Ashleigh Hibbins and Maya Sharma share their recent learning around disabled access, audiences, artists and art.

June 1, 2018
Photo of the author - Ashleigh Hibbins

Ashleigh Hibbins

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I was fortunate to attend a training session course recently, from Attitude is Everything, about improving access for d/Deaf and disabled people in the arts – whether they be performers, staff, or members of the public. I learned that the sector often focuses on improving audience access, but can neglect the needs of disabled performers, volunteers, and staff.

About 1/6 of the UK population have a disability, impairment, or long-term illness, yet improving access is too often viewed negatively as a financial burden. What is the cost of discouraging 11 million potential visitors, performers, and job candidates from engaging with your organisation?

Here are some of my takeaways from the training day about improving access for d/Deaf and disabled performers, volunteers, and staff:

  • The best way to identify and address access barriers is to consult with d/Deaf and disabled people.
  • Make accessibility information available ahead of time. The more info that is available in advance (e.g. online or by phone), the less likely it is that people they will be dissatisfied when they arrive.
  • Increase confidence by providing clear explanations of how your recruitment/commissioning process works (e.g. social stories). This can be especially helpful for those with Autism or learning disabilities.
  • Remember that your back-of-house needs to be as accessible as your front-of-house; consider backstage areas, performance spaces, and offices.
  • Make a habit of saying ‘yes’ to access requests instead of ‘no’. Look for creative solutions wherever possible.


Whilst Ashleigh was on her training course in South London, I was exploring the related issue of disability arts representation with Venture Arts in Manchester. As an arts organisation that works with learning disabled people, they shared key insights from their Cultural Enrichment Programme and other examples of work that improve access and engagement to arts for disabled people.

Here are some brief highlights from the day:

Disabled people produce high quality art

There are plenty of conversations about how arts can enrich the lives of disabled people, but what about the work produced by disabled people themselves? Their artwork is rarely included or celebrated in cultural organisations, even though disabled people have been producing high quality arts for centuries.

The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester is seeking to challenge this, and recently acquired YES I WANTT TO DO TRRICKSSERR by Barry Anthony Finan as part of their commitment to challenge this trend and develop a more representative collection.

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This is a Rights issue

The conference reminded me that Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts. Article 4 of the UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity states that cultural diversity may not infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law.

It's not about the money and it's all about the money

There are numerous examples of improvements organisations can make; ranging from no resource implications except a change in attitude, to larger interventions requiring external funding. It would be interesting to hear about cultural organisations that have made inclusion work part of their core budget, rather than through an externally-funded project.

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Leslie Thompson's graphic depiction of the one-day event. Leslie can be commissioned to carry out similar works at conferences and events.

Written by Ashleigh Hibbins, Learning and Participation Consultant and Maya Sharma, Learning and Participation Consultant

Featured in June's edition of The Learning Diaries. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.