The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation are committed to the inclusivity of Poetry Out Loud. Accessibility is considered at all levels, from the development of program materials to the planning of competitions.

Poetry Out Loud must be accessible to individuals with disabilities, in compliance with federal law and regulations, in terms of both facilities and programs.  For more information, see the NEA website:

Accessibility Awareness

Teachers are encouraged to involve all students in their classroom Poetry Out Loud activities. Teachers who want more information about making Poetry Out Loud accessible to students with disabilities should contact their state Poetry Out Loud coordinator. Each state arts agency also has an accessibility coordinator who may be helpful. They can be a great resource and can also point you in the direction of other experts in the field, as needed. A list of SAA accessibility coordinators can be found on the NEA website:

Additionally, please ensure you are using proper terminology for writing and speaking about students with a disability. A language guide for discussing disability is available; read through it and share it with others working on the program.

Other useful resources:

  • Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator’s Handbook: (esp. chapters 7 and 9) provides specific guidance on making cultural events accessible.
  • National and state VSA staff work with arts and accessibility issues every day and can provide guidance on how to make your POL program more inclusive.
  • Service organizations (for example, the Muscular Dystrophy Association) can help you better understand a particular disability.
  • Your State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency might also be helpful in providing insight about appropriate accommodations.

Making Your Poetry Out Loud Program Accessible

To ensure that a student’s accessibility needs are considered for Poetry Out Loud, we recommend the following process at all levels of competition:

  • Engage in an interactive process. Don’t assume that you know what a student may or may not need—instead, start a conversation with the student and/or his or her advocate. Their input will ensure that everyone is comfortable.
  • Level the playing field. Use the information you have learned to make accommodations that will enable each student to deliver their best performance. Provide accommodations that seem appropriate and reasonable. Accommodations might include a microphone for a student whose voice may be unclear or quiet, or the opportunity to sit during the recitation for a student who cannot comfortably stand for a length of time.
  • Brief your judges as appropriate. Ask the students if they want their disability disclosed. In some cases, judges may ask for additional information about how the disability may impact the recitation or accommodations that have been made for that student. To the best of your ability, provide that information for them. If the impact is complicated, you might consider asking the student/parent/advocate to provide some written explanation for maximum clarity.
  • Set high expectations for every student. Remind your judges that lowering their expectations for a student with a disability does a disservice to that student and his or her competitors. All students should be judged fairly against the POL evaluation criteria.

ASL and Poetry Out Loud

Poetry Out Loud was piloted at a school for the deaf in 2008-09, providing a framework for a national model to include deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The following materials may help you include deaf and hard-of-hearing students in your own school.

Accessibility Accommodations at State and National Finals

A school champion who requires any accommodations in order to compete at the regional or state finals should notify the state Poetry Out Loud coordinator (link) immediately upon being selected as school champion.

A state champion who requires any accommodations in order to compete in the National Finals should notify the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Out Loud Program Manager immediately upon being selected as state champion.