Watching Alice Sheppard's DESCENT a few months ago, I put on the multitrack audio descriptions. On top of the music, I heard close-up sounds of the dancers moving onstage, plus a spoken description that was so nuanced it bordered on poetry. I'd seen the work in person before, but this experience hit me in an entirely new way. Even through my laptop, I felt enveloped inside the piece.
Sheppard has literally made accessibility into an art. By ensuring that everyone is welcomed into her work from start to finish, she enhances the experience for all, whether they're disabled or not. And she's on a mission to convince the rest of the dance industry to do the same. When Dance Magazine reached out last year to ask if she'd write an essay for us, she gamely agreed, and also asked: What if we addressed what Dance Magazine and Dance Media are doing to increase access?
Well, over the past few years we've taken a handful of steps. We integrated a UserWay plug-in into all of our websites to make the digital experience more accessible to a range of users. We now include alternate text on all images online and in social media, to describe images for partially sighted or blind readers. We've also recently begun adding closed captions to our videos, including last year's virtual Dance Magazine Awards. Our friends at The Dance Edit Podcast have begun sharing transcripts of their episodes so their conversations can be read as well as listened to.
There's of course a lot more to do, from our virtual and in-person events to our internal company culture. As Sheppard pointed out to us recently, progress is an ongoing process. I encourage everyone to read her essay and ask yourself—are you inviting all audiences, all collaborators, all students? What more can each of us do to make sure everyone feels welcomed into the dance world?