The Tennessee Arts Commission provides assistance through its accessibility programs to artists with disabilities and statewide arts organizations.

“Imagine a Tennessee where everyone can participate in and experience the arts.” This goal of the Tennessee Arts Commission can become a reality through the cooperation of the artists, arts organizations, arts educators, volunteers and supporters who comprise the Tennessee arts industry. Therefore the Tennessee Arts Commission adopts the following accessibility statement:  No person on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, religion, or sex shall be excluded from participation in, or be denied benefits of, or otherwise be subject to discrimination of services, programs, and employment provided by the TAC and its contracting agencies.
Estimates regarding the number of Americans with disabilities vary between 54 and 58 million. Individuals may have various types and degrees of disability, and these may be temporary or permanent, and can affect anyone. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications. Because the Arts Commission receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Department of Education and the State of Tennessee, its grantees are expected to be in, or working towards the goal of, compliance with ADA and all applicable federal legislation.  If an individual believes he or she has been subjected to discrimination or to request an accommodation, he or she should contact the Director of Arts Access and Accessibility Coordinator at 615-532-9797 or Tennessee Relay Center 1-800-848-0298 (TTY) or 1-800-848-0299 (Voice).


The Nuts and Bolts

The Tennessee Arts Commission is a recipient of federal financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts and other federal agencies. As a recipient of Tennessee Arts Commission funds, your organization is subject to compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. In addition, there are other federal laws that are noted on the Assurances section of the grant application form and subsequent grant contracts that require your organization's compliance. Please read those documents carefully and know that by signing them, you are guaranteeing the compliance of your organization.

The following information is a brief overview of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Please note that this is only an overview and that there are links throughout this section that will direct you to the actual laws and/or to documents that more thoroughly explain your organization's compliance obligations.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973:  Section 504.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating against peoples with disabilities in their hiring and contracting practiced (sections 501 and 503), facilities (Section 502), and programs (Section 504).  Section 504 is most relevant to museums, arts organizations, performing arts centers, state arts agencies, and theatres as it mandates access for people with disabilities to federally assisted programs and services.  This includes programs that receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National of Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Department of Education (DOE).  Each federal grant making agency has its own Section 504 regulations covering its grant recipients.

ADA Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is federal civil rights law that prohibits exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities including leisure activities.  It extends accessibility provisions to both the public and private sectors.  The ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications by requiring businesses of all sizes that serve the public to remove existing barriers that are readily achievable, to ensure accessibility in new and remodeled facilities, and to facilitate effective communication by providing auxiliary aids.
You may visit the National Endowment for the Arts Web site to download a copy of Section 504 Self Evaluation Workbook and the full text of the ADA legislation.  Additional ADA can be found at the Department of Justice

The Core Principles of Accessibility

  • Access to cultural programs is a federal law and a legal requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Access is an organizational asset and must be integrated into all facets and activities, from day-to-day operations to long-range goals and objectives,
  • Access accommodations and services must be given a high priority and earmarked in the budget process.
  • Access has economic benefits because people with disabilities and older adults are a significant part of the population and constitute a large potential market.
  • Access is a social issue; People with disabilities are included in the definition of “diversity.”  Promoting diversity and inclusion ensures broader access for all people.
  • Access is a civil right:  Assuring equal opportunity for everyone is a fundamental starting point for all accessible efforts.

Frequently Asked questions and definitions:
What is a disability?

  • The ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is regarded as having such impairment.

            What is a reasonable accommodation?

  • A reasonable accommodation is any adjustment or change in a work environment that will allow a qualified individual with a disability to perform an essential job function. Accommodations in programs could include changes in practices, policies and procedures (such as providing adaptive devices) that would allow an individual with a disability the opportunity to communicate or participate in a program. For more information on reasonable accommodations read Small Employers and Reasonable Accommodations.

            What is an undue hardship/undue burden?

  • The ADA defines an undue hardship as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense for the business/employer. The following factors are usually considered:
  • The nature and cost of the proposed accommodation.
  • The overall financial resources of the business and the effect of the accommodation upon expenses and resources.
  • The impact of the accommodation upon the operation of the facility.

                        For more information on undue hardship in employment, visit the US Department of Labor's website ( The definition of undue burden is the same as undue hardship, the standard applied in employment under title I of the ADA and Section 504.

What is a self-evaluation?

  • According to the US Department of Justice, a self-evaluation is a public entity's assessment of its current policies and practices. The self-evaluation identifies and corrects those policies and practices that are inconsistent with title II's requirements. All public entities must complete a self-evaluation by January 26, 1993.

            What Is Section 504 and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability from organizations that receive federal funding. According to Section 504, any organization that receives federal funding is required to make its programs and activities accessible to people with disabilities.

            What is Universal Design?

  • Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people , to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
  • Equitable Use:  The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  • Flexibility in Use:  The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • Simple and Intuitive:  The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences.
  • Perceptible Information:  The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for Error:  The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions,
  • Low Physical Effort:  The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue.
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulations, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

The Tennessee Arts Commission is currently in the first year of a 3-year process to ensure that arts organizations receiving any level of support (Arts Education Support, Arts Project Support, Rural Arts Project Support, Arts Access, Partnership Support, Cultural Education Partnership, or Major Cultural Institution) are working towards reducing physical and social barriers for people with disabilities.
For Arts Organizations
FY2013 - Accessibility- Training and “Roll-Out”.  At the TAC statewide conference meeting in the fall 2012, workshops will be conducted by staff and a consultant to provide an overview of our program direction and the ABC’s of accessibility.   Additional training will be provided as needed.

  • FY2013 - All FY2014 grantees are required to complete and submit an Accessibility Checklist, which provided information about organizations’ programming, communications, and the facility(ies)  in which organizations present Arts Commission-sponsored programs.  Accessibility of organizations’ programs is required whether organizations own a facility, rent a facility space or tour programs. 
  • FY2013 – All FY2014 grantees are required to have an Accessibility Coordinator. 
  • As a component of the Final Report, FY14 grantees must submit an Accessibility Statement. Within this statement, grantees answer a question about the step(s) their organization has taken towards implementation of one ADA/Accessibility priority. The Accessibility Statement must be sent as an email attachment to within 30 days of completion of a fiscal year, no later than June 15, 2014.
  • All FY15 grantees applying in any TAC Grant category were required to upload an ADA/Accessibility Plan to e-grant as a part of their grant applications. Grant applications that did not include an ADA/Accessibility Plan were considered incomplete.

Accessibility Resources

The Arts Commission maintains an Accessibility Coordinator position on staff. Please contact William Coleman with questions or concerns related to the accessibility of arts programs or services. William Coleman can be reached at 615-532-9797 or by email at
Selected accessibility resources have been posted here. Search the resource link for more comprehensive current and archived accessibility resources.
Design for Accessibility
Design for Accessibility
Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator’s Handbook is a how-to reference and resource guide for integrating older adults and people with disabilities into all aspects of an arts organization — from planning and design to marketing and technical assistance.
This publication was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and MetLife Foundation, in partnership with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Accessibility Consultants
The following consultants are listed on the Consultant Services Roster and are available to consult on matters related to accessibility and accessible programming. (Additional consultants can be found on the Community Development Page.  (link)
VSA TN is the statewide arts and disability specialist who will be partnering with the Arts Organization for overall technical support and compliance issues.
Accessibility Symbols for Download
Promote your accessibility to employees, customers, audiences, students, and anyone who needs access to your facility or programs. Examples of places you’ll want to promote accessibility include: advertisements, newsletters, conference and program brochures, membership forms, building signage, floorplans and maps.
Download ADA standard symbols at

Links to Other Accessibility Resources

American Foundation for the Blind: The American Foundation for the Blind removes barriers, creates solutions, and expands possibilities so people with vision loss can achieve their full potential.
National Arts and Disability Center: The NADC is a leading consultant in the arts and disability community, and the only center of its kind. Our information is aimed at artists with disabilities, arts organizations, museums, arts administrators, disability organizations and agencies, performing arts organizations, art centers, universities, arts educators, and students
National Endowment for the Arts: NEA Office for Accessibility is the advocacy-technical assistance arm of the Arts Endowment to make the arts accessible for people with disabilities, older adults, veterans, and people living in institutions.
U.S. Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act: ADA HOME PAGE For ADA Regulations and Technical Assistance Manuals.
VSA Arts: VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, was founded more than 35 years ago by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and increase access to the arts for all.
Institute for Human Centered Design:  promotes design that works for everyone across the spectrum of ability and age and enhances human experience. We provide easy access to information and guidance about the civil rights laws and codes that provide a bedrock of accessibility in the US. We provide education and consultation about strategies, precedents and best practices that go beyond legal requirements to design places, things, communication and policy that integrate solutions to the reality of human diversity.

State and Local Links
Tennessee Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing : The Tennessee Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TCDHH) has the responsibility for ensuring that state and local public programs and services are accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened, and deaf blind citizens. TCDHH coordinates communication, information, public awareness, and advocacy services through six regional community service centers. The centers assist the Division of Rehabilitation Services by providing services that compliment those offered by Vocational Rehabilitation staff. TCDHH strives to open new avenues which will lead to equal opportunities for Tennesseans who are deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened or deaf blind. The centers are located in Memphis , Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Johnson City, and Jackson.
VSA Arts of Tennessee : VSA Tennessee, established in 2001, is the State Organization on Arts and Disability.  In Keeping with the mission of the international non-profit that is our namesake, we provide people with disabilities opportunities to participate in, learn through and enjoy the arts.
Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities : The Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities is a state office that promotes public policies to increase and support the inclusion of individuals with developmental disabilities in their communities.
Vanderbilt Kennedy Center : The mission of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development is to facilitate discoveries and best practices that make positive differences in the lives of persons with developmental disabilities and their families. We are dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities by embracing core values that include: 1) the pursuit of scientific knowledge with creativity and purpose, 2) the dissemination of information to scientists, practitioners, families, and community leaders, and 3) the facilitation of discovery by Vanderbilt Kennedy Center scientists the translation of knowledge into practice.