Each year, as part of an effort to train the next generation of arts and accessibility professionals, Lincoln Center offers two paid Fellowships for current or recent graduate students to work on applied programs and projects in Accessibility. As Matt Conlin, Digital Accessibility Fellow, wraps up his fellowship, he reflects upon his year at Lincoln Center, his perspective on disability and inclusion in the workforce, and his plans for the future.


After graduating in 2009 from Fordham University, I entered the workforce in the field I had studied: marketing and media. Work life was great. It was exciting and new; it was challenging. I worked on client accounts for content-related projects. It had ups and downs, colleagues and frenemies, and fast, slow, and downright unusual days. It had everything it was supposed to have, and yet, I had a nagging feeling that something was missing. I took classes in every subfield of media imaginable, trying to find the last puzzle piece: screenwriting, HTML and coding, art design, acting, film editing, music theory, and production. I exhausted my options and my wallet, and fizzled my brain.

 

Matt Conlin and Allison Baldwin

The search eventually led me back to my core. Rummaging through old academic assignments, I found an essay I had written for a class called Extraordinary Bodies. The subject was equity in media representation.

And it finally clicked. I wasn't seeking perfection in my field, I was seeking purpose.

That class had resonated with me because it connected my love of media to my life with cerebral palsy. I quit my job and went back to school. In the Disability Studies program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies, I learned more about the social and political ethics of equity.

My graduation was held at David Geffen Hall, where, as valedictorian, I gave a speech about motivation, commitment, ethics, honor in serving community, and using one's strengths to better society. It was a surreal experience, but it felt right. Lincoln Center is an appropriate setting for a life-changing event. I didn't realize at the time that I would be back a few months later as a Digital Accessibility Fellow.

Lincoln Center is an appropriate setting for a life-changing event.

The fellowship has connected my work experience in media and digital content to my commitment to social justice and equity. Over the past nine months, I've learned how to apply my graduate studies to real-life concerns, and to propose concrete solutions. I focused my energy on a worthy mission: ensuring the accessibility of online content, including captioning videos—and providing insights into how to make digital content more accessible moving forward. While digital content is a rapidly growing field, awareness about access is also growing exponentially and gaining traction. When combined, these two areas allow more people to participate fully in society, including the performing arts. The captioning project, for example, comprises nearly 1,000 videos. It is still in the works, but providing captions invites a whole new audience to Lincoln Center, an audience who may go on to participate, to influence, and to shape the future of the performing arts.

Art is vivacious in New York City. It is bold, electric, resounding, and a staple of life. Through this fellowship I've met so many fascinating people—educators, leaders from cultural institutions, engineers solving technological barriers, and local government officials interested in city planning. I now have a strong foundation for implementing equity in my city and beyond. My next step is a Ph.D. in social psychology, and, eventually, to teach and work in academia in the field of arts, media, and access.


Major support for Lincoln Center accessibility programming is provided by The Taft Foundation.