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A group of people on stage, three standing and six sitting.

Talkback sessions with artists at the 2009 National Summit on Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Photo by Katie Lyles Levy

Establishing a career in the arts can be a difficult endeavor for anyone. But for someone with a disability, the challenges grow exponentially, from inadequate health insurance and limited access to training to overt discrimination.

To address these concerns, the NEA convened the National Summit on Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities. Held from July 22-24, 2009, the summit was hosted in partnership with nine other organizations: the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, the Social Security Administration, VSA, NAMM Foundation, AARP, and Quest: Arts for Everyone.

With more than 130 attendees, the conference gathered over three days to review progress made since the last such convening in 1998, to assess current needs and barriers faced by professionals with disabilities in the arts, and to strategize ways to reduce or eliminate these barriers. The proceedings were also broadcast as a webinar.

The conference began with an overview of findings from the NEA research report, National Study on Careers in the Arts. Led by Carrie Sandahl, the report found that individuals with disabilities face challenges at every step of their careers, including discriminatory admissions practices at training programs, lack of physical accommodation, and low expectations for professionals with disabilities.

After reviewing projects that emerged from the 1998 convening, and advances they have made, the summit broke into working groups divided by discipline: creative writing, design, media, performing arts, and visual arts. Each group was tasked with generating solutions that would give people with disabilities increased access to higher education, arts training, careers, and arts opportunities.