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Access to the arts

I came away from the one to one sessions very stimulated and inspired. The hard thing is keeping the energy going when you’re also working on 120 other things in the meantime. It’s very easy to loose sight of it. Gregory Nash, The Point

Access to the Arts

There are many barriers that stop disabled people, and others, gaining equitable access to the arts – and its not all about ramps and toilets. Check out some of the ways arts managers on GAP 4 came up with to remove barriers linked to the following issues:


  • Use existing community transport resources
  • Publish or have available info on end times to help people plan travel options (or at least let people know how long events run for)
  • Do some of the work for people – let people know when the last public transport options are after an event if you think they may need them
  • Have clear and highlighted travel info – where are your nearest parking places (and accessible parking places for disabled drivers), drop off points, public transport options, what about local cab firms, which are accessible for wheelchair users etc… do some of the work for people as you’ll only need to do it once…
  • Go out to them if they can’t come to you
  • Discount tickets linked to bus tickets etc
  • Think about travel schemes based on models like Shape Tickets in London or Arts Access in Edinburgh ( ) where people can get a volunteer escort to take them to key arts events (inc transport, companionship etc) – some single venues do small scale versions with their friends…)


  • Try different times for events – be bold
  • Collaborate on timings – don’t be dictated to
  • Be sensitive with timings – some groups have very specific timetables to follow
  • Check out religious holidays to avoid clashes or promote celebrations (check out or
  • Think about darkness – lots of people are concerned about getting home before it gets dark – there are light and safety issues linked to some venue locations


  • Don’t assume people understand your terminology (is a ‘box office’ somewhere you buy boxes??)
  • Jargon check – brouchure copy can be impenetrable – who is the copy for? The artist or the audience?
  • Explore different media for communications – myspace ( and youtube ( or bebo ( and hi5 (
  • Linguistic access – do you offer info in different languages (if there are high population/visitor levels, it might make sense) or at least is your basic info in plain English so its easier to read by people who have English as a second language or do you have an easy read version? Check out plain English campaign ( ). It’s a bit long but there is a good handbook to download at - which has some examples of poor English and why each bit is so bad at the back!)
  • remember the UK’s poor literacy levels
  • Do you use images in materials to give the context for info? Can you tell by the illustrations what you’ll be getting?
  • Text messaging for youth organisations
  • Web – accessible options and downloads, on line reviews etc etc

Physical access

  • Road test access – don’t assume its ok
  • Have access audits every three years – options change even for listed buildings. To find access auditors, check out The National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC) - an independent register of accredited Access Auditors and Access Consultants who meet professional standards and criteria established by a peer review system ( ) or at least work with someone with arts specific knowledge
  • If you have an access group/advisory group, ask for their comments and suggestions – get them involved in your road testing
  • New standards in place, its no longer Part M, you need to refer to Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people — Code of practice BS 8300:2001

Sensory access

  • Think about sign language interpretation (for theatre see SPIT (Signed Performances in Theatre) at
  • Captioning (for all arts, contact StageText, )
  • Transcripts – if you can’t afford BSL, do you have a transcript or even a one page synopsis?
  • audio description (Vocaleyes, ) and Audio Description Association,
  • touch tours can be great for all performing arts events (good to get a sense of unusual musical instruments etc for music and always good to feel a dancer!)
  • touch tours for visual arts need not always be the work itself – what about scaled versions, tactile versions and even samples of the raw materials themselves to give an idea of the piece. Everyone can afford a magnifying glass and a torch (torch has some issues for sensitive materials, obviously)
  • For all touch tours – clarity on what you can and can’t touch (and if you need gloves) require
  • Also see separate sheet on suggestions for access to temporary exhibitions
  • Push technology – why can’t live performances be like dvd’s?

