Vici Wreford-Sinnott writes, "This is a call to action, as all the conversations are in this series are. Disabled Artists please develop Access Riders as tools of empowerment and activism so that they become common place, and that talk of access becomes common currency in employment and engagement in the arts. It's not the only thing we can do but it will be a part of a campaigning wave. We’re also calling for greater platforms for these conversations please. Share this information and contact us at Little Cog to discuss this further. We are being left behind at an incredible rate as the arts push forward."
This blog is written after a workshop on developing Access Riders.
You can still get involved
This conversation is just a beginning and if you couldn’t make it along to the session it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute comments for the 'points made' section. You are invited to contribute responses to the questions asked during the zoom. There is more information on this here
Some voices are still completely missing from the arts aren’t they? It’s glaringly obvious and all of us know it, the whole arts sector I mean, but the parts that feel difficult, awkwardly shaped or like they might involve a bit too much thought are being quietly swept into the dust under carpets.
It feels essential to me to create spaces where disabled artists can come together to talk where we are not silenced or hushed into embarrassment or guilt for talking about things we are still being excluded from. The important things about our experience and the spaces we feel left behind from. We see the rolling eyes and sighs – we just want to talk about the art too but there is too much in its way. There have been some huge disappointments recently as it dawns on us that only some members of our community are going to be involved in the arts going forward in current circumstances.
A lot has to change. Again. Groundhog day for equality conversations. Real life exhaustion. Again. We have to ‘make a case’ and prove our worth for everything.
Importantly in these conversations it is vital to note how far our community has come, the change we have campaigned for and the progress we’ve forged. The Disabled Peoples’ Rights Movement has existed for over fifty years but so few people know about this or acknowledge it. No-one is educated about it as it’s not included in any way in our education systems. It seems niche and insignificant but when we remember that 20-25% of our population consists of disabled people who experience barriers and exclusion every day, it really isn’t good enough.
As a society, we still speak in hushed tones about disability as if it’s a tragedy, when in fact 70% of us will become disabled as we age as a natural part of life. It’s ridiculous that we don’t talk more about it and prepare a more accessible world. Instead, we’re still shutting people away.
I was so lucky to be awarded an Arts Council England projects grant and to have continued support from ARC Stockton where I am an Associate Artist, to be able to put together my programme of Crucial Conversations and some artist development workshops in playwriting and comedy. More of them in future blogs. I have met with some incredible disabled people recently. I thrive in a safe accessible environment which is ‘disability comfortable’ and creative. I don’t live in a vacuum – ‘some of my best friends are non-disabled people’ – but I do love it when disabled people get together. It reminds me I’m part of something bigger and I’m keen to remind other disabled artists of that too.
The first Crucial Conversation for disabled artists I held was about developing Access Riders. And of course it was about much more than that – reflecting on our community and its achievements, remembering we have peers and allies, and positioning the scope and scale of disability in the UK as a social phenomenon.
An Access Rider is an effective tool to take control of our own access requirement communication with those we work with. We remove the ‘medical model’ perceptions that there is a list of things a disabled person ‘can’t do’ and replace it with a list of specific barriers which need to be removed to make the working environment accessible. Removing barriers has actually been the law since the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, replaced by the Equality Act in 2010 and yet we’re still having to come up with ways to make this an expected part of the terms and conditions of working with disabled people. We are put in the position of reminding venues, organisations, funders, partners and commissioners that access is a right and not a favour.
Access Riders can take a while to put together, and they do involve emotional labour in their development and sharing. They are still a relatively new tool, certainly in large numbers, but they have the potential to create ripples of knowledge on an individual level where it still feels like a form of activism to create and present one, through to being a wave of a campaign in much larger numbers. Venues and organisations cannot continue to rely on small pockets of knowledge about disability equality as they arise, often where the disabled artist ends up being free educator into the bargain. Not fair, not right and not paid.
As we began the creation of our Access Riders, we discussed access at both societal and personal levels, and how this translates into art and culture settings. This is not new information to the participants in the session or to any disabled people, but it seems not to be considered by the majority in the institution that is 'the arts'. The contents of this blog are not exhaustive but are derived from a 90-minute conversation.
Imagine what more we could do with greater investment. The following points were made:
So – the evidence is here. This is the additional labour for disabled artists, and this is how incredibly insightful disabled people are into wider cultural equality, involvement, and genuine pluralism. Look at this insight in a short one-off, if somewhat, Crucial Conversation.
This is a call to action, as all the conversations are. Disabled Artists please develop Access Riders as tools of empowerment and activism so that they become common place and that talk of access becomes common currency in employment in the arts. It will be a part of a campaigning wave.
We’re also calling for greater platforms for these conversations please. Share this information and contact us at Little Cog to discuss this further. We are being left behind at an incredible rate as the arts push forward?
You can find advice on creating an Access Rider here: Little Cog Guidelines on Creating an Access Statement/Rider
Acknowledgement: Thank you so much to the disabled artists who took part in this conversation. Tommy Watkin, Liz Barker, Steph Robson, Matthew Needham, Eleanor Walsh, Midnight Memphis, and Olga Macrini. Solidarity always.
Thank you also to all the other disabled practitioners and disabled-led organisations promoting access statements and riders and working hard in this area.