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Creativity Matters: The Arts and Aging Toolkit
photo of two women holding watercolors (AFTA)

7.1: Setting the Stage

In chapter 6, we stressed the importance of establishing trust through the instructional design of the program. This section examines how ensuring physical and programmatic accessibility and setting group expectations contribute to creating an environment of trust in which participants can learn and succeed.

Ensuring Physical and Programmatic Accessibility

Accessibility means that everyone, regardless of age or ability, is included in all physical structures, programs, and means of communication (for example, Web sites, e-mail, telephone). The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in employment, state, and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

Whether older adults have disabilities or not, they benefit from accessibility features and customer service practices in stores, museums, performing arts venues, restaurants, and printed publications. Older adults are most likely to use accessible features when they are integrated into the overall design (universal design) because they are reluctant to request special consideration or fear ageism.

For arts and aging programs, consider in particular the accessibility of the space in which participants meet or rehearse, how you communicate, and how participants travel to the program.

Accessible Space

The facility used for an arts and aging program must have better-than-average accessibility. An accessible facility or space helps keep older adult participants safe. If there are no physical barriers or significant visual or aural distractions, they are more likely to concentrate and less likely to trip or fall. Here are some tips to consider when planning for accessibility:

[Have] a designated threshold created to be crossed, in order to enter into ritual space. The threshold can take various forms. It can be as concrete as creating an arch to walk under, providing a rug to walk on, or an entryway to walk through, or there could simply be a white board on which participants sign their names.76


Whether or not participants have hearing or vision losses, take special care in your communications:

Because some older adults have disabilities, these language tips are applicable:

When communicating with frail older adults or those with dementia:


While transportation is not directly related to creating an environment of trust, it is an issue of physical accessibility and a major concern for older adults living in the community. Some have given up driving at night or at all times. Many of those with cars are anxious about traffic and parking. The lack of public transportation and accommodations to enhance the safety of older adults who are still driving is a challenge.

Accessible transportation means:

To assist older adult participants, partner with the municipal senior transportation service; facilitate car pools; and investigate models such as volunteer drivers for cancer patients through the American Cancer Society or organizations that focus solely on older adults, like Senior Connection in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Most states have online guides to senior or retirement living with community transportation resources. Search for “retirement living guide” and the name of your state.

Setting Group Expectations

Clearly communicating expectations contributes to an environment of trust. Participants need to know the basic ground rules, such as dates, times, performances, rehearsals, and locations. Deliver these details verbally and in writing (in large type) on a one- or two-page policies and procedures information sheet.

The intangible expectations are more important than the tangible. Participants have to understand the programmatic parameters or rules, such as

One effective technique is for the program leader or teaching artist to facilitate a discussion in which participants develop their own group expectations or norms. They can revisit their decisions at any time or when a member needs a refresher. For participants with more advanced dementia, group norms are likely too abstract to be relevant.

Related to group expectations is honoring the work created by older adult artists. They determine what happens to their art, and they need to trust that you will respect their decisions. Just as with any other artist, ask each one to complete a written consent form if you select his or her work for a publication, exhibition, performance, or presentation.

Key Points about Setting the Stage


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Appendix 5:
Policies and Procedures Sample


Appendix 6: Teaching Artists Tools
Instructor Orientation

Program Proposal Form