Venues and show presenters should ask for performers accessibility requirements when they are booking
Venues should thoroughly train staff to assist performers and punters with access barriers
Resources are available through places such as Accessible arts and Tibi Events and Access Consultants
How can accessibility for artists with disability be part of that come back? How can accessibility be a greater consideration across the broader music industry?
“This time that we’re all in at the moment, gives us an opportunity to put access on the agenda for our venues and to ensure that our presenters are thinking about it," says Liz Martin, Arts Development and Training Manager at Accessible Arts, who is also a songwriter and performer.
"And, if you don’t know how to go about it, it’s a good time to do some training and find out how best to be accessible. It’s not an optional extra. Access is everyone’s responsibility."
There are a number of considerations that can be made to provide a more accessible, and in turn, inclusive space for artists and audiences. Most of these measures aren’t costly and can make a big impact.
We spoke with APRA AMCOS Ambassador and songwriter-performer Justine Eltakchi, songwriter-performer Gordon Koang, Liz from Accessible Arts, and Dina Bassile from Tibi Events and Access Consultants to ask them for their insights and tips on accessibility.
How can a performer approach a presenter about their accessibility requirements? Or what communications can be put in place so they don’t have to?
LIZ: “It can be kind of terrifying to ask for access when you’re filling in an online form to play at a festival.”
“But, there is already so much information that gets exchanged when we have gigs: load in times, soundchecks, stage plans, riders – all of that stuff. It really should be the presenters, the venues and the promoters asking that really simple question:
Do you have any access requirements?
“It’s as simple as that. That question says everything."
She continues: “It asks for details that the performer can provide that are then really easy for venues/presenters to put into place. And it says, ‘Hey we’re friendly, you can apply, we care.’ It sets that up in the space that artists with disability have as much right to be in there as anyone else.”
DINA: “As a presenter, ask the right questions early on in your interactions with your performers. Questions can be as follows: is there anything that we can do on our end to help make your experience with us as easy and comfortable as possible? Do you need any additional supports from our staff pre, during or post your gig?”
JUSTINE: Justine has low vision and has played over 700 gigs in the last five years, and echoes these suggestions.
“It would be good for agents and venues to have a disclaimer that says ‘If any of your artists do have a disability or need extra assistance, we’re able to have someone meet them at arrival and show them around so they can become accustomed to the place.’ "
Figuring out where an entrance is, how many steps are at the venue, and the settings on a mixing desk are some of major concerns for a primarily solo performer like Justine and having a helping hand would make a big difference and bring down pre-performance stress levels.
“It’s such a small way to show that you are going to make an opportunity accessible to everybody,” she says.
In addition to pre-gig communication, what other accessibility measures or actions are helpful?
Website details - be thorough and include:
- Do you have accessible bathrooms on site?
- Where is the nearest accessible parking space/accessible tram stops/ train station?
- Is your entrance step free?
- Wheelchair accessibility for entrance and bathrooms
- Statement of inclusivity
- Clearly marked stairs and handrails on stairs to stage
- Staff readiness and training
- Venue and site walk-throughs pre-event
- Considerations around guiding someone in a socially distant way
- Masks make lip-reading difficult for hearing impaired. Venues should consider using masks with a transparent covering over the mouth.
- Drive-in concert considerations: accessibility around viewing platforms, parking and bathrooms, Auslan interpreters.
Gordon, who was born blind and has played concerts all over the world, would likely not be performing if not for his bandmate and cousin Paul Biel to help him.
"If you don't have a companion, it would be very hard. When I go to a stage, I need a person to accompany me. I can fall down on or off a stage. When I'm playing the thum, I need someone to plug in my instrument."
DINA: "Staff introducing themselves to punters or performers early on as a point of contact if they need assistance. If possible, give punters/performers a little tour of the space.
Ensuring that all staff have undertaken disability awareness training (Tibi provides this training). Through taking on this training staff are confident in assisting punters and performers with varied access barriers.
LIZ: "Training up Front of House staff, techie staff and security staff would make a huge difference to audience and performers with disability."
