“We are a connector of people – people to opportunities, people to arts, and people to organizations.” - Eileen Bagnall, Executive Director, Arts Access NC

In 1984, an organization emerged with the goal of increasing accessibility to the arts for people with disabilities here in the Triangle. Arts Access NC’s first project was providing wheelchairs in museums and theaters to individuals with limited mobility so they could enjoy a show or an exhibit. Almost 40 years later, they have taken on a variety of projects all aligning to the core of the organization’s mission – to make the arts accessible to people with disabilities. In addition to providing a variety of accessibility resources, they also offer training to arts and educational organizations, audio description services, and serve as a statewide information hub for resources.

Eileen Bagnall standing with the Arts Access info table at an event.Leading this work is Executive Director Eileen Bagnall, who recently celebrated one year at the organization. With an extensive background of almost 25 years in arts accessibility work, she picked up and moved across the country from Arizona to North Carolina to take on the role. “It’s a really great field to work in because you can really see the impact that art makes on lives.” Calling Raleigh home for a little over a year now, Eileen has observed quite a bit – it rains a lot (compared to Arizona), the people are friendly, and the arts and music scene is incredible. “I describe this area as a big city, but with a small-town heart,” she explains, emphasizing the generous spirit of the community.

Fostering Inclusivity from Museums, Theatres, and Beyond

Pictured right: Denise, an audio descriptor with Arts Access NC.

The cornerstone of Arts Access NC’s work comes from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law prohibiting discrimination based on disability, and they aim to serve as a barrier remover in the community. One of the largest core projects that propelled the organization forward is audio description services. This service allows blind or low-vision individuals to fully experience arts venues. In a museum setting, this looks like someone guiding the exhibit tour and providing descriptions along the way with all interpretative information. Oftentimes, QR codes and downloadable guides are used to access descriptions of each piece of artwork throughout the museum. In a theatre performance setting, descriptors provide a play-by-play, from costume details to the set and who the actors are. Once the show begins, individual plot details are described throughout the play. Eileen says there has been incredible feedback received and “bubbling enthusiasm” from those who have benefited from this service. “There are people who have never attended theatre before, and this has allowed them to fully experience the magic of a show or museum in its entirety.”

Arts Access NC also provides training to educational and arts organizations. Through the Wake and Durham Arts Inclusion Projects, educators are trained and professionally developed to foster inclusivity for all students. Arts Access NC builds training programming dependent on the initiatives each school has set, allowing them to cover a wide range of accessibility resources and education throughout the community. These trainings are not just one session visits but aim to form long-lasting relationships and layer art inclusion into daily class. For example, for a student who has difficulty writing, manipulating art materials such as clay can help the muscles in the student’s hands.

Showing up to Celebrate Art

Through the Artist Link Program (ALP), Arts Access NC encourages and promotes the work of North Carolinian artists with disabilities.  Artists meet through Zoom to share what they are working on, hear from guest speakers, and spend time with one another collaborating and gathering feedback. Their work is then displayed at ‘Third Friday’ (Downtown Durham’s monthly art and gallery event) in the Durham Marriott City Center lobby. This opportunity was set up by a generous donor and supporter for artists to show their work and sharpen business skills, like delivering a sales pitch.

Pictured left: Kim Tyler (ALP Artist) at a Women's Club event

Another opportunity to celebrate artwork is at the Series of Fortunate Events (SOFE), a year-long celebration aimed at highlighting the diversity and creativity within the disability community. The entire project is led by the Board of Directors, and Eileen is excited about the possibilities and ideas for this year. The documentary “Beyond Sight: The Making of enVISION” by Argyle Rebel Films will be presented at the North Carolina Museum of Art on July 15th. This is a behind the scenes film of the documentary presented by ShaLeigh Dance Works that shares the exploration of unsighted dance. On August 5th a family event will take place in partnership with the Durham County Main Library featuring local autistic artist D. J. Svoboda and his newly created coloring books highlighting “The Imagi Friends.” The 2023 art show will take place in November at the organization’s new gallery space in Raleigh and the theme is “Artful Living.” Arts Access facilitates a call for art from artists with disabilities, and each year the organization chooses one piece of art to add to their permanent collection.

Artist Link Program (ALP) Artist Workshop at Sertoma Art Center

Imagining the Future

When imagining the future of Arts Access NC, Eileen lit up with excitement, as the organization is beginning to dive into the work of partnering with local zoos and aquariums, breaking down even more barriers in the community. The largest project currently in the works is relocating to a new space. The vision is to have a space with a gallery so artists’ work can be displayed, allowing them the opportunity to have their work shown and adding a retail space for artists to sell their work. They are currently determining the best location in Raleigh to maximize their impact.

“[People with disabilities] are just regular patrons, and they just want to be here,” she says. Through the work being done at Arts Access NC, Eileen and the team are ensuring individuals with disabilities are welcome in all spaces in the community and can express themselves creatively without any barriers.


Arts Access North Carolina is a non-profit dedicated to creating a positive impact at the intersection of arts, education and disability. Our vision is to have communities in which the arts are universally accessible. We value acceptance, lived experiences, partnerships and collaboration with those in our growing community.

To learn more about how you can get involved with Arts Access NC, click the button below.