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> > > Are there enough opportunities to engage disabled people in the Arts?

6 July 2011

Umar Akhtar is an event organiser, passionate about stimulating disability arts within the events scene. He explores the relationships of engaging disabled people in the arts from a non-disabled person perspective.

There are clearly not enough opportunities to engage disabled people in the arts in this modern fairy-tale “art-for-all” social gimmick. I don’t know how it feels to be disabled and I think this is precisely the problem in a society lead by non-disabled people.

This is a very complex topic that suffers from marginalisation, which can only represent society’s failure to manage the needs of disabled people. Arts Council England produces strong evidence of a disabled person being more likely to become a non-engager of the arts compared to a non-disabled person. This is clearly an issue that needs tackling.

It’s well documented that equality issues exist society and it’s obvious that this is repeated in the arts. This is a major problem not only for disabled artists, but for making the arts appealing to disabled people. I believe the arts should be for everybody. At times it is as opportunities exist but that’s not it. I think to really appeal to disabled people, disabled artists need to be exposed to show the arts are inclusive.

Disabled artists are restricted by society – as exemplified by the term “disability arts”. These artists can not only capture and inspire disabled people and offer the public high quality experience of the arts like they have never seen before! I’m sad to say this isn’t the case, certainly not in the UK. Countries like China, USA and Australia have however exposed disabled artists on a national scale which is a step forward. For example the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe during the Beijing Olympics 2008.

There are then issues like venue access and transport. In the past venue access has certainly been a major problem. However legislation has since improved this nationally although it has left gaps in provision like access to listed buildings. Regarding transport, there are provisions/ policies in place but there is a lack of provision for accessible buses especially. What’s the point of having free bus passes available for disabled people when there aren’t enough accessible buses? As a secondary solution taxis are expensive.

Typically organisers make little effort to include disabled people in their target market. A classic example is access to marketing. Just by visiting some websites of art organisations and venues, it’s rare to see information available in other formats to make it easy for disabled groups to access and understand information. An example of provision is making available easy to read versions of information for people with learning disabilities to understand.

There’s a lot of evidence demonstrating a lack of disability awareness training in society. I think the education system needs disability awareness training so from a very early age people are aware of the difficulties disability groups face in society and the importance of not excluding disabled people.

It will also educate people about what it means to be a disabled person! Not only will this positively expose disabled groups in society, it will also encourage them to integrate thus shaping the way for a better and more inclusive future.

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