CYSO Awarded Grant to Increase Accessibility

As part of our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, we are excited to announce that CYSO has recently been awarded funding to support accessibility efforts at all levels of our programming. This project is made possible with support from The Catalyst Fund, a program of the League of American Orchestras made possible by the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation. Nationwide estimates find that 15% of the population over 5 years old has been diagnosed with a disability, and even more—25%—adults experience a difference in ability at some point during their lives. With numbers like that, it is clear that building accessibility into CYSO’s culture is vital to meeting the needs of our students, families, and community.

CYSO was awarded a Catalyst Fund grant in 2019 to focus on our practices around racial equity and inclusion. During the 2019-2020 season, this funding allowed us to enlist the help of consultant Dr. Derrick Gay to improve CYSO’s practices and organizational culture around inclusion and equity. We worked with staff, students, parents, and stakeholders to create our first ever Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statement, began ongoing antiracism trainings for staff, and began implementing EDI practices and trainings with students, among other projects. We remain committed to our antiracism work, and are excited to expand our focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion to examine accessibility equity—creating a better environment for our students, audiences, and community members who are disabled, neurodivergent and those with sensory needs. 

To aid us in this project, CYSO will work with two nationally-recognized leaders in the field of accessibility— Institute for Human Centered Design and Access Living of Metro Chicago. The Institute for Human Centered Design works to advance the role of design for people of all ages, abilities, and cultures. With their help, CYSO will implement accessibility best practices for our new website (to launch fall 2021), as well as reviewing our social media, outreach and program materials, and policies to create a long-term plan to center accessibility needs in decision making.

Complementing this work will be a series of staff and faculty training sessions and community feedback meetings led with Access Living of Metro Chicago. Access Living works to challenge stereotypes, protect civil rights, and champion social reforms for those living with disabilities. Since their founding in 1980, they have worked to break down systemic barriers to create a world where disability is respected as a natural part of the human experience

We are grateful to the League of American Orchestras’ Catalyst Fund for their continued investment in CYSO’s commitment to furthering equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. We look forward to how this work will help us meet the needs of our vibrant and diverse community of students, families, and audiences.
We look forward to rolling out ways for the CYSO community to be involved in our accessibility work over the next year, and in the future. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to reach out to Karen Mari, Community & Family Engagement Coordinator, at

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