Here at MindsEye, we have all different types of volunteer opportunities. However, occasionally a volunteer will come along who is uniquely positioned to move our mission forward in their own new way. Today, we’d like to highlight and thank one of those volunteers: Dawn Walter, one of the winners of the “Mission Moment” Award at this year’s Volunteer Appreciation Day.

As the Executive Assistant to the General Director of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Dawn was inspired to expand the accessibility initiatives at Opera Theatre and that’s exactly what she did. Working with MindsEye, Dawn has arranged multiple Audio-Described performances for each production in Opera Theatre’s 2022 Festival Season! Dawn is also a valued member of the MindsEye Audio Description team.

Laura Foughty spoke with Dawn to find out how this amazing step forward for accessibility came about.

LAURA: Thank you so much for all you do for us. Can you talk a little bit about how you got started volunteering with MindsEye

DAWN: I actually had a friend, Sarah, who was volunteering with you guys and she would post about it occasionally on Facebook. I looked into it and was just really interested. I tried to get involved shortly before March of 2020. That obviously didn’t happen, but then I think I did a training session in the fall/winter 2020 online and have since been describing.

LAURA: What’s your position with Opera Theatre?

DAWN: I am the Executive Assistant to the General Director, so my main job is to help the General Director with his calendar and tasks that he needs to do, but over the last two years I’ve also taken on all of the accessibility initiatives at Opera Theatre. That doesn’t play well into my title, but I do run them.

LAURA: Did that come about because you had experiences with accessibility? Which came first?

DAWN: I would say they kind of came about at the same time. I’ve always been really interested in accessibility. My mother is legally blind and so once I saw that there were nonprofits in town that could assist Opera Theatre in expanding its accessibility initiatives, I went to my boss and said, “I’m looking into this. I think we should do it. I’ll come back with more information.” Thus started the whole journey.

LAURA: I know Magan is always talking about how impressive Opera Theatre’s accessibility offerings are and what a great job you do of putting it front and center. Can you give me a rundown of the different accessibility offerings that you provide?

DAWN: Of course. So, we have accessibility seating. We have a service where if an individual has difficulty walking or is coming in a wheelchair, our ushers or our greeters will be able to assist them from their car to their seats. We have audio description for three performances per production. ASL [American Sign Language] for one performance per production. We also have supertitles – which means subtitles, basically – above the stage and we will also be offering large print and braille programs this season. I’m very excited about that one. Then, finally, Paraquad is doing some training sessions with our staff so they understand the correct terminology to use as well as how to interact with people with disabilities and make them feel welcomed.

LAURA: That’s great! I know keeping frontline staff up to date on everything is difficult to do. That’s great that you’re having all those trainings.

DAWN: Paraquad does such a great job.

LAURA: Okay. We ask everybody this question. What is your favorite pizza topping?

DAWN: If I only had to pick one, it would be pineapple, but if I could pick a combination, I really like mushroom, green peppers, and chicken.

LAURA: That sounds tasty! Last question. What were your thoughts when you found out you were getting this Mission Moment Award?

DAWN: I was just really excited. It was so great to be recognized. I mean, I never went into this thinking, “I could get an award doing this,” but it’s just nice to know that it’s been noticed by the community and, more importantly, that Opera Theatre has been noticed by the community.

All of us at MindsEye applaud Dawn’s hard work as a MindsEye Audio Describer and in expanding the accessibility options at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and congratulate her on her well-deserved award! Drop your own congrats in the comments below!

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