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Dealing with disruptions

Many arts organisations want advice on how to deal fairly with someone disturbing other audience members or visitors. Here are some suggestions:

  • Can you advertise showing the level of disruption that is acceptable? Performances may vary from show to show. Pantomimes and shows for children can usually take more disruption that classical music concerts, for example. If you have a gallery or exhibition space, are there some exhibitions that are more 'disruptable' than others?
  •  Is there really a disturbance or are staff just reacting to seeing a disabled person in the audience and assuming that there will be one?
  •  Try creating a 'disruptions policy' so anyone making a disturbance is treated equally. Set out different stages:
  •  If there is a disruption, why not wait until people complain - you might be more sensitive than the rest of the audience.
  •  Always make sure a paid staff member assesses the situation; ideally two staff members should be involved in the situation, so that they can record what happens
  •  Inform the person/the group that other people are complaining about the level of disruption - there may be something they can do
  •  Does the person involved have a carer or PA who might be able to assist?
  •  See if the people complaining can be moved to other seats, where they will not be disturbed
  •  If the piece has been advertised as 'quiet' or 'requires concentration', you may have more justification to ask someone if they would mind leaving, as the disruption stops other people from being able to access it
  •  If the disturbance is caused involuntarily, always offer a full refund or ask if they would like to come and see the piece on another night – perhaps you can suggest nights that are usually less busy (but it is an individual’s choice which night they attend)

This is a difficult situation in terms of the Disability Discrimination Act. Clearly a disabled person has a right to attend any event, but also there is a point at which a disruption can be seen as impacting too negatively on other people's enjoyment of an event. The law allows for this. If by serving one disabled person you are prevented from serving a large number of other non-disabled people, this is seen as a justification for discrimination.
Each organisation has to determine for themselves what constitutes 'a disruption' and what they feel staff should do in this instance. This should then be written up in a policy and staff should be trained in its implementation. The DDA requires that everyone in an organisation treat disabled people the same, therefore 'ad hoc' solutions by individual staff members should be avoided.