For those of you who read Part One of my blog last week, I promised I’d share with you details of how I intend to achieve positive change for disabled people in our industry as the Government’s first Disability Champion for the Arts & Cultural Sector.
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.
- I want to disabled artists and creatives to have better access to training. Some arts organisations such as Northampton’s Royal & Derngate are committing themselves to ambitious quotas of diverse staff and performers - there is therefore demand for disabled talent. Consequently we should expect to see better representation of disabled people on mainstream stages but also in our museums and in art. The talent is out there and needs showcasing. If inclusion riders are the future, they need to include disability.
But there are challenges to overcome. Most successful disabled performers have emerged from primarily non-traditional routes. Across 39 UK drama schools in 2016, there was not a single disabled declared graduate. UK Conservatoires have a student body that is primarily white, middle class and non-disabled. Creative & Cultural Skills have sought to create bespoke disabled apprenticeships which have foundered on sectoral inertia.
So there is clearly an issue with the talent pipeline. I want to work with specialist arts HE institutions and apprenticeship providers to ensure more brilliant talent like Amy Trigg have an opportunity to shine, whatever their disability.
- I’m going to tackle the dismal disability workforce statistics. In launching the most recent Creative Case Equalities & Diversity Data Report, Arts Council England chair Sir Nicholas Serota told delegates at Nottingham Playhouse in January that another year of static employment and governance figures across the sector demonstrated a "failure" by the arts. UK Theatre’s own 2017 Workforce Review noted “very low representation of disabled people in the workforce”.
We have to do better than 4% of the arts workforce self declaring a disability - it's not even accurate. I want to see employers promoting a positive culture to disability, embracing the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, leading employees to feel more comfortable declaring disabilities. As change has to start at the top, I also want to see disabled leaders at the helm of mainstream arts organisations (where currently there are none) together with better representation of disabled people on boards. Access remains an issue for many arts organisations premises – a third of which I estimate are currently inaccessible to the disabled workforce and I’ve called on ACE to undertake an access audit of the existing arts estate to assess the scale of the issue.
- I will offer a voice for disabled audiences, advocating that we get to share artistic experiences in the same way everyone else enjoys, and in every setting from auditoria to site specific work. In 2018 it strikes me as astonishing that most venues do not offer disabled customers the ability to book tickets online like everyone else, relying instead on access phone lines.
Across the UK there are a plethora of individual venue Access Card schemes and The Arts Council of Wales has demonstrated real leadership by developing the single nationwide Hynt card which not only supports audiences but also venues by providing the user’s access requirements. Attitude is Everything has recently published their State of Access 2018 report calling for a single UK wide system for registering access requirements & ticket booking for music venues. I will strive to have this approach embraced by the whole entertainment sector as it’s good for disabled bookers and saves individual venues running their own bespoke schemes.
Essentially, this is all about ensuring disabled people are welcomed and valued as audiences, as performers and as employees. Many arts organisations already strive to do this, but not all. If we wish to attract disabled people to our industry, we need to offer consistency. To support the sector achieve this, I’m drawn to creating a disability charter that captures best practice across a wide range of our activity and that outlines minimum expectations.
The concept of “reasonable adjustment” - understood by many disabled people to represent minimal effort to meet Equalities legislation - now appears redundant. We all need to demonstrate leadership to ensure that discrimination in all areas of our own operations are eliminated for good. So let’s jointly grasp this moment of change for all its opportunities, before the moment moves on.
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/