screenings, public meetings and lectures  through June 2016, to intentionally reach people with disabilities and their families and friends. Continue reading “Pledging on”

Call to Action · Events · Features · Uncategorized

Planning Underway for 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act

ImageThe Lehigh Valley Arts Council and the Lehigh Valley Partnership for a Disability Friendly Community are teaming up to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act through the lens of the arts.They are developing training opportunities for community volunteers and arts administrators, and offering support to designated cultural and arts programs that demonstrate commitment and inclusiveness.  On July 26, 2015, a year-long celebration, Arts & Access, will commence with a series of varied arts events that highlight the accessibility of the region’s cultural community.

The mission is “to engage all citizens of the Lehigh Valley, intentionally securing the participation of persons of all abilities, regardless of physical, sensory, or cognitive limitation, both as audience members and/or providers in the dance, theatrical, musical, visual, literary and media arts.”

Planning for Arts & Access has been underway for the past eight months, and the scope of the celebration is designed to unite the entire community around creating a more inclusive region moving into the future. Arts and Access will impact tourism, economic development, as well as the quality of life for persons with disabilities and their families by:

  1. Expanding cultural access to all people with disabilities.
  2. Helping cultural nonprofits a) recognize the needs of persons with disabilities and the abilities of artists with disabilities; b) comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and c) build audiences for their events.
  3. Promoting the benefits of inclusion by telling the stories of how engagement in the arts is transformative.

“It’s time to lead!” says Arts Council Executive Director Randall Forte, “and use the power of the arts to increase everyone’s comfort level with accessibility.”


Since 2011, the Lehigh Valley Arts Council has been managing the Pennsylvania Arts Accessibility Program (PAAP) in the Lehigh Valley, with the guidance of VSA PA, Center for Vision Loss, LVCIL, cultural groups, and individuals with disabilities. PAAP offers visual and hearing-impaired individuals greater access to cultural events by providing nonprofit arts groups with training, marketing support and shared use of audio-description and open captioning equipment. Open Captioning provides the audience with an electronic text display to the side of the stage, displaying lyrics, dialogue, and sound effects in real time. Audio Description is a form of audio-visual translation, using natural pauses to insert narrative that translates the visual image into an audible form. Patrons use headsets to hear the audio description.

In cooperation with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, the Arts Council hosted a community discussion on accessibility at the Mack Boulevard campus on November 21, 2013. Featured guest Betty Siegel, Director of Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, outlined the importance of embracing accessibility as a community asset and a core value of customer service. At the close of the session, fifty-five attendees were invited to participate in the planning for the anniversary.

The Partnership is a diverse network of people and agencies united in the goal to improve the lives of people with disabilities in our community. Since 2010, the Partnership has been working to improve community awareness and advocacy, and transportation and housing access.



According to U.S. Census data estimates from 2012, the number of non-institutionalized people with disabilities living in the Lehigh Valley is 81,000, or 12.7%, which represents a significant number of potential new audiences for the cultural community.

“People with disabilities are a large and growing market, with $175 billion in discretionary spending.” Source: U.S. Department of Justice, “Expanding your Market…Customers with Disabilities.”

Both the Arts Council and the Partnership have been engaging their constituents in assessing challenges and measuring their capacity to meet those challenges. The first step was to conduct an audit of current accessibility practices in the region in order to identify how to assist cultural nonprofits comply with the ADA.   Sixty social service agencies and 110 cultural nonprofits were invited to participate; approximately 50% of each group responded and the results show a significant need to provide training to staff and volunteers and build more awareness of the challenges and barriers that exist for people with disabilities to participate in cultural events.The surveys also indicate that the majority of cultural nonprofits offer wheelchair accessibility and accessible parking and restrooms. However, less than 13% of the groups offer open captioning, sign language interpreters, audio description, and Braille printed materials. Only 16.7% offer large print brochures; and 29% offer assistive listening devices.The Planning Committee meets on the first Monday of the month, from 3:30-5:00p.m. in the 2nd floor conference room in the Butz Corporate Building. Interested citizens are  invited to  attend the next meeting, Monday July 7th , or call 610-437-5915 to RSVP.