Our lack of knowledge, experience, confidence, understanding etc

  • Make ourselves less ‘stuffy’ – vary uniforms for events, to suit different audiences (WITHIN REASON!!)
  • Train staff to be approachable and friendly but not overbearing – don’t over train/badly train
  • Trust the knowledge of your staff/team members
  • Don’t make assumptions about people – and also don’t make assumptions about your organisation/staff either
  • Have open days and other events to bring in a different range of people to you and let them find out about you away from the direct selling context of your work, provide inscentives
  • Have a good education/outreach programme
  • Target (then research) – who exactly is missing/would we like to reach?
  • Make our publicity more appealing to different groups – or have different pieces of publicity going to different groups (vary the language and focus)
  • Accessible information – how can we expect people to access the info if they can’t actually access the info?
  • Be willing to think differently – be flexible, challenge yourself, take risks
  • Generate a sense of belonging
  • Use role models (staff, programming)
  • Mentor emerging artists (and staff members/vols), budding, choose appropriate artists, support the professional development of all artists in access and diversity, offer job shadowing creating new ways into the organisation
  • Make new audiences a SUSTAINABLE offer, doing just give them a tokenistic one shot opportunity
  • Develop a more relevant programme over time
  • Ask what people want to see/do
  • Use new forms of monitoring and evaluation to really capture people’s opinions
  • Use the inspiration of participants to encourage more people
  • Contextualisation (de-mystify routines and procedures etc, explain processes and conventions – may also be product specific ie come along 15 mins before and find out about Shakespeare or have a tour of venue etc)
  • ‘Introduction to our programme’ sessions – when a new programme comes out, why not have an afternoon session (tea and cakes) to discuss the programme with people and let people know more about it…
  • tasters (esp for festivals etc) – give dvd, live, audio samples to people in different ways ie web, public spaces, foyers and visits to groups
  • video snippets of work in development can also be useful
  • symbols and coding within programmes (ie shhhh! sessions and noisy nights)
  • ‘if you liked this, you’ll like that..’ either in programmes or sent out/picked up with tickets
  • meet and greets – with incentives – have a tour and get 50% of your first ticket, 25% off your second and 10% of your third…
  • gatekeepers and ambassadors – see for a shed load of stuff on ambassadors
  • ‘bring a stranger’ nights – people buy a ticket and get a free one to give to a new contact who isn’t on the existing known list of attenders…
  • interactive web programme options allowing you to search by key words like ‘funny’ etc

Lack of money

  • have options when booking – 3 for 2, money back offers, book all season and get last 2 shows free etc…
  • flexibility re family depending on local situations etc (Asian events ‘family’ is 2 adults, 4 children and/or 6 people, inc minimum of 2 children so people can include grandparents)
  • carer concessions/support person concessions – for some people this kind of access is as important as a ramp is to others – should these be free?
  • Some places have free times ie once a month, once a season, or ‘pay what you can afford’ nights
  • concessions linked to transport options
  • ‘arts on prescription’ services – in Manchester & Stockport, arts workshops can be ‘prescribed’ by the NHS, also happening in Devon (google: arts on prescription); some dance classes can also fit into some sports schemes too
  • volunteering linked to free tickets, free access to computers – what do your volunteers want?
  • benefits issues – some disabled people can’t earn as they don’t want to give up their benefits – they make great volunteers!
  • what can we get for free by linking into schools and local firms – not just money but skills, experience, knowledge, contacts – what have we got they would like to use in return?
  • International opportunities/opportunities from other sectors – what can we get hold of to stop us re-inventing the wheel?
  • Sharing our info is free – don’t be too protective – and we can learn from organisartions of different scales and with different art form focuses
  • Look to see what discounts you can offer – work with local transport providers – what about discounts off car parking? Coffee?
  • Make friends with your local councillors – how can you get to be flavour of the month – for months?
  • Make your website work for you – interactive, give people a space on it to give their opinions of you, not just pushing your info at them
  • Funders could be harsher with funding – give us a basic amount but we only get more if we deliver on diversity
  • Watch out getting advice for free – its not fair to ask the same people to work for nothing again and again
  • Rob the rich to pay the poor – look at your pricing strategy (will some people pay more so you can reduce the cost for others)
  • Education – we need pressure from the LEA to make sure that more arts input goes to the schools that need it not the schools that can afford it

Want concrete information?

Here are a selection of downloadable information sheets on various subjects, all designed to make what you do more accessible. Watch this space as we aim to keep adding here to really build this section of the site into a comprehensive resource.