After hard fought improvements to access facilities at live event venues for disabled people, the pandemic has significantly worsened the situation says Suzanne Bull MBE, founder of Attitude is Everything – an organisation dedicated to improving deaf and disabled people’s access to live music.
For 21 years, Attitude is Everything has connected deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people with music and live events industries so that we can improve access together. Because of the reputation that we’ve built up of being supportive and providing practical solutions to venues, festivals, promoters and trade bodies, we’re now regarded as the ‘go-to’ organisation for resolving access barriers, whether that be for audiences, artists or employees.
But the pandemic has changed the landscape for disabled people. The messaging to disabled people was very stark – ‘it’s unsafe out there, stay home, isolate.’ Stereotypes resurfaced about disabled people; mostly the assumption that we had no emotional, physical or financial need to access the outside world. Suddenly we were all ‘vulnerable.’
For Attitude is Everything, it felt like we were starting all over again, but we seized the opportunity to encourage venues and festivals to Rebuild Back Better. We supported many venues through the Culture Recovery Funds to improve their access while they were closed for long periods. We worked with DCMS so they better understood what disabled people needed from the event industry post-pandemic, reminding them of their legal duty to include Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people in any pilot test events. We’ve been hosting collaborative roundtables such as supporting artists who are still shielding, with The MU, Ivors Academy, Help Musicians UK and ConnectsMusic.
Yet the most powerful voices on returning to live events come from within the disabled community themselves. Disabled people want to return, but on their terms. Our Audience Snapshot Survey from August this year revealed that 289 respondents went to more than 5,000 indoor and more than 1,200 outdoor live events in 2019, from gigs and festivals to football matches and book launches. Some 50% said they would feel comfortable attending an indoor live event as long as they were confident that as many accessible measures as possible had been put in place to increase safety.
Some 96% of respondents said it was important that venues and events engage with disabled people who don’t feel safe to return just yet. Because we know that our way of connecting venues and disabled audiences together is successful in removing barriers, we’re encouraging this engagement.
In 2021, we surveyed disabled artists on their views about returning to live music post-Covid. One of the key findings was that nearly all disabled artists want to get back to playing live; in fact, more than a half of the artists told us that after the extended break from gigs and festivals, they want to perform live more frequently than they were before March 2020. But 43% of the artists told us they are not feeling confident about getting back on stage.
Some are unsure about the continued dangers of Covid-19, whilst others believe attitudes towards disabled people have regressed during the pandemic.
These regressive attitudes are the most concerning aspect of the pandemic. We’ve built a great allyship with the music and events industries; we’re counting on you all to support disabled people back to ‘live.’