Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities covers the right to equal participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport. We have a responsibility to consider how to make our work accessible to the broadest range of people at the outset, not only once things are planned and built.
Is my work accessible?
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to check on how accessible your work is going to be. “Work” is used broadly here incorporating all public activities from performances to workshops to project planning meetings. These questions can apply to artists, producers, project managers or venues, so take note of who can take responsibility for answering.
- Is there step-free access in the venue? If not, how many steps are there?
- Are there wheelchair-accessible seating positions in the venue? If so, do these need to be booked? Are they easy to book? Is the method for booking clear and publicised?
- Are there accessible toilets in the venue?
- Is there accessible parking at the venue?
- Is marketing material and information about the project available in multiple formats like large print, braille, Auslan or audio?
- Is the work Auslan interpreted?
- Is the work captioned?
- Is the work Audio Described? (send Will an email about this one!)
- Are venue staff trained to work with people who have low vision and/or assistance animals?
- Can a person participate in a work in the medium of their choosing - eg. speaking instead of writing?
Intellectual impairment & Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Are carers invited to join people in attending or participating in a work?
- Are staff and artists aware of the effects of intellectual impairments and ASDs, and how to respond to people exhibiting them?
- Is there a relaxed performance available?
Marketing & outreach
There's another important dimension to answering the question of "Is my work accessible?" - do people with disability know about it? Have you reached out to service providers, carers associations, schools and other groups to invite people to take part? If people don't know about the work, they won't be able to participate.
What is disability?
There are a few models for considering disability. The most current and widely-accepted is the social model of disability. This model holds that disability is a social construct that occurs when people with an impairment meet barriers in the environment that prevent them from participating in the same way as people who do not have that impairment. These barriers might be physical, behavioural or economic.
The social model is considered a person-centred approach, which is about ensuring someone with disability is at the centre of decisions which relate to their life.
“A person-centred process involves listening, thinking together, coaching, sharing ideas, and seeking feedback. This process is ongoing to make sure each person is supported towards their personal goals, even as they evolve and change.
The ultimate aim is to understand what each individual person wants and needs to live their own, personally defined, good life.” (House With No Steps)
The social model of disability is important as it shifts the responsibility for overcoming barriers from a person with disability to society as a whole. It means for arts practitioners that we have a responsibility to consider disability as part of our creative process and make an effort to maximise the accessibility of our work.
What kinds of impairments are there?
There are some broad categories to think about when you’re addressing barriers that prevent access to your work. These are not exhaustive, and you should always be prepared to ask for and respond to a person’s access requirements on an individual basis. People may have one impairment, or multiple impairments, and it's important to not make assumptions about disability based on appearance.
- Mobility impairment
“Mobility impairment refers to the inability of a person to use one or more of their extremities, or a lack of strength to walk, grasp, or lift objects. The use of a wheelchair, crutches, or a walker may be utilized to aid in mobility.” (Access Project, Colorado State University)
Examples: a person with Cerebral Palsy who uses a wheelchair to get around.
- Sensory impairment
“A sensory disability refers to an impairment of the senses (e.g. sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste). As 95% of the information about the world around us comes from our sight and hearing, a sensory disability can affect how a person gathers information from the world around them.” (House With No Steps)
Example: someone who has a degenerative eye disease which has caused low vision
- Learning impairment
“Learning Disabilities refer to a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information.” (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada)
Example: Someone who has dyslexia that affects their ability to learn
- Intellectual impairment
Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behaviour, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18. (American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities)
Example: Someone with Down’s Syndrome who requires care
- Mental illness
“A mental illness can be defined as a health condition that changes a person's thinking, feelings, or behaviour (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning.” (Mental Health Foundation of Australia Victoria)
Example: A person living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
“Autism spectrum disorder, commonly known as ASD, affects how people communicate and interact with others. It affects how they make sense of the world.
"Autism is a developmental condition that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. People with ASD experience difficulties with communication, social interaction and restricted/repetitive interests and behaviours. These difficulties are often accompanied by behavioural challenges and sensory issues.” (Autism Awareness)
- Acquired Brain Injuries
"Acquired brain injury (ABI) refers to damage of the brain that occurs after birth (with the exception of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, FASD). ABI can be caused by an accident or trauma, stroke (where blood supply to the brain is stopped by a clot or bleeding), brain infection, alcohol, drugs, or brain diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease." (Brain Injury Australia)
Find out more
Here's a list of peak bodies you can contact to find out more about art & accessibilty:
As always, give us a buzz if you're unsure about any of this!