When she dislocated her knee a few years ago, the busy local stage actress Cindy Wynn had no reason to assume that it would prove a turning point in her career and life. But when what appeared to be a minor injury didn't get better, and when she was diagnosed with a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, it became clear that Wynn would have to adjust to new realities.
"Basically, there's a lack of collagen in the connective tissue that makes my joints not hold together very well. They dislocate when I'm not paying attention," says Wynn. "One of my doctors calls it 'Stretchy Tissue Syndrome.'"
For the veteran of numerous local stages, who was also fond of skiing and rock climbing, the most frustrating part of the condition may have been that exercise couldn't help it; that, indeed, most exercises -- swimming is an exception -- were no longer recommended as healthy for her. Now 37, the vibrant, energetic woman walks with a cane, and a handicap parking tag hangs from the rearview mirror of her car.
She is not, however, any less busy, recently having been appointed coordinator of ArtAbility, a new "consortium of arts organizations and organizations serving the disability community." Spearheaded by Jim Cook of Arizona Theatre Company, in collaboration with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the agency is designed, in Wynn's words, "to make Arizona's arts more accessible, through not only physical accessibility but through accessible programming -- things like providing large print and Braille programs, like promoting American Sign Language-interpreted performances, infrared hearing devices and audio description."
Wynn sees her position as "the resource, the reference guide. I may not know everything or be able to do everything, but if you're an arts organization, you can call me up and say, 'Listen, I wanna become more accessible.' Say, for instance, that Theater Works decides they want to do an audio-described performance; they don't have to buy the equipment. The equipment is something that ATC bought that I manage up here and they manage at Tucson, and it's free to any arts organization that wants to use it. They just book it through me, and I also have a list of people who are trained audio describers."
Audio description, says Wynn, "works especially well in theater and opera because not only do you hear the singing or the dialogue, the audio describer would say something like, 'She enters in a flaming red dress and slams the door behind her.' It's kind of cool."
Wynn can also train ushers and other customer-service staff in the arts community to be disability-savvy. "Customer service is really important. I'm starting to do training so that, for instance, ushers are courteous. There are times when people don't know what language to use, or when people might make assumptions about people with disabilities. I know a couple of people who've had trouble with their service dogs, and one woman I spoke to said, '[Ushers] tend to talk to the person next to me rather than me, because I'm in a wheelchair.' Or they aren't always sure whether to help someone downstairs or not."
Much of ArtAbility's initial focus has been on the performing arts. But, says Wynn, "We're also working with the visual arts, mostly in terms of physical accessibility. Pueblo Grande Museum is working on a walk through the ruins where they've reconstructed some houses so that they're not delicate; you can actually touch them. So a person who was visually impaired could take a tactile tour. We're trying to encourage tactile tours and exhibits and video captioning, that sort of thing."
The response from arts organizations has been enthusiastic. "Arizona Theatre Company has been doing ASL and audio-described performances for years. Now, Arizona Opera, for the first time, is going to do audio description, and Actors Theatre of Phoenix is thinking about doing it. Scottsdale Center for the Arts is doing both audio-described and ASL performances -- they're really jumping on board," gushes Wynn. "So now that arts organizations are starting to provide this stuff, we have to make sure that audiences know it."
A sense of mission informs Wynn's work: "One of the things I love about the arts is the passion. Everybody who's in the arts is in it because they love it, right? I mean, nobody's really in it to make a buck; we're all in it because we love it, and we want everybody to see our art. So this is just about letting everybody see the art."
For more information on ArtAbility, call 602-364-0291; TTY: 602-542-6686.