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Blog: Live music is meant to be inclusive

In her latest blog, Suzanne Bull MBE discusses Attitude is Everything’s third State of Access Report and their new campaign, Access Starts Online.

I’m pleased to announce Attitude is Everything’s 3rd State of Access Report, which was launched at London’s Bush Hall. Bush Hall happens to be my local music venue; it’s accessible and has embraced our #AccessStartsOnline campaign by having clear and detailed access information on their website.

Bush Hall was originally built in 1904 during the Edwardian times. My own social housing flat, the ground floor of a Victorian house, is also fully wheelchair accessible, so it’s a bit of a myth when people tell me that the majority of old buildings can’t be made fully accessible!

With support from Glastonbury Festival, Association of Independent Festivals, Bristol’s Colston Hall and Independent Venue Week, our State of Access Report reveals that simple changes to online information provision could have a dramatic impact on the experiences of Deaf and disabled customers.

The Report provides a biennial snap-shot of UK live music accessibility and the barriers that our community are facing at gigs and festivals. It has a history of influencing change; the first State of Access Report in 2011 led to live music accessibility being debated in the House of Parliament by Minister Ed Vaizey MP, whilst the 2014 report, which called for better ticketing for disabled music fans, led to ticketing Regulator STAR (Society of Ticketing Agents and Retailers) setting up an accessible ticketing working party and greater prevalence of tickets being sold online to disabled music fans.

The key findings of the 2016 Report include:

·      1/3 of venue and festival websites provide no access information

For disabled fans, the first barrier to accessing live music typically happens before they’ve even purchased a ticket. Detailed access information on venue and festival websites is essential for 20% of the UK population to be able to determine whether they can attend an event. Disabled audiences are unlikely to attend live music events unless they know their diverse range of access requirements can be met.

·      2/3 of independent venues provide no access information.

The lack of access information is particularly pronounced at independent venues, where most people start their relationships with live music as both artists and audience members. A lack of information often implies poor physical access, even if that is not the case.

·      Less than 1/5 of websites surveyed provide ‘good’ access information

Comprehensive information is crucial – knowing whether there are two steps, or two flights of stairs, or whether you can bring a Personal Assistant, or find an area to sit down, could be the difference between a fan buying tickets or not.

There is no doubt that digital has revolutionised the live sector and how music lovers buy tickets, find information and share their experiences. However a lack of decent online access information websites has become a constant source of frustration to millions of disabled fans. Evidence in our Report suggests that many will not risk attending an event if they are unsure about access facilities. We should not be letting these online failures hold back the tide of progress, especially when they are so easy to fix.

As well as Access Information, our Report also covered the following key topics:

Access covers the basics – It is essential that basic access facilities are fit for purpose not least because under the Equality Act 2010, service providers have a duty to provide and maintain them.  If you don’t do this, then you have failed to provide a reasonable adjustment – so no more broken toilets and advertising accessible facilities when in reality, facilities are nothing of the sort, such as only 64% of accessible campsites having power charging for wheelchairs and scooters.

Access includes the whole experience – British Sign Language Interpretation and captioning remains underdeveloped in the world of live music.  Another example that is people with a learning disability or autism have little information about what the sensory experience of an event will give.  There is still lots more to explore in this area and these topics should excite any event organiser as this is where access truly interacts with creativity.

Access depends on customer service – I’ve never understood why any customer service doesn’t view the subject of access for Deaf and disabled people as simply providing best practice customer service, rather than a niche topic affecting a few individuals.

Interactions with staff can make or break the experience for our community. At the same time, the access facilities and policies implemented by organisers are dependent on well-informed and disability-aware staff in order for them to be effective.

Access generates custom – Alongside the large numbers of Deaf and disabled people who do enjoy live music (our community makes up 15% of live music attendees according to the latest figures of the most recent Department of Culture Media and Sport’s Taking Part survey), there are also many people who aren’t going at all, in part due to the barriers that persist within the industry and people’s perception of what the live music experience will be like.  For example, a recent Mencap study highlighted a staggering 1 in 4 people between 18 and 35 with a learning disability have never gone to a live music event.

Leaving aside the lost income from that particular audience, it feels so wrong to me that when music is meant to be inclusive and for everyone, in part, the reality is that the live music experience still isn’t. I think our Report clearly highlights that venues and festivals can no longer treat Deaf and disabled people as one homogenous group with a customer service approach of “one size fits all”, they need to work with us and other organisations much more closely in tailoring facilities and policies beyond just meeting physical access, providing loops and large print information, but take into real consideration people with sensory impairments and those with a learning disability, and what they really need to enjoy the live music experience.

Access goes beyond the audience – Getting things right for customers goes a very long way towards meeting the potential access requirements of staff, volunteers and artists. When you work alongside colleagues who have lived experience of disability, you’re more likely to understand and appreciate what’s needed, why it’s needed, and when access requirements are fully met, how much everyone is able to relax and absolutely embrace the gig.

The idea that artists might be Deaf or disabled is also often overlooked – hence my last blog featured Kris Halpin and the technology he uses to make music, and the barriers that he potentially faces out on tour.  Artists commonly face a lack of creative thinking on behalf of a venue or festival when seeking to have their access requirements met, which always frustrates me for an industry that thrives on talent and creativity.

Finally, the findings and conclusions of our State of Access Report are based on 280 mystery shopping reports by Deaf and disabled volunteers, bespoke research including a survey of 386 venue and festival websites, and a set of case-studies drawn from the hundreds of venues and festivals that Attitude is Everything works with.

You can download the full Report and Executive Summary here: www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk/soar. The State of Access Report is supported by leading national law firm Irwin Mitchell andArts Council England. 

Suzanne Bull will be speaking at the Event Production Show on 2 March at Olympia London. For more details, please go to: http://www.eventproductionshow.co.uk/seminar-programme.