Access to the Arts

KCAccess2Imagine, for a moment, your first poignant experience with the arts. Perhaps it was a heartfelt performance in a play or a completely transformational concert from the orchestra. Maybe it was the first time you were swept away by the rhythm of dance or made emotionally raw by an opera. Whatever it was, it was life-changing, and it made you a lifelong patron of the arts. Now, imagine that you could not see it. No, you can afford a ticket. You can even go so far as to get yourself to the venue. Once there, however, there is no way to get you to your seat because the venue does not accommodate your wheelchair. Maybe your sight or hearing isn’t what it used to be, and there is no system in place to help you understand the performance. Whatever your needs are, they are not being met, and the potential for at least one life-changing experience is now completely and devastatingly dashed.

At The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the enjoyment and accessibility of the arts is taken very seriously. That is why, for over 20 years, The Center has had a department dedicated to access services. “I’m very lucky that I don’t have to convince anyone here of anything,” says Toby Roberts, current manager of the department. “They are committed and passionate about it. They believe the arts are for everyone. I’ve been working for The Center for years, and I’ve been in this position for the last three. This program has been in full swing since I’ve been here.”

Toby Roberts.

Toby Roberts.

Roberts adds proudly: “We are fully accessible at The Center. Any patron can reach any place intended for the audience in any of our venues. I used to think that every facility like ours did this, but now that I’ve been in this position for a while, I’ve learned that that’s just not the case.” In fact, The Kentucky Center is a pioneer and leader in the field, garnering such accolades as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Excellence in Accessibility Leadership Award in 2007 as well as the 2012 American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Award.

“We often offer other venues in the city, state and region advice and insight into how to improve their accessibility. We try to be a good resource,” says Roberts. Indeed, The Kentucky Center is unique in the multitude and thoroughness of its services. Their theatres offer barrier-free access for patrons using wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility devices on all seating and parking levels, and there is even a limited number of wheelchairs available for loan, free of charge. ASL interpretation can be made available for certain performances, and large print programs are available at every performance at The Center and Brown Theatre. Infrared hearing devices provide hearing amplification for patrons with hearing loss as well. Captions are provided for select performances for patrons who have hearing loss and may not benefit from hearing amplification or ASL. The audible elements are shown on an LED sign, in real time, as each line is spoken or sung. For the blind or visually impaired, there is audio description. Describers provide a live, objective, descriptive delivery of the visual elements of a performance in between the dialogue and/or music via a small FM receiver. To utilize any of these services at The Kentucky Center, Roberts advises that you inform the box office of your needs when you purchase your ticket with as much notice as possible.

The newest addition to the list of access services at The Kentucky Center are sensory-friendly performances, which are designed to create a welcoming environment for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other individuals with sensory sensitivities. Accommodations for these performances include keeping the theatre lights dimmed, providing extra space between patrons, allowing freedom to vocalize and move seats, allowing patrons to exit and enter during the performance and providing quiet spaces for individuals to decompress from over-stimulation so that they may eventually return to their seats. While these performance have a fluid atmosphere, they are open to the general public. Not every performance at The Center utilizes this service yet, but they are committed to developing the program over time. “We want to afford these families a safe place to bring their child, so that they too can have a theatre experience,” says Roberts.

“If there’s one thing I want more of, it’s awareness,” asserts Roberts. “So many people have no idea what kinds of services we offer, and they should. What used to be a rarity is beginning to be what is expected by a whole generation of patrons.” Now, you have no excuse. If you or a loved one has an access need and wants to enjoy the arts, look into your options at The Kentucky Center. VT

For any questions, concerns or reservation inquiries, contact the Access Services hotline at 502.566.5111 or 502.566.5140. You may also email

Photos courtesy of The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts