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Live music’s recovery must be inclusive

Attitude is Everything founder Suzanne Bull MBE urges everyone involved in ‘operation restart’ not to forget deaf and disabled people

03 Jun 2021

Suzanne Bull, Attitude is Everything

Like everyone, I’m feeling hopeful as the live events industry slowly starts to open up as best it can after what we hope is the worst of the pandemic. The impact of this on the industry, further compounded by Brexit, has been immeasurable for those working in it, the artists, and also the fans.

However, the consequences for deaf and disabled people have also been profound and of real concern to me. I’m well-placed to comment on it because I’m a disabled person and founder of Attitude is Everything – a charity set up to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to music and live events.

For 21 years, Attitude is Everything has worked to connect deaf and disabled people with music and event industries to improve access together. Over 200 music venues and festivals have signed up to our Charter of Best Practice, endorsed by government as the industry standard for accessibility. With our support, the live music industry has worked hard to make gigs and festivals inclusive and accessible, but I fear that the current landscape is now looking grim for our community being able to return to live events as we wish.

We need the industry to actively welcome back deaf and disabled people. In a bid to support the industry in this effort, we recently published our Access Guide: Reopening Your Venue.

Being in the group deemed clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) myself, I was angry to be told that I could not attend early pilot events. Thankfully, following interventions by us and other partners, the language has now shifted away from this. Disabled people simply need the facts about accessibility and Covid-safety measures in order to make our own judgments about what we attend. No venue or event should ever make that decision for us.

Online information has never been more important. I know from previous data collected by Attitude is Everything that 60% of disabled people won’t buy a ticket if there isn’t any access information, and subsequently feel that the event “isn’t for them” if they can’t find the information. While I’m delighted to see live music returning to our towns and cities, I’m deeply concerned about deaf and disabled people being forgotten about or simply viewed as ‘vulnerable.’ I know of at least ten events that have gone live selling tickets without having staffed access booking services. Without strong policies in place, there is also now a real risk of disabled people being challenged on entry if staff make assumptions on a person’s vulnerability based on a ‘visible’ disability. This cannot happen.

I’m currently left wondering just what I have achieved in 30+ years of work to improve the cultural offer to disabled people

I’m currently left wondering just what I have achieved in 30+ years of work to improve the cultural offer to disabled people in the UK. However, I am heartened to know that many trade bodies, promoters, festival organisers and venue managers share my concerns about the current levels of exclusion and where this might lead in the future if left unchecked.

There needs to be a collective effort now to reverse recent messages that make certain people in our society feel unwelcome in the drive to return to live music events. I’m finding that disabled people need lots of reassurance and not all disabled people are confident about attending events in the future. We are not talking about a few people: in the UK, over 2.2 million people were told to shield, and 20% of the UK population is classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ to Covid-19 – millions of whom are disabled people. And when I say disabled people, I mean audiences, artists, volunteers and employees.

To bring it home, some of the staff, trustees and volunteers at Attitude is Everything are in the clinically vulnerable groups. Of course, inclusion isn’t just a Covid-19 or reopening issue. Our most recent publication – our Accessible Employment Guide – provides tips on how employers can make workplaces as accessible as possible, far beyond responding to the times we find ourselves in currently.

I’m expecting to return to live music shortly, to work and to enjoy myself! For the first time in my life, I found myself excluded from society when the pandemic hit. Given the choice, I’d go out every single night of the week. I’ve spent over a year locked away in my flat because I was also diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2020, and this, plus my impairment, placed me in the CEV group. For 30 years, I partied my life away and then I was told to stay in. Who in their right mind would want to do that?

Why would I want to stay home when there are so many beautiful bands out there?

 


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