LIZ: "Accessible Arts is the peak arts and disability organisation for NSW and can come and do a walk-through and see how accessible a space actually is, as can other similar organisations.
Sydney Festival has a committee of people with disability who do a walk-through of the site before it begins.
“You can tell. You can see the commitment. And every year it gets better and better,” says Liz of the site’s accessibility.
With live music coming back, albeit in a very different way with social distancing, scaled back production and unprecedented financial concerns, what’s the opportunity to introduce a new way of doing things when it comes to accessibility?
JUSTINE: “It’s a chance to refresh the old way of doing things with some new ways. With things slowly starting up again it could be a chance to introduce new ways of doing things and initiatives.
"But it’s hard, too, because people have stripped back budgets and there’s not as much money.”
When venues like The Triffid or Oxford Art Factory program acoustic shows, afternoon gigs, artist residencies and seated shows, it ends up benefiting the music community in a number of ways.
Liz has played one socially distanced gig so far. “That kind of space and that kind of small intimate setting, is less stressful for a lot of people. If people have a lot of anxiety about attending events, these kinds of opportunities open up gigs.”
“It’s actually people’s responsibility, because 18.3% of Austaralians in the census tick that box as being disabled. Those are just the people that tick the box. You could say there are a lot of people who have been locked out of gigs for a long time and we all have the responsibility to turn see that around.”
DINA: “These events could be more welcoming and accessible to those with sensory disability.”
Dina raises other issues around COVID safe gigs:
"With the help of Rudely Interrupted, we are accessing an artist living with disabilities point of view into the music industry and removing the stigma. If you love music as much as we do, then you’ll understand that the opportunity to perform should be open to everyone."
How is live streaming creating new performance and engagement opportunities for artists with disability?
Justine was able to get a better read of her audience during live streamed concerts. Because of her vision impairment, “I zoom in so much, and I zoomed in and could see more of a reaction in the chat stream.”
DINA: "Live streaming in ways takes away the physical barriers and stress for artists living with disability. They are able to perform from the comfort of their own spaces however it is important to remember that we have the Deaf community to think about. If live streaming doesn't have captions or an interpreter, it is inaccessible for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing."
LIZ: "I hope we keep the online gigs going. They are so wonderfully accessible to so many people who don’t want to go out for all sorts of reasons – they don’t like going out at night, they have kids. It benefits so many people. It would be great to see venues doing a mix of a two. I don’t think it has to be an either/or."
Eastern Riverina’s purpose-built multi-sensory mobile art space PLATFORM was initially making its way around regional NSW festivals but adapted to the virtual space during COVID with “a FREE online one-day festival featuring some of Australia's boldest, funniest, creative, and most provocative artists and performers with disability.” It was supported by audio description, closed captions and Auslan.
What can APRA AMCOS do to support members with disability?
JUSTINE: “Women with disability need mentoring and safe, supportive networks.”
LIZ: "A mentorship program would be really great. Especially if it included musicians with disability as the mentors. This would provide opportunities to musicians who have experience, as well as emerging musicians with disability."
LIZ: "Using a venue that is wheelchair accessible for any kind of public speaking event is really important, it’s as important as any other element, like your panellists being able to come on the day."
LIZ: "Songwriting projects and initiatives focused on music creators with disability.
"It could be a really great initiative to do because it sends a really clear message and gives people a really solid opportunity to learn. And one of the things that makes it hard for so many disabled artists is that they just don’t have the access to as many opportunities to develop their craft.
"Something like that would be incredible."
What music industry accessibility resources do you recommend?
JUSTINE: "The way I built my business is from going to jam nights and through Facebook networking and promoting myself."
The Monday Jam in Sydney was a welcoming place for Justine. "By getting up on stage and just letting your music speak for you," she connected with others and swapped info.
Accessible Arts resources - checklists for venues/festivals
Accessible Arts - disability confidence training
DINA: "Tibi Access is running workshops on how YOU can cater to a new audience. This workshop is open to everyone! From artists to festival managers, we cover everything!"
Let's Talk Access workshop
DIY Access Guide (Attitude is Everything UK)