Scottish project explores experiences of autistic adults

28 Aug 2023

A new seven-month creative project hopes to highlight the experiences of older autistic adults with learning difficulties in Scotland.

The collaboration between Heriot-Watt University and Scottish Autism will use filmmaking and art to shine a light on the hopes, concerns and needs of this group, while also exploring together what future social care services could look like.

The AHRC-funded collaboration is titled: 'Ageing, health, and social care: the meaningful engagement of autistic people with learning disabilities'.

Autistic filmmakers Iceberg Productions will interview autistic people with learning disabilities, aged 55 and over, to create a documentary which will be presented at a series of workshops.

Professor Mary Stewart, Director of Social Interaction, Mental Health and Wellbeing at Heriot-Watt, said the motivation for the project "came from the unfortunate reality that autistic people with learning disabilities do not often have their voices heard in research".

She added: “We know that using art as a tool for discussion can be very effective and allows for a range of ways to engage with discussion.

"The outcomes of the project will ultimately be used to raise awareness and provoke discussion with service professionals, policymakers and the wider community in Scotland and beyond."

Ethnic diversity of ACE workforce in decline

21 Aug 2023

Arts Council England's annual report of 2022/23 registers a decrease in ethnic diversity of its staff, while percentage of disabled staff continues to rise.

Survey to examine accessibility of environmental initiatives

27 Jul 2023

New research will explore how access to music and live events for disabled people can become more environmentally sustainable.

Julie’s Bicycle, Attitude is Everything and A Greener Future are calling on disabled, artists, audiences, volunteers and professionals to participate in a survey looking at how accessibility can be more considered in environmental initiatives.

“Disability access must be a key part of how we design climate solutions and orient our world towards justice. It is the embodiment of care and solidarity in practice,” said Farah Ahmed, Climate Justice Lead at Julie’s Bicycle. 

“We are really excited to be partnering with Attitude is Everything and A Greener Future to develop the tools and resources the sector needs to engage with accessibility as a core principle for environmental action.”

The research will be used to create a toolkit for the music and live events sectors, containing practical solutions and case studies. 

The first edition is to be published in early 2024.

Government wants more autism-friendly cultural programmes

20 Jul 2023

Proposals for the government's forthcoming Disability Action Plan include plans to encourage more autism-friendly programmes in the cultural and heritage sectors. 

The plans are part of a raft of ideas designed to 'make disabled people's lives easier'.

Other proposals, which are now open to public consultation, include ensuring businesses are aware of disabled people’s needs, including Guide Dog access needs.

Tom Pursglove, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, said: "Our Disability Action Plan will lay out practical measures we can implement here and now to improve the lives of disabled people.

"From leading the way globally with assistive technology to improving inclusivity and accessibility across sport, travel and culture, the plan will also be important in setting the stage for longer-term change."

The online consultation runs for 12 weeks and is open for anyone to comment.

Louise Mckiernan, Chair of the Disability Unit West Midlands Regional Stakeholder Network, said: "The launch of this consultation is an important opportunity for disabled people in particular to have their say and to help shape the government’s short-term plans."

Spotlight on new NPOs: Unlimited

21 Jun 2023

Over the past two years, Unlimited has undergone massive change. From a programme to an independent organisation and now an NPO, it’s on a mission to challenge the sector. Jo Verrent reports on that journey.

Do you cater for neurodiversity?

Concept of the diversity of people's talents and skills stock illustration
22 May 2023

Not all disabilities are visible. So to make your digital spaces more accessible for neurodivergent users, writes Ell Powell, there are some key things to consider.

Understanding the needs of disabled artists

Diana performing on the floor in front of her wheelchair
22 May 2023

In the last in our series on widening participation, Diana Niepce writes: Two burnouts a year is not sustainable for anyone, but it’s a reality for disabled dancers. The sector needs to change.

New programme to boost disabled and neurodiverse leadership 

16 May 2023

A team of learning disabled and autistic creatives from Access All Areas have banded together to create a new national arts programme to train other learning disabled and autistic people working in the arts, as well as training staff at venues and organisations in inclusive leadership.

The team underwent two years of leadership training as part of Access All Areas’ Transforming Leadership programme, which finished in 2022.

Working with seven other disability arts companies, eight UK venues and leadership development organisations, they will launch the new programme on 19 June, to coincide with Learning Disability Week.

The new programme aims to counter the historic exclusion of learning disabled and autistic people from the UK workforce and shake up the landscape of arts leadership by involving them in strategic decisions and discussions around the art being made and the stories being told.

Creatives from Access All Areas will co-deliver leadership training for 14 other learning disabled and autistic creatives from seven UK companies. The training will focus on directing skills, how to lead community arts programmes, governance and advocacy skills.

Access All Areas will also train staff at eight UK venues and seven organisations in inclusive practice, to help overcome structural obstacles to inclusion for learning disabled and autistic at executive and board level.

Graeae reopens artist development programme

28 Apr 2023

Theatre company Graeae has reopened applications to its artist development programme for disabled creatives, Beyond.

Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists are being invited to apply to the programme, which works to remove barriers and support the development of under-represented creatives.

The next edition of the programme will run from September 2023 to March 2025 and support 20 artists in total.

The scheme is open to applicants at all career stages, with a commitment to creating live performance as a performer, writer, director, producer, designer or technician.

To deliver the next round, Graeae is teaming up with the seven venues nationwide - Cast, Derby Theatre, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Hull Truck Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse, Octagon Bolton and Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot – which will each offer tailored development support, advice, training, mentoring and use of creative spaces to the chosen artists.

“[These venues] will ensure that Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists are at the heart of everything and not on the side-lines,” Graeae Artistic Director Jenny Sealey said.

Selected artists will also receive micro bursaries, networking opportunities and support with funding applications.

An expression of interest form is open until 26 June, with more information on Graeae’s website.

Accessible art trail for young wheelchair users announced

25 Apr 2023

A UK charity for young wheelchair users is creating the country's first step-free art trail this summer.

Whizz-Kidz will present Morph’s Epic Art Adventure, featuring more than 50 "super-sized sculptures" of the plasticine children’s TV character, who first appeared in 1977 in the BBC programme Take Hart.

Taking place from 19 June to 20 August 2023 in Central London, each Morph sculpture will be uniquely designed by well-known and emerging artists.

A series of ‘Mini Morph’ sculptures adopted and created by schools will also be displayed, and a trail map and app will help wheelchair users find their way.  

A statement from Whizz-Kidz said: "The Morph sculptures will be canvases for conversations about diversity and inclusion for wheelchair users.

"As part of Morph’s Epic Art Adventure in London, Whizz-Kidz will use the art trail to encourage the public, business community and young people to envision what a more inclusive world might look like for young wheelchair users, and what role they might wish to play in making this a reality."

Virtual museum celebrates Paralympic artefacts 

19 Apr 2023

A 3D virtual museum is set is to launch this week, showcasing objects from the National Paralympic Heritage Trust (NPHT).

The Digital Explorations Celebration & Virtual Museum, launching on Wednesday (19 April) at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, will showcase objects including mascots, clothing and sports equipment.

The museum is part of the Digital Exploration Project, funded by the Rothschild Foundation and National Lottery Heritage Fund, with support from the Heart of Bucks.

The result of three years of work, the exhibition brings together more than 65 objects curated and scanned by participants from local disability organisations from across Buckinghamshire. 

The collection also includes artefacts from other museums, items from students at Pebble Brook School and artefacts from NPHT’s own collection.

Participants received professional training and work experience in historical research and cataloguing, digital 3D scanning, photogrammetry and editing.

“We are proud to support NPHT’s Digital Exploration project, preserving and sharing their inspirational Paralympic heritage of international significance, through the digital innovation of 3D models and exhibitions, promoting wider access for disabled people, young people and researchers,” said Leona Forsyth, Senior Grants Manager at the Rothschild Foundation.

“This work is also helping build a local cultural sector that is inclusive, vibrant and resilient. 

“The team’s personal approach and dedication to meeting individual needs through mentoring and training is developing the life skills and improving the quality of life and well-being of disabled participants, while helping build a more diverse, representative heritage workforce locally.”

Why are disabled people asked to work for nothing?

Pull Up sharing by Delson Weeks, Blink Dance Theatre
18 Apr 2023

In a survey of disabled arts professionals, Unlimited found 87% had been asked to do something for nothing. Lucy Peters asks Jo Verrent: When will the sector stop exploiting disabled creatives and acknowledge their value?

Unlimited awards £660k for disabled artist commissions

03 Apr 2023

Commissioning body Unlimited has awarded over £660,000 in funding to 19 new artistic commissions in its UK & International Partner Awards 2022/23.

The biannual partner awards are designated for disabled artists, the initiative being part of Unlimited’s remit to dismantle barriers faced by disabled artists.

The commissions are funded by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland and 13 partner organisations.

The British Council contributed £280,000 towards seven international awards. 

The projects funded include a theatre project exploring disabled LGBTQ+ experience in the Highlands of Scotland, a one-woman dance show inspired by Black hair culture, an immersive forest experience created in Brazil and the UK, and a circus performance devised by artists in the UK and Zimbabwe.

“These commissions represent such an exciting range of talent and ambition. We are proud to celebrate the diverse range of perspectives and experiences encapsulated in these awards,” Unlimited’s Programme Manager Isabella Tulloch Gallego commented.

“We look forward to supporting these artists and companies in creating meaningful and impactful work that engages audiences and pushes boundaries.”

Southbank Centre relaunches wellbeing initiative

21 Mar 2023

An initiative developed by the Southbank Centre during the Covid-19 pandemic to reach those most isolated by the lockdowns is to be relaunched.

The Art by Post scheme scheme involves delivering free activity booklets to care homes, hospitals, charities, arts organisations, specialist dementia services, prison facilities and housing initiatives to give people an outlet for artistic expression. 

