Using a participatory action strategic approach to enhance accessibility and participation in arts and cultural events: Results of four focus groups

Nancy Vandewiele Milligan, Ph.D., O.T.R.L., F.A.O.T.A., Els R. Nieuwenhuijsen, Ph.D., M.P.H., O.T.R.L., Carolyn L. Grawi, L.M.S.W., M.S.W., A.C.S.W.

Disability and Health Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 1, p105–113
Published online: October 28, 2013


Cultural events are abundant in a midwestern college town; however, individuals with disabilities have expressed concerns about their accessibility. Policymakers, business owners, and managers often ignore disability-related issues. Research shows accessibility is the main environmental barrier to participation in arts and cultural events. Individuals with disabilities are disconnected from managers of cultural organizations and city leaders. The lack of awareness about accessibility, including access to the built environment, impedes participation in cultural events in this college town.


To encourage the participation of people with disabilities in cultural events in a midwestern college town, a bold strategic project was initiated to conduct a community-based needs assessment as a foundation for an action plan. Participation in arts and culture was selected as a unique focal point for exploring ways to enhance accessibility.


Thirty-nine stakeholders participated in four different focus groups: individuals with disabilities, managers of cultural organizations, caregivers and health care providers, and other stakeholders including politicians. Critical problem areas identified were mapped onto the environmental factors in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF).


Three themes emerged: 1) limited awareness about accessibility among the residents with disabilities and a lack of awareness about disability-related issues and accessibility among the managers of cultural organizations; 2) the need for a “central information clearinghouse” to share, provide, and retrieve information; 3) the need for inclusive city-level policies.


Raising awareness about disabilities and accessibility, providing a clearinghouse for information sharing and implementing inclusive policies are crucial to strengthen participation in community life.