Accessibility: Theoretical and Applied Approaches, by Kendra Preston Leonard

Kendra Preston Leonard’s essay on accessibility is the second installment of guest blog posts by scholars of music and disability studies. Kendra Preston Leonard is a musicologist and editor with interests in music and disability, women and music, and music and screen history. She is the Founder and Director of the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive.

At the several music and disability sessions and panels I’ve attended in the last couple of years at AMS, SMT, SAM, and SEM, I’ve been struck by the fact that a large number of scholars who attend these sessions are often foremost seeking guidance, suggestions, and observations on accessibility and other “applied” issues: how to improve learning outcomes for differently abled students. While many of these instructors stay and become interested in the more theoretical work we do in examining the construction and portrayal of disability in music, their initial concerns tend to be centered on practical questions of pedagogy and disability, or, for advanced students, conferences attendance and disability.  Much of our work is informed by theoretical aspects of , even if we never quite term it as such.It became clear to me  in observing these scholars and their interests, as well as in dialogue with my colleagues in music and disability studies, that we (as individuals, as a Study Group, and in terms of our societies) could be doing much more to improve applied accessibility. Therefore, I’m very pleased to say that I’ll be chairing a new subcommittee of the Music and Disability Study Group, the Ad Hoc Committee on accessibility. This committee will meet for the first time at AMS, with the following goals: evaluation of the current AMS Guidelines on accessibility, reviewing comments in post-conference surveys on accessibility issues, monitoring accessibility issues at the Pittsburgh meeting;, and surveying members of the Study Group about accessibility concerns. I hope that everyone reading will include their comments on accessibility in the post-conference survey that will follow the 2013 meeting, and encourage their colleagues and students—even those without a scholarly or personal stake in our subfield—to do the same. Our questions are crucial ones, and will enable the Study Group to be more aware of the kinds of issues those with disabilities face when attending national meetings or interacting with our societies. Additionally, the Study Group surveys will help make recommendations for future meetings and guide future policies on accessibility for the AMS and other academic societies.

We are making strides in applied accessibility issues. Shortly after receiving word that the panel I had organized with James Deaville, Stephanie Jenson-Moulton, and Jeannette Jones,  “Music and Disability on Screen” (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., Rivers Room), had been accepted for this year’s AMS meeting, I began to make inquiries at the national office as to what it would take to have the session recorded. I volunteered that I would later transcribe it so that both audio-video and text-based forms could be posted online in order to provide accessibility to the session’s contents for those interested. I figured that perhaps this session, and my unrelenting stream of emails, might bring the AMS somewhat more into line with the accessibility initiatives that its sister societies were already putting into place. After all, SEM was able to negotiate a special deal with Indiana Conferences to stream the majority of its sessions at the three-society meeting in 2012, which increased the accessibility scholars had to those sessions; and this year SMT not only has a session on “Universal Design in the Music Theory and Aural Skills Classrooms” (Friday 8-11 p.m., Harris Room), which is all about accessibility, but is also live-streaming and archiving a limited number of 2013 conference sessions. I was delighted that the AMS agreed to buy a digital recorder for use in my session this year, and, I hope for use in future sessions.

The AMS did have two other concerns: those of copyright infractions and the rights of participants in the session. We therefore agreed that I would edit out the screen clips presenters will use to avoid any copyright problems, and that we will announce at the beginning of the session that recording will be taking place and that any attendees not wanting to appear should notify me so that I can remove any footage of them from the final video.

In general, I found that the AMS is somewhat behind in its initiatives and commitment to addressing accessibility issues in comparison to SMT and SEM. The mission of the Ad Hoc Committee on accessibility is not just a fact-finding one, but also one in which we are hoping to provide the AMS’s officers and board members with a thorough understanding of how much accessibility issues curtail the ability of members to attend and participate. I look forward to hearing from readers of this blog as to their concerns and suggestions for the Ad Hoc Committee on Accessibility.

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