The initiative previously reached almost 4,500 people, 90% of whom said it had given them something to look forward to and 75% of whom said that it had improved their wellbeing. 

The scheme will return in partnership with the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP), with six new creativity booklets designed for people with long-term physical and mental health needs.

Participants can refer themselves or be referred by a friend, family member or professional service. Organisations can also sign up to receive the booklets in bulk.

The new booklets provide free poetry and art activities designed by artists and activists to nurture creativity and support wellbeing, with a focus on how to care for the health of the planet.

“At NASP we’ve witnessed the life changing effect social prescribing – connecting people to non-medical support to address problems like isolation or stress – can have on people’s mental and physical health,” said Sunita Pandya, Interim CEO at The National Academy for Social Prescribing.

“However, we are also keenly aware that some green social prescribing or arts for wellbeing projects aren’t accessible to those who cannot leave the house. 

“These booklets – which are being offered to link workers for distribution – make social prescribing activities available to all. We can't wait to see the work they inspire.”

Workshop to make musical instruments more accessible

09 Mar 2023

A collaborative workshop is planning to make outdoor musical instruments more accessible, particularly to young people who are blind or partially sighted.

The workshop, a collaboration between Percussion Play, the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) and the Amber Trust, will take place at RSBC’s Life Without Limits Centre in London in April, to discover how Percussion Play’s instruments can be improved and made more accessible for vision-impaired children and young people.

The session will be facilitated by Amber Music practitioner Gennie Joy, who will guide children and their families in how to play instruments from Percussion Play, including Babel Drums, Cyclone, Cavatina and Tubular Bells.

Percussion Play hopes the workshop will help it identify the shapes, heights, colours and finishes most beneficial to people with vision impairments.

The instrument manufacturer also hopes to create a new instrument specifically for people who are blind or partially sighted during the collaborative session.

“We are excited to be working with the RSBC and The Amber Trust to discover how we can make our instruments even more inclusive,” said Jody Ashfield, Co-Founder and CEO of Percussion Play.

“Our instruments are designed so everyone can enjoy making music and we hope to improve our current range by engaging with young people who are partially sighted and discover what changes could be made to make them more accessible.”

Sensory-based project aims to improve museum access

women in a wheelchair takes a photo of artwork in a museum
13 Feb 2023

Project to create new ‘sensory logic’ in museums, by considering the role the senses play in the collection and displaying of objects, in a bid to improve accessibility and inclusion.

Southbank Centre awarded highest accessibility status

13 Feb 2023

The Southbank Centre has become the first UK venue to be awarded Platinum accessibility status by disability-led charity Attitude is Everything.

The Attitude is Everything Platinum Award recognises commitment to providing the best possible experience for audiences and understanding the potential access requirements of Deaf, disabled, neurodivergent and people with health conditions.

It has been awarded to the Southbank Centre for the its efforts to improve access and inclusion to live events.

The accolade forms part of Attitude is Everything’s Live Events Access Charter, designed to help arts organisations build disability equality into their venues or events, with Platinum being the highest of four awards.

Attitude is Everything’s Head of Programmes Gideon Feldman said the Southbank Centre has been a commitmed member of the Charter for the last six years.

“From the very beginning they have asked what they can do to push their access offer beyond what the Charter expects,” Feldman added.

“The Southbank Centre has considered customer journeys, artists working at their venues, engaging and developing staff and setting minimum standards for companies and brands using their spaces.” 

“In becoming the first venue to be accredited at the Platinum level, the Southbank Centre has demonstrated how access and inclusion is at the core of how the company operates and how they wish to be seen as a venue - engaged with disabled people to constantly strive to offer the best possible experience.” 

Westminster Council pledges £1.8m funding for arts

02 Dec 2022

Westminster City Council has announced it will set aside £1.8m for arts and culture funding over the next four years.

The council said the money will help fund a range of projects to make culture more accessible to residents and visitors.

It added that it hopes to break down social and economic barriers by extending free cultural opportunities to those facing financial hardship, young people, over-65s, ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities and those experiencing social isolation.

Within the budget is a new annual Culture and Community Grants Programme, which invites local organisations and schools to bid for up to £10,000 of funding to help deliver community-based projects. 

Tim Roca, Deputy Leader at Westminster Council and Cabinet Member for Young People, Learning and Leisure, said: “I’m very excited to announce this new cultural budget that will fund a range of projects across Westminster. 

"This new funding will bring culture directly into our communities and provide a boost for Westminster’s thriving arts scene which attracts so many visitors each year."

Slow train coming? EDI in music higher education

Graphic of musical instrument
15 Nov 2022

A new report into equality, diversity and inclusion in music is published this week. Its authors Anna Bull, Diljeet Bhachu and Amy Blier-Carruthers argue to tackle the inequalities it reveals, EDI must be embedded into the discipline.

Ending ableism in the arts

Model of broken body on theatre stage
09 Nov 2022

There are many challenges facing disabled-led organisations and artists. Here Jo Verrent and Cat Sheridan share their expertise on how to tackle them.


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