Gillian Bates takes a look at the lighter side of life and work as a freelance in the arts
Hands up, arts colleagues, who has had training in disability awareness? Before I worked for a local authority, I was blissfully ignorant of anything to do with disability. Obviously I was always polite to the pushers of wheelchairs, whilst avoiding eye contact with the person in the chair. I would only park in a disabled space in a real emergency (and of course I hadn’t noticed it was a disabled space). Apart from that I didn’t really think about it.
When I worked for a county council, the Disability Discrimination Act was being debated in Parliament – and the council took this very seriously. I was sent on a series of training days – two of which were led by the most inspiring trainers I have ever encountered. One trainer had severe mobility problems and the other was profoundly deaf. They challenged my thinking, raised my awareness and made me realise that, in the arts, we have a real responsibility to cater for the whole of our communities.
And then it became personal. In the space of three ghastly months, my Dad went from sprightly pensioner to blind, hearing impaired and in a wheelchair. I looked around for things to entertain a man whose mind was as sharp as ever. Nottingham is stuffed full of arts venues, as you can imagine. Many are (more or less) wheelchair accessible, and brochures indicate this, but marketing often seems to stop there.
There appears to be little outreach work towards a community, which, partly due to the ageing demographic of this country’s inhabitants, is on the increase. More importantly this community also has money in its pockets and time to take in arts activities. Marketing to people with disabilities should be more than putting a wheelchair symbol in the brochure. It should certainly be more than writing ‘available in large print’ on the back, then crossing fingers and hoping that no-one will ask for it ‘cause then you’ll have to blow it up on the photocopier to A3. And hands up who’s ever done that? Aaah –
I can see you all now…
Gillian Bates is a freelance arts marketing consultant.