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 Allison Baldwin, Accessibility Partnerships and Programs Fellow, wraps up her fellowship, she reflects upon her year at Lincoln Center, her perspective on disability and inclusion in the workforce, and her plans for the future.


On the first day of my fellowship, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. It was a Thursday in October and I was determined to be on time. I had made the decision to commute to Lincoln Center, by bus, from New Jersey, and took a cab from my house to the bus stop and waited for the 5:39 a.m. bus. When it came, the driver lowered the lift but wasn't able to move the center seats to make room for my walker. She radioed the 6:09 a.m. bus to make sure it was coming and said she'd wait until the other one arrived. I told her she could go, but she insisted on staying.

 

Allison Baldwin and Matt Conlin

Those were some of the most excruciating moments of my life. There were three people on the bus who just stared at me. One person even came down the staircase to see what was going on.I had experienced that shame before. Isolation happens with disability. 

Lincoln Center is working to make sure it happens a little less often. 

In the nine months that I've been working as an Accessibility Fellow, I've had the privilege and pleasure of creating curriculum and providing administrative support and staffing to three programs that strive to make the disability community more visible and included: Passport to the Arts for children, teens, and adults with disabilities and their families; Access Ambassadors, a job training program for high school students with disabilities; and Lincoln Center Moments, a performance-based program for people with dementia and their caregivers. While working on each of these programs has been a unique and powerful experience, I am particularly impacted by Passport to the Arts and Access Ambassadors.

Passport to the Arts gives children with disabilities and their families the opportunity to attend performances. The Accessibility team partners with organizations on Lincoln Center's campus to ensure that our families can experience a variety of performing arts, ranging from jazz ensembles to dance workshops. Every week when I read surveys and compile reports, I receive feedback filled with gratitude and appreciation for everything our staff does. 

The snapshot style and quickness of poetry helped me give shape to my memories, the melody of song allowed me to connect with my spirit.

When I was growing up, I had the opportunity to be in school choirs and poetry groups, and to participate in arts and crafts at summer camp. It was these opportunities that helped me become more comfortable with my own identity as a disabled woman. Much like the children who attend our programs, I often had trouble expressing thoughts and feelings, especially those related to disability. The snapshot style and quickness of poetry helped me give shape to my memories, the melody of song allowed me to connect with my spirit. Over the past year, I've seen the same thing happen for children in the Passport program, recognizing the look on their faces when they have those moments.

In another program, Access Ambassadors, Lincoln Center partners with New York City schools to give high school students with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities the opportunity to learn service skills in many of Lincoln Center's venues, including the Atrium and the Clark Studio Theater. This unique program begins to address the issue of employment for those in the disability community in a pre-vocational setting with students in transition from high school to adulthood. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 the unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities was 10.7%, about twice that of nondisabled people. Lincoln Center works directly to change this statistic by hiring Fellows with disabilities and providing two-way education for students with disabilities and guest service staff. The program seeks to provide students with disabilities the support to pursue what all of us want: opportunities to work, opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways, and opportunities to cultivate and sustain relationships for personal and professional advancement. The Access Ambassador program is helping give students those opportunities through work shifts, mock interviews, and connections to staff members. 

As I enter the final weeks of my time with Lincoln Center, my future in the field of accessibility and inclusion remains wide open. While I don't know my exact next steps, I do know that I want to continue working toward creating inclusion in the arts for people like me. My dream involves the expansion of inclusion from being a place where people with disabilities can see art to a place where they can also create and perform original work. I hope to work with other arts organizations that share the goal of supporting programming created for, and by, people with disabilities. Someday, I hope to have my own company that specializes in helping those with disabilities tell their stories through the arts.

After all, it is our stories that connect us, our stories that help us understand.


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