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council is offering audio description training to the theatre community in order to help them increase attendance to their productions by becoming more disability-friendly.

Audio description assists patrons who are blind/low-vision to access the visual elements stage productions through live narration provided by trained describers. Patrons use headsets to hear the audio description.

The Arts Council has contracted Mimi Kenney Smith, Executive Director of VSA Pennsylvania, to provide the training over the course of two days, July 18 & 19, 2014. Smith, a veteran describer for more than two decades, is also the producing director for Amaryllis Theatre, a professional Philadelphia theatre that regularly includes artists with disabilities. She will introduce the class to the foundational skills—Observe, Analyze and Communicate— necessary to audio describe a play. At the end of the first day, the class will experience an audio described performance of Monty Python’s Spamalot at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre.

Theatre practitioners from all walks of life—actors, students, volunteers, educators—are encouraged to enroll and acquire new performance skills.

July 18, 2014
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Lehigh Valley Arts Council; 2nd Floor conference Room
7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Monty Python’s Spamalot; Baker Theatre/Trexler Pravilon
July 19, 2014
10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Lehigh Valley Arts Council; 2nd Floor conference Room

Reservations required at; reserve your spot today! Fee: $25.

by Randall Forte, Lehigh Valley Arts Council executive director

Call to Action · Features · Uncategorized

Simple Solutions for Website Accessibility

By James Ravelle, Operations Manager – Lehigh Valley Arts Council

One of my responsibilities at the Lehigh Valley Arts Council is designing and programming our website. After the launch of our Pennsylvania Arts Accessibility Program (PAAP), I realized that there were several website content and graphic issues that needed to be addressed if the Arts Council was taking a leadership role in this arena. This article highlights the challenges and solutions I discovered in my effort to upgrade our website and hopefully, will help other organizations improve their websites’ accessibility.

The prevalence of low vision is extremely common and simple updates to a website can increase accessibility and maintain proper customer service. One in six Americans (17%) age 45 years of age or older1, representing more than 16 million people in the United States ages 18-64 live with some kind of sight impairment, including blindness. The 65+ age range includes another 5.4 million, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses7. According to the University Eye Institute of Houston, common visual impairments include an inability to see detail, loss of contrast sensitivity and reduced or loss of color vision2. Despite the prevalence of visual impairment and relative ease of implementation, “of the 8.11 billion pages on the Internet, between 95 and 99 percent of them are not accessible by people with disabilities.8

Text size and contrast are two simple website tools and alterations that can assist low sighted users. Giving the user control over the size, contrast and color of text and graphics provides ease of access and can service a variety of needs.

1. One simple tool I created for the Arts Council’s website was a button that can increase the font size of the page text. Three different buttons activate three different CSS style sheets; a style sheet defines the style of text on your website. I created the main, default style sheet and then two variable style sheets with larger font sizes. It is important to note that according to W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 any webpage should be readable without style sheets (as plain text) in the event that HTML is rendered without them3.

New York Times Article
New York Times Article

2. Contrast sensitivity is a common impairment that causes difficulty reading subject matter that is not distinguished. For example, The New York Times website uses light gray text on a white background, which is hard to read. The Center for Vision Loss has an option on their website to alter the contrast (black on white/white on black) of the web page, in addition to a font size option. Having this control may not be necessary if you ensure that your graphics are high contrast. Use darker colors for text and edit images so that multiple colors are differentiated. These colors can complement the aesthetic you have selected for your website, just use light, dark and vibrant combinations to create clarity. Here is an example of poor contrast using varying shades of green:

Example of High / Low Contrast
Example of High / Low Contrast

There are varying degrees of severity with vision disorder, a point clarified during a training session with VSA’s Celia Hughes. A large percentage of people who have visual difficulty are not legally blind. For these patrons, the minor improvements listed above can help them navigate your website.

