Steve Mannix says the time for thinking about access is over ? it?s time to act.
Yep, it?s that historic moment for disabled and deaf people throughout the UK ? the introduction of the final part of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) on October 1. After decades of lobbying, campaigning and direct action, 10 million people will have the same access to goods, services and buildings as their non-disabled counterparts. The law now states that you must not knowingly discriminate and must make ?reasonable? adjustment to the services you offer for all disabled people.
Over the past year or so all of us at Shape, together with our partner disability and deaf arts organisations across the country, have been doing our very best to dispel the myths surrounding the new legislation. Just start to think logically and fairly about how you would like to be treated as an audience member or visitor. Then think about what is reasonable for your organisation to do right now. It is important to remember that it will be individual disabled people who will have to take a case against your organisation for unfair treatment; the playing field is not quite level yet, but it?s a start. In the draft disability bill, the Government is currently looking at introducing statutory powers. Until such time as this becomes law, there will be an arbitration service available. Simply put, this is an issue of the rights of individuals and whole communities.
So what next? I?ve had my legal lesson. Let?s get practical for a second. Sitting at your desk right now? Standing in the foyer? Take a look around you. How physically accessible is your building? Maybe start by taking the spare boxes of print and front of house cleaning materials out of the accessible loo (I promise you, I witnessed this just two days ago!). Get out the instruction book and learn how to answer the minicom. These two "reasonable adjustments" didn?t cost you a penny did they? Moving on ? what did you programme last season? Any disabled artists at all? (Think next time you programme). Or when did you last invite your local organisations of disabled and deaf people to a meeting to discuss the possibility of working together? The only cost so far ? your time, oh and maybe a cup of tea! Or even, to hell with it, go the whole hog and convince your board to develop a disability action plan and involve local disabled and deaf people in your organisation as true, active partners (and don?t forget those artists!)
Yes, some aspects of access do cost money but the benefits in the long term far outweigh any initial investment. Disabled people in the UK have a spending power of over £50bn a year. That?s a lot of tickets or drinks in the café you are missing out on. But, guess what? Funders are interested in giving you support towards this aspect of your work. The whole of the corporate sector is also dealing with the DDA. They have adopted corporate social responsibility policies. Small businesses are in exactly the same position as larger ones (the opt-out for small businesses employing less than 15 people was removed this month!).
I know many of you reading this will be thinking that all you?ve heard about all year is this bloody DDA thing. Well, sorry, respect where respect is due. A recent poll by the Disability Rights Commission found that 70% of disabled people are prevented from accessing a service. That?s 7 million people. Personally the thought of that type of discrimination happening all around me fills me with horror. I hope it does you ? go on ? get out and look about ? GO!