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With both Norway and Denmark poised to adopt an Attitude is Everything-like approach to disabled access, IQ catches up with newly appointed 'sector champion' Suzanne Bull
By Jon Chapple on 11 Apr 2017
The government of Norway has granted 1.1 million kr (US$127,500) to the Norwegian Live Music Association (NKA) to boost accessibility to cultural events for disabled people, modelled on the work of Attitude is Everything in the UK.
The funding, delivered via Budfir to NKA’s Accessibility of Culture Norway (Tilgjengelighet Kultur-Norge) project, aims to raise awareness of the needs of disabled people at live events, make venues more accessible and improve disabled participation and experience. It will be put towards recruiting new members for the project, training and mentoring venue staff and supporting promoters in their efforts to offer better accessibility for events.
“Since the start of the project, in 2015, we have learned that many Norwegian promoters are good on accessibility – but the potential for improvement in this area is also huge,” comments NKA managing director Torbjørn Heitmann Valum. “Much can be done with small means, but the necessary expertise is essential, [and] we have experienced that even minor improvements often come at the expense of other things in the fast-paced, pressured everyday life of concert promoters.
“Therefore, it is very gratifying that we can now continue the project and help our members financially in addition to our educational and professional development. I hope many of our members sign up in 2017. This is a great opportunity.”
While TKA says Tilgjengelighet Kultur-Norge was “established after Attitude is Everything in the UK”, the charity’s CEO, Suzanne Bull MBE, is equally full of praise for her Nordic counterparts, saying the project wouldn’t have been possible if the Norwegians weren’t willing to listen to what she had to say.
“We want to say to venues and festivals, ‘This is what you can do, this is how you do it and these are the advantages…'”
IQ visited Attitude is Everything’s King’s Cross office late last month, shortly after Bull had been announced as Britain’s first ‘sector champion’ for the music industry, in which she will advise the government on how to make the music more friendly to the disabled, alongside ten other champions from the worlds of leisure, tourism, advertising, retail and more.
Both her new position, which she will undertake on a voluntary basis as part of her role at Attitude is Everything, and the licensing of the charity’s Charter of Best Practice to Norway and further afield – talks are also underway with Denmark’s Dansk Live – come amid a growing “international movement towards accessibility”, she told IQ, wherein live music stakeholders are increasingly “expecting disabled people to be in the audience”.
“Disabled people expect to have their access requirements met, they expect to be there [at a show] with friends,” she explains. “There’s a sense of, ‘What’s wrong with my money? How is it any different to other people’s?'”.
According to Attitude is Everything’s s latest figures, the number of deaf and disabled fans attending concerts and festivals increased 26% year on year in 2015, and the so-called ‘purple pound’ – or disabled people’s collective spending power – is now worth an estimated £250 billion to the UK economy, meaning the moral case for providing for disabled concertgoers is fast becoming a financial one, too. (Music-industry folk are “absolutely astonished when you present the figures!” Bull says.)
The economic argument for accessibility is further amplified by the fact that, explains Bull, word travels fast in the disabled community, with deaf and disabled concertgoers not afraid to be vocal about venues or festivals that fail to meet their basic requirements.
“I like the fact that we’ve created a little bit of competition between promoters. Some of them even boast about how much better they are at access than their peers!”
“It’s a consumers’ market,” she says, “and word of mouth is very important. If a disabled friend says to me, ‘This festival has everything you need access-wise’, my feeling is that I’ll choose that festival.”
Bull emphasises that Attitude is Everything is built upon disabled people and the music business working together in partnership to improve access to gigs. “Our ethos is to be supportive and encouraging to the music industry – to support them to make changes,” she explains. “The industry has really embraced our charter, and there is a growing number of disabled concertgoers, which proves that the music industry really does want to get it right. We want to say to venues and festivals, ‘This is what you can do, this is how you do it and these are the advantages…'”
“I don’t see the point of naming and shaming venues and festivals who don’t get access right, because how does that help disabled people to feel motivated or excited about going to gigs, or managers or promoters being motivated to do anything at all?” concludes Bull. “I like the fact that we’ve created a little bit of competition between different promoters – some of them even boast about how much better they are at access than their peers!
“I don’t think anyone sets out to make things difficult for disabled people on purpose… It’s all about changing perceptions.”
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