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Eddie Richards, DICE group finance director and Neurodiverse Minds ECG’s leadership sponsor, outlines how venues, promoters, artists and charities can improve neurodiverse accessibility at live music events.

The UK’s live events industry is one where many foster communities and create memories. But for the 15% of Brits who identify as neurodivergent, the things that we consider hallmarks of a good night out can often create barriers to an accessible and safe night out.

Even the smallest changes can make a substantial difference, and as we recognise Neurodiversity Celebration Week this week (18-24 March), it’s important to reflect on how venues, promoters, and artists that we work with at DICE, are helping to improve neurodiverse accessibility at live music events:

It’s the small things 

The difference between conventional club nights and accessible events can often be hard to spot. There’s the same great music, upbeat dancing, and all-round good vibes. But looking closer, it can often be the small adjustments that make a big difference.

From capping speaker volume and providing earplugs, to banning strobe lights altogether and reducing ticket numbers to ensure more space, these changes make for a far more comfortable night out for those with sensory processing needs.

It’s what DICE partner Big Penny Social is doing. The community venue hosts events over the Easter holiday that cater to neurodiverse families: no music, lower room lighting and a reduced capacity of 20 children, reducing sensory stimulation which can be transformational for many.

Set up safe spaces

Sensory adjustments won’t always prevent overstimulation and while events are increasingly focusing on welfare and medical spaces to support struggling fans, these are often overwhelming environments for the neurodiverse community with staff talking or touching you, by way of support.

Having the space and tools to self-soothe and recalibrate the brain can be significantly more beneficial for neurodivergent people, and the work of Diverse UK, a charity that facilitates social connection among people with autism, is helping such spaces become more common.

In 2022, Diverse UK organised Glastonbury’s first sensory calm space, providing weighted blankets, sensory toys, textured items and ear defenders to help fans feel a sense of calm. Today, these spaces are at festivals across the country, helping neurodivergent fans reduce their brain frequencies over a 20 minute period through sound, texture and visual stimulation, as they manage the heightened senses and emotions of live events.

Communication is key

Everybody’s needs are so individual, that modifying the live environment won’t address every problem. Instead, it’s key to educate event security and staff so that they can be aware of subtle changes that make a big difference. This includes arranging ways for neurodiverse guests to avoid the stress of waiting in line, such as inviting people to arrive and settle in before doors open so that they can watch the room slowly fill up around them.

This is what DICE partner The Clapham Grand (cap. 1,250) has already done. As a listed building, infrastructure changes aren’t an option here, but the management team acknowledges the diversity of needs of all fans and encourages eventgoers to contact them ahead of time to explain what they need on the night. The venue even keeps one of its six premium theatre boxes free for guests who’d rather avoid the crowds entirely – at no extra cost.

There will always be restrictions and limitations as to what can be implemented at events and venues. But incremental steps can go a long way in improving live events for fans, so that going out can be a safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone.