How can music venues welcome D/deaf and disabled audiences? Jacob Adams, Head of Research and Campaigns at Attitude is Everything, shares his advice.
Any venue or area of a festival can be made more accessible. If you perform or facilitate live music, you can help remove barriers that prevent audiences and artists accessing what you do.
Our approach at Attitude is Everything is informed by the social model of disability –while people may have impairments or health conditions, they are disabled by the barriers that they encounter in society.
A simple example of this is a wheelchair user wishing to enter a music venue. If the venue entrance has a step that could be overcome with a ramp, but the venue does not have one, the person is disabled by the lack of a ramp. If the ramp was there, they would be able to enter the building with no issue.
Provide facts and photos
Our research shows that over 60 per cent of disabled music fans have decided not to attend events because there is no access information online.
People need facts to make an informed decision, rather than statements such as ‘not suitable for disabled people’.
Tell people whether there is step-free access to the performance space. If there is no step-free access, explain the situation, i.e., 'gig upstairs with no lift' or 'seven narrow steps to access the gig'. Tell people the number of steps it takes to get into a venue, and whether there is a handrail.
A common misconception is that a venue down a flight of stairs is a no-go zone for disabled people. Stairs can be a barrier to most wheelchair users, and some people with physical impairments. However, a lot of people can navigate stairs but would then require a seat during the show.
Photographs of a space are also useful. Some venues and events here in the UK provide photo guides for disabled customers.
Provide a contact email address, so that people can ask you questions.
Tell people whether there is an accessible toilet. If you don't have an accessible toilet, tell people where the nearest one is.
Provide an accessible seated viewing area
An accessible seated viewing area is a designated place in a venue where people can sit down with a view of the stage. Depending on the venue's capacity, you might set this area up in advance, or support someone to get a seat on demand.
Tell people whether they can have a seated view of the stage, and describe the viewing area, both seating and standing room. Let people know in advance how they can get a chair, and make sure venue staff know the procedure.
Provide free tickets for personal assistants
Personal assistants might support disabled people to travel, communicate, make decisions, take medication or use the bathroom.
Explain how to request tickets for personal assistants. You can go on trust, or you can ask someone to explain briefly why they need a personal assistant, but don't ask detailed personal or medical questions.
Caption your gig
Captioning a gig means displaying the band names, song titles and lyrics on a screen during sets. This makes the show more accessible for people with hearing impairments.
You'll need set lists and lyrics from bands, and technology to display the text. Tell the band and the attendees in advance that you will provide captioning.
Provide a quiet space
This is a place away from the main gig area, to give people a break from the noise and crowd. It can benefit people with learning disabilities, autism and anxiety, or anyone who experiences sensory overload.
Tell people in advance that the room will be available, and provide a sign in the venue that explains what the room is for. Equip the room with soft seating and ambient lighting if possible. You could also provide reading, writing and drawing material.
Listen to people
All of our work and guidance is informed by hundreds of D/deaf and disabled mystery shoppers who go to gigs and events, and share their experiences with us.
D/deaf and disabled people are the experts in their own experiences.
The best results come when people work together. A band needs the venue or event to create information, so that they can share the information with their fans and encourage people to come.
Artists need to share their set lists and lyrics, so that an event can arrange captioning of lyrics for people with hearing impairments.
A venue needs the support and goodwill of promoters to provide tickets for essential personal assistants at no charge.
Read Attitude is Everything's guidance and translations of the guidance, published with the support of British Council.
Attitude is Everything is an Arts Council England sector support organisation that has assisted the UK’s live music industry for over 18 years to increase accessibility for D/deaf and disabled audiences, artists, volunteers and professionals. Over 160 venues and festivals are members of their Charter of Best Practice, a framework of awards that cover all aspects of live music accessibility.
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