Nonprofit spotlight: Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month with ArtMix

Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month by learning about a local nonprofit, ArtMix. Photo courtesy of artmixindiana.org

CASSANDRA STEC | STAFF REPORTER | cmstec@butler.edu

While October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, ArtMix advocates for employees with disabilities every day of the year.

ArtMix is a local Indianapolis nonprofit organization whose purpose is to improve the lives of people with disabilities with the help of creativity and art, as stated on their website. ArtMix has a variety of classes and programs, including outreach to local schools, community art classes, pediatric healing in hospitals and artist inclusion through their gallery. 

The nonprofit group also has internships for people with and without disabilities. Besides ArtMix’s various resources, they also promise a welcoming environment free of hardships and discrimination that people with disabilities may experience in other workplaces, according to the ArtMix website under the tab “Why We Do It.

The nonprofit first began in 1974 with help from Jean Kennedy Smith, who was one of the founders of Best Buddies and the Special Olympics. Originally, ArtMix was called “Arts Unlimiting,” and then “Very Special Artists,” or “VSA” in 1982, according to the “Who We Are Tab,” on the ArtMix website. 

According to Britt Sutton, the CEO and President of ArtMix, the arts organization was fully funded by the United States Department of Education until 2012. After losing funding, Sutton said they rebranded to their current name and have since continued to employ people with disabilities.

Sutton said she knows how important ArtMix is for people with disabilities, as she herself is a person with a disability. 

“There are so many organizations out there where people with disabilities are paid maybe sixty cents an hour,” Sutton said. “Organizations like ArtMix are amazing in that they pay people fair wages and promote inclusion through vocational programs. ArtMix helped [people with disabilities] gain their voice to advocate for themselves, which is so important when you’re a person with a disability.”

Sutton also talked about the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Without the ADA, Sutton may not have a job and the students with disabilities that are a part of ArtMix would not have the opportunity to work. The ADA legally mandates businesses to hire people with disabilities. 

“If you look at the statistics in the 1970s, there were millions of children who weren’t able to go to school because they had a disability and millions of people who couldn’t work because they had a disability,” Sutton said. “The act is an incredibly important piece of legislation that we celebrate here every day and that I celebrate every day because without it I wouldn’t have the right to work.” 

NaShara Mitchell, an entrepreneurship and innovation lecturer in Butler’s Lacy School of Business, works with Sutton as a board member for ArtMix. She said that she chose to become a part of the board at ArtMix because the organization aligns with her personal goals of equity and justice.

“Everyone deserves and has the right to our planet, [and] ArtMix uses art to empower and increase the quality of life and give social opportunities,” Mitchell said. “It’s important to understand differences through the lens of differently-abled individuals. You want to make sure everyone has access to opportunity and to the development necessary for that opportunity.”

As a board member, Mitchell works on a variety of things regarding the organization’s mission, operational tasks and financial considerations. Mitchell said it is her job to make sure that the organization has the ability to change lives.

“We want to make sure the organization is able to do its mission day-to-day and in the future,” Mitchell said.

While priority is given towards people with disabilities, ArtMix opens its programs to everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. ArtMix has in-person programs, as well as a YouTube channel where online classes are located. If someone wants to participate in an online class but does not have the funds to purchase supplies, they can call ArtMix and the organization will create a supply kit and provide it for them.  

Hanna Russell, a disability specialist from SDS, said she wants to help make education equitable for students with disabilities on campus. In an email to The Butler Collegian, Russell detailed the SDS’ resources and responsibilities on campus.

“Any student with a documented disability can register with our office,” Russell said in the email. “Including but not limited to students with hearing loss, visual impairments, learning disabilities, chronic medical conditions, attention deficit disorder, mobility impairments and emotional disabilities.” 

Russell also helps students determine the best time and methods to disclose their disability status to their employer. 

“If you are a student with a disability, you may choose to disclose your disability status to your employer at any time, or not at all, depending on the nature of your disability,” Russell said. 

While SDS has the goal of making education equitable for students with disabilities, some students think that Butler has an issue regarding accessibility.

Natalie Urban, a junior gender, women and sexuality studies, creative writing and Spanish triple major, said she thinks that National Disability Employment Awareness Month is important because the agency of people with disabilities is often an afterthought at Butler. Urban said she is frustrated regarding how SDS accommodations are often not respected by professors.       

“I’m currently living in Apartment Village and there are no elevators, and the landscaping outside is mostly stairs,” Urban said. “In theory, the first floors are accessible but being unable to access the rest of the apartments is extremely limiting in social activities. On top of physical accessibility, everyone I know with SDS accommodations has had a difficult teacher or had classes where their accommodations are not respected.” 

ArtMix is always taking interns, so if students are interested they can reach out to info@artmixindiana.org. They are also on social media and can be found at ArtMixIndy on Instagram and Facebook as well as ArtMix Indiana on YouTube. If a student wants to purchase art from ArtMix, they can either go to their website or stop by their galleries. Every purchase made helps keep a student in ArtMix employed. 

If a student wants to reach out to SDS, they are located in Jordan Hall 136 and can be reached by emailing SDS@butler.edu or by calling 317-940-9308. 

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