National summit on careers in the arts for people with disabilities

Washington, D.C. — More than 70 percent of people with disabilities are not in the labor force, and those who wish to pursue a career in the arts face difficult challenges. On July 22-24, the National Endowment for the Arts convened the National Summit on Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The multi-agency summit gathered more than 100 experts to evaluate progress and develop new strategies to advance educational and career opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities.

While the arts industry contains a variety of careers in design, media, performing, visual, and literary arts, people with disabilities continue to face significant barriers to training and employment. They are underrepresented in the cultural world as artists, administrators, staff, and in other arts-related positions. At the same time, many art careers offer flexible employment models that may complement the needs of some individuals with disabilities.

The I AM PWD (Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People with Disabilities) national disability rights campaign — a civil rights initiative jointly created by members of Actors Equity Association, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Screen Actors Guild — said it was honored to present the keynote address at the National Summit

The address was delivered by Ray Bradford, National Director for Equal Employment Opportunities for AFTRA, a staff representative on the Tri-Union committee founded and sponsored by Actors Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA all of which jointly oversee the I AM PWD campaign.

“Creating a broad and diverse network of activists committed to the vision that disability rights are human rights is one of our goals within the I AM PWD Campaign,” said Robert David Hall (who portrays CSI’s Dr. Al Robbins), National Tri-Union PWD Committee chair. “Participating in this historic and timely summit is another step towards tearing down the walls of exclusion to PWD’s in the arts and in our country as a whole. We are thrilled to have Ray representing our campaign at this historic event.”

Bradford also screened the I AM PWD campaign video featuring actors Robert David Hall, Anita Hollander, Ann Stocking and Steve Gladstone, all PWD activist members of AEA, AFTRA and SAG.

The National Summit featured sessions on accomplishments over the last decade, education and training issues, employment support, and new research. During the summit, the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage hosted the Heidi Latsky Dance Company’s excerpts from ‘Gimp,’ a work that challenges preconceived notions about dance and the human form, and a performance of ‘Flying Solo: Monologues by Five Deaf Performers.’

One of the results that came from the summit 10 years ago was in improvements to the Department of Labor’s employment resources. The Department added approximately 100 arts positions to its Occupational Codes Manual that is used by rehabilitation counselors in advising people with disabilities about their education and in choosing careers. This expanded list of job descriptions benefits all workers in the arts industry.


I AM PWD is a global civil rights campaign seeking equal employment opportunities for artists and professionals with disabilities throughout the entertainment and news media. Founded in 2008 by the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Tri-Union Performers With Disabilities Committee, I AM PWD is dedicated to ending the discrimination and exclusion of performers and broadcasters with disabilities. I AM PWD is uniting labor, industry, community and governmental allies in the fight to combat continuing discrimination against people with disabilities.

VSA arts is an international, nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to create a society where all people with disabilities learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts.

NEA Accessibility Resources: The NEA AccessAbility Office