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Focus on Arts and Disability: creative approaches to access

Feb 28, 2017

How long has Performance Space been running an access program?

While Performance Space has offered accessible services at our previous events, 2016 was the first year that we established a comprehensive access program for our Liveworks Festival.

Why is access important to you as an organisation?

We pride ourselves on embracing risk and diversity and as part of that ethos, we are passionate about being as inclusive as possible. But in order to be inclusive, we need to be accessible. Our 2016 Liveworks access program was an important step toward that.

In 2016, what access did you provide for your events?

At our 2016 Liveworks festival we provided Auslan interpreted performances, audio described performances and tactile tours. We also offered a special kinaesthetic tactile tour for Kristina Chan’s dance performanceA Faint Existence. During the tour, audience members were encouraged to touch the form of the dancer’s body, creating muscle memory and body recall of choreographic scores throughout the performance. Dance isn’t commonly accessible for people who are blind or have low vision, so this was an exciting area to explore. The kinaesthetic tactile tour idea was adopted from Next Wave festival in Melbourne who have an exceptional access program.

We also focused on making our collateral and festival communications more accessible, offering the festival program and access guide in various accessible formats as well as providing comprehensive information on the venue’s accessibility, transport and location.

We provided training opportunities for staff, volunteers and artists including human guide training through Guide Dogs Australia.

As a small organisation, what were the challenges in delivering your access program?

Money and funding the program is the biggest challenge. With more money, we could provide even more services and make every performance and event in the festival accessible. A limited budget meant that we had to prioritise which productions would be most suitable and as a result, none of our public program of talks and workshops were able to be made accessible for blind, vision impaired, Deaf or hearing impaired audiences. With more money we could also provide more comprehensive disability awareness training for all of the artists and staff we engage during the festival.

Getting the word out there was also a challenge. As this is the first time Performance Space has offered a lot of these services, not a lot of people knew about it.

What did you learn or find rewarding about the delivery of your access program?

We learnt so much during the consultation process about how we can make some of our most experimental and non-traditional works accessible to audiences with disability. The positive response from various disability organisations, advocates and artists was really rewarding. It let us know that we’re on the right track and have the right foundations to keep building a really comprehensive access program. It was fantastic to see how excited the artists were to make their work more accessible to diverse audiences and how interested they were to explore it further in future works.

What might you do differently in the future, because of your experience in 2016?

In future years, we aim to put even more energy into getting the word out about our access services and building audiences. As our access program is new, our outreach to audiences with disability was fairly limited.We will aim to connect with communities and organisations as early as possible to let them know about the fantastic shows made accessible.

What advice would you give to other organisations or artists wanting to improve their accessibility?

Don’t let a lack of funding stop you. You can be creative and resourceful with what services you offer with little to no money. There are lots of resources available through organisations like Accessible Arts NSW to guide you in making your organisation more accessible in really basic and easy ways.

Encourage your artists to think about accessibility at the initial stages of development so that access becomes embedded in their practice.

Be open to feedback. Actively encourage it! Don’t be disheartened if there’s not a lot of uptake at first.