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NEWS: Building Back For All

Press release

Audience Access Alliance urge continued inclusion of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people via open letter of support for colleagues across the cultural, sports, heritage and tourism sectors

October 1st 2020

Marking the 10th anniversary of the Equalities Act coming into force and in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, 12 audience accessibility organisations and networks, alongside two government sector champions, have come together as the Audience Access Alliance.

Their first action is an open letter of support and solidarity to partners across the cultural, sports, heritage and tourism sectors, celebrating the progress that had been made prior to COVID-19, and advocating for continued collaboration to drive forward an inclusive recovery and further positive change for millions of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people. The group add their backing to the #WeMakeEvents campaign, and its urgent call for the UK government to support the UK’s world-leading events sector.

Since the Act came into force, participation by disabled people across the cultural and creative sectors has increased significantly. In 2019/20, 76% of Deaf and disabled people engaged with the arts (vs 77% of non-disabled people), closing the estimated 9% gap in engagement recorded in 2008/09. Narrowing of participation gaps have also been seen across heritage, museums and galleries, whilst Deaf and disabled people made up 12% of Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation audiences in 2018/19.

The total spending power of families including at least one disabled person is estimated at £274 billion a year.

The letter notes that, despite Deaf and disabled people being among the most impacted by the virus, not every disabled person is medically ‘vulnerable’ to COVID-19 and there remains a strong desire among many to participate in inclusive online events and return to in-person activities such as gigs, exhibitions and football matches as soon as rules allow. The Alliance adds that their organisations are horrified by the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the talented and committed professionals that they work alongside, and remain committed to helping those sectors survive this traumatic period.

“We can enable you to consult with Deaf and disabled audiences, ensure that the gains we have jointly made are not lost, and help secure the widest possible audiences to support you in the difficult times ahead.”

Instigated by music and event industry charity Attitude is Everything, the Audience Access Alliance letter is signed by Disability Collaborative Network, Euan’s Guide, Hynt, The Access Card, Performance Interpreting Inc, Shape Arts, Signed Culture, Stagetext, Stay Up Late, Transport For All and VocalEyes. Additional signatories are Andrew Miller, UK Disability Champion for Arts and Culture, and Heather Smith, UK Disability Champion for Countryside & Heritage.

View the full letter here.

“We are delighted to be joined by like-minded colleagues in forging this unprecedented Audience Access Alliance, extending a message of solidarity to the sectors we are proud to support. The need for cross-sector collaboration and conversation has never felt more vital, with unprecedented pressures on the industries we support, and so many parallels regarding the conversations we are having to support accessible reopening. Collectively, we champion the importance of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent audiences to the UK economy, and the role they can play in aiding the industries they love in the months and years ahead.” Jacob Adams, Head of Campaigns, Attitude is Everything

“Disabled people’s continued participation in live events and culture has been severely threatened by this pandemic. So I fully endorse the Audience Access Alliance call to the industry to Build Back Better and ensure that essential access is not only maintained but enhanced, making the recovery fully inclusive of disabled audiences in all settings”. Andrew Miller, UK Government Disability Champion for Arts & Culture

An open letter of support from the Audience Access Alliance to our colleagues across the cultural, sports, heritage and tourism sectors on the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act coming into force.  

Since March, we have been horrified to witness the immense impact COVID-19 has had on the talented and committed professionals we are honoured to work alongside. We extend our full solidarity to everyone fighting for survival as we enter more months of uncertainty and delay.

Today we should be marking the tenth anniversary of the Equality Act coming into force, and the positive impact this legislation, our support and your good practice has had on the lives of millions of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people, be they weekly gig-goers, loyal festival campers, fanatical sports fans, passionate art lovers, committed theatregoers, inquisitive heritage explorers or UK ‘staycationers’. By working together, we have seen continued growth in participation over the past 10 years.

‘Deaf and disabled people’ are a vast and diverse group in the UK – 14.1 million (1 in 5 people) people.  The total spending power of families including at least one disabled person is estimated at £274 billion a year. In 2019/20, 76% of Deaf and disabled people engaged with the arts (vs 77% of non-disabled people), closing the estimated 9% gap in engagement recorded in 2008/09. Narrowing of participation gaps have also been seen across heritage, museums and galleries. Deaf and disabled people made up 12% of Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation audiences in 2018/19. 

COVID-19 is deeply affecting all of us at a personal level. Deaf and disabled people are amongst the groups most impacted, with 2.2 million people told to shield and millions more having to take extra precautions due to existing and newly acquired COVID-related access requirements and health conditions. Not every disabled person is medically ‘vulnerable’ to COVID-19, but our deep concern is that all disabled people will be impacted if COVID-19 erodes the growth in accessible choices we have worked so hard to secure.

