Jane Ensell, 28 January 2015

Making Art Accessible at the Core: Integrating Disability into the Creative


Session called by Jane Ensell [email protected]

Contributors included:

Selma Dimitrijevic

Sally Rose [email protected]

Kate McStrew [email protected]

Jo Ross [email protected]

Jess [email protected]

Esther McAuley [email protected]

Liz Counsell @lizzicou

Wendy <em>[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

This session focussed on taking a creative approach to the issue of disabled access to

theatre and the arts, in particular the idea of integrating access into the structure of the

work from the early stages, rather than tacking it on (often inappropriately or

ineffectually) at the last minute.

The list of contributors included deaf and disabled artists; access specialists (audio

describers/signers); producers and programmers; directors and devisors.

The following points were raised:

Separation of the access from the creative team

Organisations are used to approaching disabled access as utilitarian - peripheral, a

chore, something they have to provide. Why not treat it as the art it can be? Allowing

access to be part of the creative process will allow us to be more responsive and

emotive, something which enhances the performance for all of the audience, rather

than detracting from it. Let us in!

Segregation of “accessible” from other performances/audiences

Integrating captioning, audio description or BSL into your work is not only an exciting

creative choice, but also opens up options for disabled audiences to participate on an

equal footing, by not restricting them to a single scheduled performance.

Tactile for all! Multisensory performance and spaces

The explosion in immersive performance has brought a new set of challenges, but

also new ways of exploring access. Immersive is by nature multisensory, with

understanding that this is positive for all audience members. Why not touch tours for

anyone? Sighted audiences can also benefit and visually impaired audiences are not

segregated/restricted to single performance as result. New theatre spaces could be

multisensory by default. We are locked into idea of theatre having designed

visuals/sound, why not also touch/smell in common use?

An Access Director?

A new role in early development of a production - an access specialist to work with the

writer, director or devisors to advise on opportunities to use access creatively in the

work and to highlight potential difficulties (eg. does your promenade show really need

to go the route with steps?)

Freelancers/Artists in Residence with speciality

Idea of organisations taking on signers and describers, as artists in their own right, to

creatively respond to emerging work.

Shows appropriate for interpretation: consultation is key!

A show which is based predominantly on a soundscape is not necessarily appropriate

for BSL. But equally, do not assume that mime is not appropriate for audio description!

Organisations are encouraged to consult with both providers and audiences when

programming access performances.

Programming/framing of disabled arts and access

Organisations need to promote work by disabled artists on the merits of the work, not

the disability! Framing theatre by people with disabilities as “different” ensures niche

audiences and lower sales. This relates to the following point:

Making mainstream

The work of the blind theatre company Extant in incorporating audio description into

performance was mentioned, but it was strongly felt that it should not begin and end

with disabled artists making work for disabled audiences. We should make creative

access mainstream.

Support for disabled artists: Access to Work

This was touched upon, but covered in far more depth at Jess’ excellent “What do we

do about Access to Work?” session.

Access is good for your ticket sales…

I really hope this is self explanatory - if you make it accessible, they will come!

…provided your ticket sales are accessible!

VENUES: your production might be top notch in terms of access, but what about your

box office? Equality of access: can access tickets be bought online, the same as

general sales, or do we have to phone? Do we call the busy general number or a

specific access line? Is the access number publicised, or do we have to call the

general number to get it? Are the opening hours the same, or can it only be organised

by one person working a 16 hour week? Do you have a 2:1 carer’s scheme? Is this

available to everyone who needs it, or limited to a paltry 1.8% of your capacity? (I’m

looking at you, Barbican…)

Staff training and physical access barriers

Similarly, please understand that disabled toilets are not an extension of the

storeroom! Recommend experiential learning for staff, e.g. trying to navigate space in

a wheelchair or with impaired sight.

Visibility of access provision

Once you have transformed your production into a model of creative access - spend a

little time making sure people know about it!

I am an audio describer and access consultant. Any artists/companies who

would like to work with me on developing access as an integral part of

performance, please contact: Jane Ensell ([email protected])


Performance, Theatre, Immersive, Audio description, multisensory, Access, access,

bsl, BSL, performance, THEATRE, disability, theatre, immersive, Disability