JAWS by Freedom Scientific
JAWS by Freedom Scientific

Those who are legally blind have a completely different user experience. Blind visitors may use a screen reader program to turn visual content into audio; one of the most common screen reader programs is JAWS by Freedom Scientific4. Screen reader programs like JAWS go through a webpage line by line, image by image and converts the information available into sound, literally reading the screen for the user. There is a free demo of JAWS available if you would like to gain familiarity with its functionality.

As an example of text to speech, I have converted a full text version of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council website into to audio: using a text to audio converter, Read Please 20035. It may not necessary to create an audio rendition of your web content, however your website should be prepared to be interpreted properly by the screen reader program. There are two key strategies that must be followed to enable these programs to read your webpage properly for legally blind users.

1. According to W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 it is important to “provide a text equivalent for every non-text element3. A reader program can be used by readers to interpret text, however these programs are not able to “read” images. A description should be provided for every image on your site in order to work with the program. These descriptions are gathered from the html “alt” tag inside of the code for all images. For example, here is the HTML code for a banner graphic on the Arts Council webpage. As the program “reads” the website, it will make the alt tags audible to the user.

<img src=”/images/image.jpg” width=”960″ height=”320″ alt=”Click here to visit our January / February 2014 featured artist Marion Sheinberg”>

Also, it is suggested that whenever possible information should be displayed as text rather than an image; page headers should be stylized text rather than an image of text so that they can be interpreted easily. For example, both of the following samples produce the same effect; one with an image and one with stylized text:

Image:  Image      Stylized Font:  Text

2. Clearly organize the layout of your website for the program to read. Organizing content makes it easier to access for all website visitors. For example, have your organization’s logo as the first item on the top of the webpage, followed by the next most relevant content. The mission statement or opening paragraph for the website’s home page should be prefaced with a sentence defining exactly what it is; you don’t want seemingly random text to abruptly start sounding. For tables containing data, identify row and column headers3. Organize everything on the page logically and in order while maintaining your aesthetic and design.

Whether you outsource the design of your website or do it yourself, it is important to be mindful of how users with disabilities will interact with your website. You want the message and content of your website to be as available to visually impaired users as it is to others. W3 has created a checklist of priorities for websites—I recommend going through this checklist and ensuring your website is fully accessible to all users. Ignoring accessibility issues disregards the needs of your audience and restricts their participation. To quote Ms. Betty Siegel, Esq., Director of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, accessibility is “an integrated and intrinsic value, a core part of business and an asset.6

Works Cited:
  1. The Lighthouse Inc. (www.Lighthouse.Org), 1995. The Lighthouse National Survey on Vision Loss / “Prevalence of Vision Impairment”:
  1. University of Houston (, 2014. “Common Disorders causing vision loss (low vision)”
  1. W3C (, 1999. “Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
  1. Freedom Scientific (, 2014. “JAWS for Windows Screen Reading Software”
  1. Read Please 2003, 2013.
    Program used to convert Lehigh Valley Arts Council’s website:
  1. Ms. Betty Siegel, Esquire, Nov. 2013. “The Arts and Disability: Making Cultural Arts Experiences Accessible.”
  1. Cheryl James (, May 2012. “Who is Affected?
  1. Cheryl James (, May 2012. “’Site’ Impaired – Web access for the visually impaired.”
Call to Action · Features

Access Makes the Arts Grow Wider | Expanding Gateways

by Randall Forte, executive director, Lehigh Valley Arts Council

This article appeared in The Express-Times newspaper on March 4, 2013.

ArtsCountOnMeButtonFinalThe arts have never been more important to the Lehigh Valley. Hundreds of creative industries, nonprofit cultural organizations, and thousands of individual artists of all disciplines—dance, musical, theatrical, visual, literary and media arts—are invested in our community.

