Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

National Arts and Disability Center

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

National Arts and Disability Center

Article excerpt

Olivia Raynor distinctly recalls the story of her friend Pamela, who as a girl yearned to participate in the arts but couldn't because she was in a wheelchair. "She wasn't allowed to be in theater because her school's stage was inaccessible, paint because her arms could not reach the easel, or sing with the choir because there was no accessible transportation to where the singing group performed," Raynor says. "It was not until she was an adult that she discovered her many artistic talents. Unfortunately many of these same physical and attitudinal barriers exist today and are unacceptable."

As director of the Tarjan Center at the University of California in Los Angeles, Raynor combats these barriers on a regular basis. For more than 40 years, the Tarjan Center, a federally designated University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, has been promoting independence, productivity and full inclusion for people with special needs. But it wasn't until 1994, when a group of artists and advocates approached the Tarjan staff about spotlighting the talents of individuals with significant disabilities, that the National Arts and Disability Center (NADC) was born.

Raynor, an occupational therapist and educational psychologist with 20 years of experience in a variety of healthcare and school settings, surveyed the arts community to find out what was available to people with disabilities, both as audience members and as creators and performers. At a time when most people knew nothing about the Internet, she and her staff hosted an online conference. She also solicited suggestions from experts. "I came to know and respect some incredible artists and activists who served as key advisors and introduced me to the field of disability studies. Through these individuals' artwork, productions, dance and writings I learned about the disability experience 'inside out' rather than as an observer," says Raynor, whose father was a film producer. Growing up, she says, "the film industry was our dinner table conversation." She credits her mother with instilling in her a strong interest in the arts.

The only known center of its kind, the NADC now focuses on two primary areas: helping advance the careers of emerging and professional artists with disabilities, and linking them with the museums, performing arts organizations, educators, film and television companies, and other groups willing to hire them or showcase their work. Each year, the center gives technical assistance and information to more than 200,000 artists, arts administrators, professionals and families around the world. …

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