By Jordi Baltà Portolés (@jordibalta| In 2006, countries from around the world signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recognizes disabled people’s right to take part in cultural life on an equal basis, and establishes the duty of governments to make it effective. All the member states of the European Union have ratified this Convention, and therefore have a commitment to adopt policies in this field. It should be noted that the EU has more than 42 million disabled people, equivalent to almost 13% of the adult population, but the figure rises to 19% if the definition of disability extends to those who acquire it later in life.

Despite these commitments, evidence shows that disabled people face serious difficulties both in accessing cultural venues as audiences, and in being recognised as artists and active participants in cultural life. Some of the difficulties include the availability of information and knowledge to make culture more accessible in practice. Research in this field, with a particular focus on the performing arts, is currently being undertaken by a team coordinated by the international cultural mobility network On The Move as part of the EU-funded Europe Beyond Access project on the performing arts and disability, coordinated by the British Council. Trànsit Projectes is part of the research team for the project.

An initial report of the research findings has recently been published, collecting evidence from a survey of professionals, a set of interviews with European and international networks, and a literature review. The report focuses on three areas: knowledge, experience, and solutions.

The first part of the report examines the level of knowledge existing among arts professionals and organisations as regards work by disabled artists and how to make their organisations more accessible. Results show that 52% of surveyed professionals admit their knowledge of work by disabled artists is poor or very poor. One important difficulty lies in the perceived lack of reliable information sources – that is, what are the useful ways to access work by disabled artists.

However, evidence also suggests that the situation varies widely depending on the country – in some, such as the UK, Finland, France, Germany or Ireland, relevant information sources are more easily available and well-known. Because of the national asymmetries, European networks and cooperation programmes have proven very useful in order to become familiar with work by disabled artists and to develop ways to engage with disabled audiences.

The next section of the report examines the effective experience of arts organisations in contributing to the accessibility and inclusion of disabled artists and audiences. As regards disabled artists, the report indicates that only 28% of venues and festivals regularly present or support work by disabled artists – that is, at least once a year.

Meanwhile, measures to ensure accessibility by disabled audiences are more frequent – e.g. 72% of the venues have wheelchair accessible toilets, and 48% provide free or discounted tickets for personal assistants. Measures targeted to disabled audiences tend to focus on the physical dimension of accessibility, whereas other areas are more frequently neglected – e.g. only 19% of venues have an accessible website, 13% provide accessible communication and marketing materials, and 12% have an accessible booking process.

The prevailing focus on disabled audiences rather than disabled artists (e.g. venues’ audience areas being accessible, but backstage areas and dressing rooms not) seems to confirm earlier findings in literature, according to which disabled people are often seen as ‘passive’ recipients of culture, rather than ‘active’ participants. Evidence also suggests that, in general, the organisations that employ disabled staff, or which have staff responsible for accessibility or a dedicated budget in this field, are those that have adopted more inclusive practices towards disabled artists and audiences.

The report collects figures from previous reports, which stress that disabled people are keen to attend arts activities, particularly when their needs are taken into account – e.g. when difficulties related to physical accessibility, distance, price, and online booking are addressed.

However, recent research also shows that disabled audiences feel particularly vulnerable in the context of Covid-19. In this respect, there is fear among several organisations that the needs of disabled people may be neglected in responses to the crisis. The report stresses that supporting accessibility makes sense for arts organisations and public authorities not only in terms of rights, but also business – since up to 12% of arts audiences could be lost unless the needs of disabled people are taken into account.

The final section of the report focuses on the solutions. It points to the importance of supportive policy frameworks – countries where cultural policies committed to inclusion and access have been adopted are those where more progress has been made. Several good practice guides and other resources are available and could help to make progress, but they need to be more easily accessible, in more languages.

There is, indeed, a demand from arts organisations and professionals for more guidance on designing inclusive projects and developing disabled audiences, and an expectation that more support should be available to make progress in this field. A set of observations and recommendations to EU institutions and to other public authorities closes the report.

The initial findings presented will be complemented with a longer report to be presented in late 2021, which will examine some of the key issues further in detail.


Imagen: Nicolas Vendange, Megan Armishaw, Mickaella Dantas (Left to right) (Candoco Dance Company – Face In by Yasmeen Godder) Photo by Hugo Glendinning |