“Let me see and hear, too”

Guest Column

I just want to see a show,” and “You have brought light into my dark world.” Those two statements probably best sum up what the mission and services of Access Virginia mean to — and have a positive effect on — persons with hearing and vision loss in the Hampton Roads community.

Access Virginia, a 501c3 nonprofit, was established in 2014 to provide accommodations for persons who are hearing impaired via Open Captioning, a text display of words, and Audio Description, a narration of visuals, for persons who are blind or have profound vision loss. These auditory and visual accommodations are provided at performing arts venues and civic events. Without these effective communication accommodations, this population is often isolated and excluded from enjoying civic events and the performing arts, which lessens a quality of life the rest of us enjoy.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires reasonable accommodation for those living with disabilities, a gap exists. Audio Description and Open Captioning provide a bridge to that gap and give access to public venues. Cultural institutions are becoming more informed about this population segment who want to patronize their businesses as well as the need to be more inclusive. Access Virginia was established to create that accessibility by providing assistive technology and to help businesses become more ADA compliant, using the best practices to foster positive experiences to meet the communication needs of persons with varied sensory disabilities.

Access Virginia partners with local theater companies to develop participatory and interactive drama workshops for persons with sensory deprivation. Through its Workshops for Adults with Hearing Loss, a scripted play was written entitled Between Sound and Silence. Its cast consists of hearing impaired actors. The play is a vehicle through which these actors share their life stories to offer the public new insight into the many facets of a sense-impaired life.

The goal of Access Virginia is to provide services in more venues and to offer Between Sound & Silence in more Virginia cities. Despite the pandemic and the stressed economy in 2020, Access Virginia continued to provide services to persons with varied sensory disabilities who wanted to enjoy the performing arts and attend civic events. Presently, Access Virginia is the only organization in Hampton Roads that covers two theaters in Norfolk and two in Newport News.

Access Virginia believes in and understands the importance of the services it provides. Through Open Captioning and Audio Description, silence is turned into sound and darkness into light, exclusion into inclusion.

About Sister David Ann Niski 13 Articles
Sister David Ann Niski is executive director of the Bernadine Franciscan Sisters Foundation. A strong advocate and supporter of the Virginia Peninsula not-for-profit agencies, she can be reached at 757-886-6025 or by e-mail at david_niski@bshsi.org.

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