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Jim Rohan, Shane Byrne and Belinda Henzey, Equinox Theatre Co pictured with Pádraig Naughton and Louise Bruton at the launch of ADI's strategic plan

Arts access denied: The problems with having a night out

Posted: 6 December, 2017

A ramp and a wheelchair bathroom isn’t enough – arts venues need to do more to attract people with disabilities – Louise Bruton

Arts & Disability Ireland (ADI) commissioned Louise Bruton, writer and journalist to give an activist’s response to ADI’s national research, The Going Out survey, for the launch of Leading Change in Arts and Culture at the Project Arts Centre, on 30th November, 2017.

When you casually go out for one drink, there’s always the mischievous possibility that that one drink could lead to at least three more. Vows of ‘getting the last bus home’ turn into a taxi home and the only downside to this is the next morning’s hangover.

When you live with a disability, the spontaneity of ‘just one drink’ means that your carefully planned evening is thrown off-course. If you miss the last bus home – if you’re lucky enough to live on a reliable bus route, that is – you have to face the scramble of the taxi rank and wait for the rare unicorn that is an accessible taxi. Sometimes taxi drivers don’t stop for people with physical disabilities – believe me, this happens – and if you’re using an app and requested an accessible car, you could be waiting all night.

Now, doesn’t that sound like a lot of hassle for a night out?

Arts & Disability Ireland conducted The Going Out Survey in May 2017, a questionnaire that was sent to 523 people living with various disabilities in Ireland. We were asked how we like to socialise and how often do we do it. Do we like to go to the cinema? Do we like to go to restaurants? Do we partake in arts and crafts? Do we like going to concerts? Yes, to all of the above.

When the results came in, to no one’s surprise, the most popular activities were social ones, with 60% of us wanting to be entertained and 57% doing so for emotional reasons, as a form of escapism or for the thrill of it all. Again, nothing unusual here; we don’t go to the theatre to be bored, we go to be inspired. When ADI were putting the questionnaire together, they knew that the answers weren’t for us. The answers were intended to get the attention of the wider arts community in Ireland so the survey had to ask us how we like to have fun. But how does anyone quantify fun? How can you rate dinner with friends ahead of a music festival or an art exhibition, when you do these things for totally different reasons?

The results showed that 13% of people said that inadequate access stopped them from going out. When the access box is ticked by venues, it normally means that it’s wheelchair accessible and it rarely goes beyond that. This year at music festival Glastonbury, I witnessed something I’ve never seen at a music festival. At every disabled viewing platform, they had a Deaf Zone. Each Deaf Zone had two sign language interpreters and they would perform and sign along, word-for-word, with Radiohead, Katy Perry and the hip-hop group Run the Jewels as they performed onstage. Whenever I sat on the platform, I saw at least 15 people in the Deaf Zone. 15 people who may have previously thought that a music festival was not for them. This was a free service that was part of the incredible access package that this music festival provided.

A quarter of people who took the survey said that they simply can’t afford to go out and when disabled people are twice as likely to experience discrimination at work or in recruitment, finances affect how we socialise. A ticket for a concert can cost up to and over €100 and even if you are seated in the designated disabled viewing areas, your view can be blocked by the people standing in front of you.

Even in the spaces we are given, something is taken away. It’s incredibly frustrating to know that the money you have saved up can be wasted because someone thought that providing an area was enough. It’s not. We need to do more, even if it means that just 15 extra people get to have a good time because that 15 might double or triple by the time the next concert comes along.

15% of people who took the survey said that poor transport stopped them from going out. Poor transport doesn’t mean that we’ll be a few minutes late, it can mean that we’re stranded an unstaffed train station, wishing that we had just stayed home instead. Poor transport means that we have to add an extra 40 minutes to our drive so we can find an available disabled parking bay, running the risk of being very late for a movie or a show. I no longer drive into town because I’m sick of the time it takes and the effing and blinding that goes with trying to find a suitable parking spot as a driver that uses a wheelchair. The frustrations build up and wear you down.

Minority stress is a phrase that I’ve been newly introduced to. It means the stress experienced by minority groups, caused by poor social support and low socioeconomic status, discrimination and prejudice. If you regularly find yourselves in physical environments that restrict you or if you find yourself surrounded by people that don’t know how to treat you, these knocks build up and take their toll on your mental health.

If people talk over you rather than directly to you, a silent frustration can niggle away at you, which might prevent you from wanting to go out. While physical facilities may improve over time, it’s often the attitudes of other people that can a bigger impact. No wonder 94% of the 523 respondents said they have cut back on at least one of the listed social activities, compared to what we used to do five years ago. That means that only 31 people out of 523, ranging in ages from 16 to over 65, are doing today what they more or less did five years ago. That is not enough.

As we get older, we cut back on socialising for a number of reasons. The line ‘we’re just too old for this shit’ sort of applies here as your priorities might swing to buying a house, instead of going to a new restaurant every month. If you feel like you are routinely excluded by the arts because of your disability, you might decide to save yourself the heartache or the stress and remove yourself from the situation by not going at all. This is what happens when venues don’t promote the fact that they have a fully accessible bathroom. This is what happens when venues don’t consider adding audio described and captioned shows, loop systems, relaxed performances and touch tours to their programmes. People stop coming, if they were there in the first place at all.

External factors like transport, building regulations or the availability of personal assistants can make the journey to the cinema or a comedy gig difficult so the the arts community needs to understand that once-off adjustments and token gestures aren’t enough. A wheelchair bathroom and a ramp does not mean that you get the all clear.

The Going Out Survey doesn’t present brand new information for people living with disabilities or for ADI, its results are a reminder or a wake up call to the people running venues, restaurants, festivals and events. The results show that our efforts are immediately diminished if you fail on the delivery of access.

In an ideal world, if we’re asked to go out for that one drink, we shouldn’t have to hesitate to say yes but that ideal world has been delayed time and time again and in another five years, where will that 94% be?

523 have said what they want and it’s time for those in the arts community to finally do something more than just tick a box.

Louise Bruton

Louise Bruton gave an activist’s response to the survey at the launch of Arts & Disability Ireland’s strategic plan, Leading Change in Arts and Culture, 2017 – 2021. Speaking at the launch in Project Arts Centre, Pádraig Naughton, Executive Director said ‘Arts & Disability Ireland want to bring about full inclusion, access and opportunities for artists and audiences with disabilities in Ireland’

This article was published in the Irish Times on Monday 4 December 2017 – ‘Minority stress’ and the problem with having a night out

Read Leading Change in Arts and Culture

Louise Bruton speaking at the launch of Arts & Disability Ireland's strategic plan Leading Change in Arts and Culture 2017 - 2021, Project Arts Centre, 30th November, 2017

Louise Bruton at the launch of Arts & Disability Ireland's strategic plan Leading Change in Arts and Culture 2017 - 2021, Project Arts Centre, 30th November, 2017

Louise with the Arts & Disability Ireland team Pádraig Naughton, Leah Johnston and Amie Lawless, alongside dance artist Cindy Cummings and members of Equinox Theatre Company.

Tags: Audiences, Audiences in Waiting, Louise Bruton, Research, Survey, The Going Out Survey

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