Evidence shows that there is a huge desire to participate in inclusive online events and return to in-person activities such as gigs, exhibitions and football matches when COVID-19 rules allow as long as they are accessible and come with the necessary online information and safety interventions.  Many disabled people will be first through the door if this is the case. Excellent work is already being done by many of our partners across all sectors to cater to this demand.

That’s why we as members of the Audience Access Alliance are working hard to support government guidance and the sectors we care so deeply about in every way we can. Most recently, some of us contributed to the publication of the essential ‘Seven Inclusive Principles for Arts & Cultural Organisations working safely through COVID-19’. We can connect you with Deaf and disabled audiences, ensure that the gains we have jointly made are not lost, and help secure the widest possible audiences to support you in the difficult times ahead. With so much progress made, we want to work together whenever we can to ensure that your businesses and organisations can continue to play a vital part in making the vibrant cultural life of the UK accessible.

If we want to ‘build back better’, it’s vital that we build back for all. 

Yours Sincerely,

  • Attitude is Everything
  • Disability Collaborative Network 
  • Euan’s Guide
  • Hynt 
  • Performance Interpreting
  • Shape Arts
  • Signed Culture
  • Stagetext
  • Stay Up Late
  • The Access Card
  • Transport For All
  • VocalEyes
  • Sector Champion: Andrew Miller – Arts and Culture
  • Sector Champion: Heather Smith – Countryside and Heritage

About the Audience Access Alliance

The Audience Access Alliance is an informal group of organisations, networks and government Sector Champions united around a common interest in improving accessibility for Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent audiences.

The founding members are:

Attitude is Everything 

Attitude is Everything connects Deaf and disabled people with live music and event industries to improve access together, breaking down barriers for audiences, artists, volunteers and professionals via a Charter of Best Practice and projects with industry partners.

The Access Card 

The Access Card provides its 30,000+ users universal proof of access requirements to use when making bookings and attending venues, events, tourist attractions and more, and helps venues communicate their accessibility.

Disability Collaborative Network (DCN) 

DCN is the Heritage, Arts and Culture arm of EMBED, a collaborative cross sector consortium supporting intersectional inclusion in all organisations.

Euan’s Guide 

A disabled access review website where disabled people, their family, friends and carers can find and share reviews on the accessibility of venues around the UK and beyond.  

Hynt

A national access scheme for Wales that works with theatres and arts centres to make sure there is a consistent offer available for Deaf and disabled visitors. Hynt is an Arts Council of Wales initiative managed by Creu Cymru in partnership with Diverse Cymru. 

Performance Interpreting 

A specialist agency providing British Sign Language Interpreters for music, sports and entertainment venues and events across the UK. 

Shape Arts

A visual arts-focused organisation which works to improve access to culture for disabled people by providing opportunities for disabled artists, training cultural institutions to be more open to disabled people, and through running participatory arts and development programmes.

Signed Culture 

Signed Culture works with BSL users, arts and cultural organisations and BSL interpreters and Deaf presenters to help ensure that the cultural sector is as open and welcoming to the UK’s Deaf community as it can possibly be. 

Stagetext 

Stagetext makes arts and culture accessible to d/Deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people through captions and subtitles. 

Stay Up Late 

A charity committed to promoting the rights of people with learning disabilities to live the lifestyle of their choosing. 

Transport For All 

Transport for All (TfA) is a pan-impairment organisation, guided by the passionate belief that all disabled and older people have the right to travel with freedom and independence, campaigning for accessible transport systems and inclusive street design.

VocalEyes 

VocalEyes brings art, theatre, museums and heritage to life for blind and visually impaired people through audio description.

Andrew Miller – UK Disability Sector Champion for Arts and Culture

Andrew Miller is a cultural consultant & broadcaster with 30+ years driving change in the industry. He is a founding member of UK Disability Arts Alliance #WeShallNotBeRemoved, and a National Council member for both the Arts Councils of England and Wales.

Heather Smith – UK Disability Sector Champion for Countryside and Heritage 

Heather Smith currently works as the Equality Specialist at National Trust, leading on improving access for disabled people. Heather has presented and published internationally on accessibility and the historic environment, is a trustee of disability charities, and chairs the Jodi awards for excellence in accessible digital media.

Member resources and publications

7 Inclusive Principles for the Arts and Culture

Produced with input from Attitude is Everything and Andrew Miller / #WeShallNotBeRemoved

Guidance

Attitude is Everything – Access Guide: Online Music Events

DCN/EMBED – Reopening Recommendations Support Service

Vocaleyes – Guidelines for digital accessibility

Shape Arts – Accessible marketing

Publications

VocalEyes Survey – Museum re-opening and live-streamed events

Resources

Euan’s Guide – Resources for venues

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