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council is the region’s central voice for the arts. It’s our calling to promote arts awareness and advocate its value. It’s our vision to ensure that everyone has access to a rich, diverse arts culture.

Arts are key to economic development in the Lehigh Valley. We give that reality voice by making sure data is gathered and made public. Lehigh Valley’s three cities have acknowledged the arts as part of their downtown revitalization plans. The region’s nonprofit arts and culture are a $208 million industry—one that supports 7,114 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $21.4 million in local and state government revenue.

Arts are the highest form of expression. They have the power to make our lives better, heal emotional wounds, spark initiative, and broaden perspectives.

Artists and their work keep us connected to one another —our fellow passengers on the journey— through image and movement, story and song.

It is only by expanding access to the arts that Lehigh Valley artists and arts organizations can enrich everyone.

The Arts Council acts as both advocate and catalyst to create new gateways, bringing people together to find solutions that advance greater arts participation. We have four major priorities for 2013:

1) Schools: Declining funding is shutting students out of arts experiences. Our educational newsletter, ArtLinks, that connects educators with current research and local arts resources, is distributed to every public and private school in the region. The Urban/Suburban Connection Program, an after-school enrichment program, improves literacy and fosters multi-cultural understanding.

2) Technology: In coalition with the Center for Vision Loss and the Center for Independent Living, individuals with disabilities, and several cultural organizations, we have launched a Pennsylvania Arts Access Program. It offers the sensory-impaired access to cultural events by providing arts groups with shared use of audio-description and open-captioning equipment.

3) Support for Arts Professionals: Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts Grants Program supports individual artists and community groups bringing the arts to underserved audiences. The Arts Council also offers workshops on topics like marketing, technology and legal and tax issues.

4) Sustainability: The Cultural List Exchange Co-Op, a cooperative marketing program, improves marketing intelligence and expands audiences. The co-op uses data mining that enables cultural marketers to save money through mailing list sharing. The Arts Council and Discover Lehigh Valley are program partners.

The Arts Council is open to everyone. Please join your voice with ours and help us open the door wider for the arts in the Lehigh Valley.

Call to Action · Guest Posts

Why Public Funding for the Arts? It’s Life Changing.

Guest Post by Arts Council member, Jennifer Scavuzzo

Just yesterday I heard a radio program discussing how to combat the high level of dropouts from our high schools, and one student who was featured discussed how “bored” he is with school.  Given the opportunity to see what a better high school could offer (while still taking boring classes like English and Algebra!), he “lit up” when he was able to join in on band practice at the “better” school.

Turns out he had a drum set at home, the only thing he really loved to do.  And given the opportunity to participate in musicpractice and performance, he became more motivated to improve in his “boring” mainstream classes.


Imagine how the exposure to Art and Music education touches individuals who might be intrigued by, excited by, these subjects, and who might not be bored and drop out of school and our society because of such opportunities.

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council has the numbers to show the economic benefits of the Arts to our communities.  Businesses and jobs come to communities with active Arts programs.

We all know about famous musicians and artists who have been able to succeed because of the Arts–theater, music, drawing, painting, sculpture, dance–they were exposed to in school, at volunteer programs after school hours, in park & recreation opportunities.

What we don’t know are the opportunities our Lehigh Valley citizens will miss if we do not keep the Arts in our parks, our schools, our programs for disadvantaged–or even just “bored”, students.

The Lehigh Valley has historically been a vibrant home for the Arts, and is even more so now than in the recent past.  People of all ages and ethnicities are participating in our community activities.

The language of Art and Music is not English, or Spanish, Chinese or Thai.  It is universal.  It speaks to the human spirit.  Please, as you look at the numerous demands being placed before you for use of  public funds, see these as building blocks for our future leaders and opportunities for all.

Jennifer  Scavuzzo is an arts advocate and serves on the board of the Chamber Music Society of Bethlehem.