Josephine Burns, chair, Without Walls, provides some thoughts on sustaining a truly accessible live industry.


What has changed in the last decade? I’ll leave to others the biggies of technology and new financial models, so (deep breath): what are we doing in our neck of the woods to make performances/experiences accessible to a wider audience, let alone opportunities for artists and other employments? It’s not easy or simple.

Without Walls set out eleven years ago with a commitment to artists and audiences who are deaf and/or disabled. Not because we’re publicly funded nor because we’re goody-two-shoes, but because if we want to reach these audiences, many of whom will never engage in mainstream arts, then we had to think differently.

Stats from The Audience Agency (2019) show that 12% of our audience were limited by health problems. We’ve now supported 138 shows, of which 17 are by deaf/disabled-led companies, 12% of the overall programme.

We’ve been trying to up our game, so since 2013 Without Walls has commissioned at least one disability-led show a year. This is no nod to being PC – it’s stand-out performance. We supported Candoco Dance Company to create You and I Know (2016), choreographed by Arlene Phillips, and in 2018, 9.43m saw the company on BBC’s Strictly.

We’re still on it, and we always will be.