As theatres begin to reopen this week, Laura Jones talks to our Executive Producer Sho about the Access and Inclusion training she has been delivering for dance and other cultural venues and shares some top tips for welcoming back disabled audiences.
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Laura has worked in inclusive dance throughout her professional life, and as an artist, teacher and advocate, she has closely worked with individuals with different kinds and levels of access needs. As a dancer who uses a wheelchair herself, accessibility in dance has always been an important issue, and in the last two decades, she has been pioneering and speaking extensively about how to make dance inclusive for D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people from a practitioner’s perspective.
More recently, she has been branching out and begun speaking to dance and cultural venues and organisations about how disabled audiences can be more proactively welcomed. Her training introduces Social and Medical Models of disability (and signposts to a few others, find out more here in this article from Drake Music), as well ideas for identifying and removing a number of barriers that disabled people may face when trying to access dance and cultural activities. Individuals who are learning disabled, visually impaired, D/deaf, physically disabled and neurodiverse have very different needs, and the ongoing blended offer of online and in-person cultural experiences has made the situation a bit more complicated in the time of a global pandemic…!
A short video from Shape Arts that explains the Social Model of Disability:
Her training explores some of these issues in more detail, but here are some of her top tips:
1: Put access and inclusion at the front and centre of planning and design
Your reopening plans may involve you asking audiences to engage with your programme and/or venue differently to what audiences have been accustomed to pre-pandemic. When any changes are made, it’s important to reconsider the user journey with different kinds of needs in mind and examine whether the changes have unintentionally excluded anyone. If it has, you need to make adjustments!
2. Nothing about us without us
Have you checked how your access provision impacts on the people you are intending it for? It’s wise to consult disabled peers with varying access needs in designing your provision to make sure it’s user-led and fit-for-purpose. It’s also important to resource this process properly. People with different needs will have to be consulted to make sure your programme is holistically accessible, so you may need to set up an access panel of individuals rather than relying on one or two people. The panel will need to be renumerated or compensated for their contribution, and note that a disabled individual, who happens to be working for your organisation, should not be expected to do it, on top of their current work activities, simply because they have a disability.
3. Be proud of being accessible and make it obvious that you are… Inclusion elevates everyone
From wheelchair access benefiting families with pushchairs to Easy Read facilitating you to make difficult instructions more comprehensible for everyone, including those whose first language isn’t English, thinking about accessibility has extensive benefits.
Making access and inclusion bold and obvious will send a message that your door is open for everyone.
Remember to use language that is respectful and open rather than patronising. It’s important that you pay attention to issues surrounding disablism and ableism and appreciate the relevant sentiments in talking about disability inclusion. There is also a quick rough guide to language here: Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability.
4. Be specific about your provision
It’s important not to just have a generic statement that says you are open to everyone … because that could mean anything! Show that you mean it by making available as much detailed information as possible about what provisions you have, so that individuals can make the judgment call on whether an event or venue will meet their specific access requirements.
People with different needs will often want to pre-prepare for their experience. A simple video journey of routes from the entrance to the auditorium/toilets/bars etc posted somewhere on your website, could make the world of difference, and give people the confidence to know that they can successfully access your venue.
The 7 Principles of Inclusive Recovery by We Shall Not Be Removed is a ‘must read’ to delve deeper into Access and Inclusion, and you can read more about it here: 7 Principles to Ensure an Inclusive Recovery
And as always, do get in touch with us to talk more about making dance accessible to disabled people whether they be practitioners or audiences.