Attitudes to disability are being transformed across the cultural sector. We are in the midst of a breakthrough moment where disabled artists like Jess Thom and disabled-led organisations such as the UK Theatre Award Winning Ramps on the Moon are being mainstreamed, made accessible to wide audiences.
Meanwhile the levels of participation and disabled audiences reach record levels supported by initiatives such as the Arts Council of Wales’ Hynt access card which makes booking theatre tickets easier for 11,000 disabled people in Wales. And in the South West, inclusive music making and artform development are being combined in the work of British Para Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the newly formed National Open Youth Orchestra - the world’s first disabled led youth orchestra.
There has never been a better time to be disabled in the arts. But my appointment as the Government’s first Disability Champion for the Arts & Cultural Sector suggests much more needs to be done.
There are 13 million disabled people in the UK, 20% of our national workforce with a combined spending power of £250 Billion. Whilst the business case for inclusion is overwhelming, arts and cultural organisations have been slow to recognise it, preferring a patricianly approach of beneficent outreach rather than meaningful engagement with disabled people as employees, performers and audiences.
And that is where I come in.
In announcing my appointment, the Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton MP said: “We know that disabled people are often under-represented in arts and culture…..and we need to demonstrate to cultural businesses the importance of prioritising disabled customers and employees.”
The Government realises it needs assistance to help tackle the issues disabled people face across a range of industries from retail to airports. And so they have recruited 14 champions, all working in different sectors and undertaking this role voluntarily. We don’t work for, or represent the government. We are simply another conduit, linking the arts in to wider government and disability agendas.
Whilst I will publicly promote progress and good practise from within arts and culture to Government and the media, I will also challenge the sector itself to raise its game. Acting as a catalyst for change, I’ll work with all the key industry bodies such as the four national arts councils and campaigning groups like Diverse Schools, a student led initiative aiming to boost diversity at our drama schools.
My own 30-year career in the arts, education and broadcasting has traversed artforms and creative industries. So my priorities are shaped by personal experience of an industry which has offered me as a disabled individual few support mechanisms, frequent discrimination and perhaps crucially, no role models or footsteps to follow.
My mission is to ensure poor training, rubbish access and enduring discrimination in the arts and cultural sector are banished to the past. I aim to achieve this by focusing on three critical areas: training and representation, employment and governance, and audience experience.
In Part Two of my blog, I’ll share with you the details of how I intend to achieve change in these areas.
UK Theatre and SOLT have just launched their new d/Deaf & Disabled Access training modules https://uktheatre.org/training-events/courses/d-deaf-and-disabled-access/