Paris mum opens up arts to people with special needs

24 July 2019
By Jane Hanks

People with autism are being given easier access to the arts, thanks to the efforts of an American woman living in Paris.

Arts for All Ways is an association founded by Thais Trobaugh.

She said accessibility has improved in general in France but there is still a lack of awareness of the special needs of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism, in museums, theatres and concert halls.

“If you look up a museum website, there will usually be a section devoted to wheelchair access, or special tours for people who are deaf or blind, but hardly ever for those who are autistic.

“They love art and music but are often overwhelmed or do not understand expectations. They are either hyper or hypo-sensitive and often react differently. There may be too many people, too much noise, too much light. They may find it difficult to understand and fall in line with the social rules, such as keeping quiet, that we take for granted as they may wish to react vocally to the power of the music, when everyone else is silent.”

Mrs Trobaugh has first-hand experience of the condition. She said: “My son Quentin, who is 29, has epilepsy and is autistic. I had to give up work to look after him.

“We went back to the USA and I started advocating for more inclusion for people like my son. When we came back to France, which I love, I wanted to introduce actions I had seen work in America and Britain.”

Mrs Trobaugh now works as a consultant to help develop innovative sensory-friendly programmes at theatres, concerts and museums, training staff at cultural venues.

“In the States, there are autism- friendly performances and in the UK there are relaxed performances, and this concept is just beginning here,” said Mrs Trobaugh. “I have helped organise autism-friendly events in Paris. One was part of the Concerts Rue Bayard series at the Scots Kirk Church, with soprano Lauren Libaw.

“She evoked a concert she performed at in Los Angeles when a boy on the autism spectrum in the front row kept jumping up and applauding.

“His ‘difference’ was embraced by everyone and she wanted to repeat that experience with music-lovers with disabilities in France.

“Such concerts are typically held in smaller venues, soft lights are left on, seating allows for freedom of movement as people may enter and leave as they wish, and there is a chill space for those who need to take a break.”

She said there are lots of simple things that can make a huge difference: “Staff training is vital. Infiniteach in the USA makes apps to facilitate visits to cultural venues. Among the features are sensory maps, which show where the busy, noisy places are in a museum and how to avoid them.”

Contact Mrs Trobaugh at trobau42b@gmail.com or visit her blog at frogandted.wordpress.com.

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