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 not exclude or limit student participation based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability in compliance with federal law and regulations, in terms of both facilities and programs. For more information, please contact the NEA and see the NEA website: http://arts.gov/civil-rights-office/what-we-do.
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: http://arts.gov/accessibility/accessibility-resources/state-arts-agency-and-regional-arts-organizations.
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 include:
- Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator’s Handbook: (esp. chapters 7 and 9) provides specific guidance on how to make cultural events accessible.
- VSA staff at state and national offices work with arts and accessibility issues every day. They can provide guidance on how to make your POL program more inclusive; they also serve as program partners in some states.
- Service organizations (for example, the Muscular Dystrophy Association or United Cerebral Palsy) can help you better understand a particular disability.
- Your State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency might also be helpful in providing insight about appropriate accommodations if a student or their advocate is unclear about what is needed.
Making Your Poetry Out Loud Program Accessible
To ensure that a student’s 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 in terms of accessibility—instead, start a conversation with the student and/or his or her advocate. Their input will ensure that everyone is comfortable with the process and its outcome.
- Level the playing field. Use the information you gleaned from the interactive process 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 by providing general guidance on accessibility. The interactive process involving students and their parents/guardians/advocates may also provide valuable insight with respect to educating the judges on accessibility and disability. There may be instances in which students would like their disability disclosed to the judges and other instances in which they would not. Please disclose only what the students and his/her parent/guardian would like the judges to know, if anything. In some cases, a judge might request additional information about how a student’s disability may impact his/her recitation. Before discussing this with the judges, please confer with the student and his/her parent/guardian to determine the best approach to this inquiry.
- 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.
American Sign Language (ASL) and Poetry Out Loud
Poetry Out Loud was piloted at a school for the deaf during the 2008-09 school year, providing us the framework to create a national model for including deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Poetry Out Loud. The following materials will 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 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.