Wales' national arts access scheme for disabled people and their carers removes the need for uncomfortable eligibility conversations. Megan Merrett explains how.
© Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia @ 4Pi Productions
Hynt is the national access scheme for theatres and arts centres in Wales. It’s an Arts Council of Wales initiative managed by Creu Cymru in partnership with Diverse Cymru. Before Hynt was launched four years ago, there were access schemes at Welsh venues, but no consistent offer. So it was frustrating for disabled people and their carers to fill out different forms for different venues. There was also a lack of clarity over eligibility, and many venues lacked confidence about who should and shouldn’t be eligible.
Hynt removes the need for those awkward conversations at the box office
Hynt removes the need for those awkward conversations at the box office. People can join the scheme with a short application form, photo and copy of proof of eligibility. Our eligibility criteria were developed through consultation events, and the focus is on the level of care: cardholders get a ticket free of charge for their accompanying carer, companion or personal assistant.
We know it’s not a catch-all. Some people don’t claim one of the listed benefits but do need support from a carer. This is why we have an arbitration process: an email or letter exchange using the social model of disability to focus on the barriers faced at the theatres, not on medical or health details. In this way, decision-making is removed from venues and made by people with the relevant knowledge and understanding. The process is managed by Diverse Cymru, a peer-led equalities organisation.
Hynt isn’t just a card scheme: it's a network and a resource too. Venues pay to be members on a sliding scale based on turnover. Member venues gain access to training and symposia, and have a presence on our website and listings.
Of course, not all people with a disability need a card as they can attend performances independently. Given the diverse needs of their audiences, Hynt venues have been working to improve accessibility for people with a range of disabilities and access requirements. Our website gives information about each venue to help audiences plan their visit and a listing of performances with specific accessible features.
Being a Creu Cymru project has ensured that access is on the agenda when our network of venues sees work or meets about programming. Last year a group of venue staff and I went on a curated visit to Leeds Playhouse to experience its dementia-friendly work, as well as visiting the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. These visits were a chance to develop approaches to performances and events, and it was heartening for some of the venues with fewer resources who attended to acknowledge that they are already delivering best practice in these areas despite limited budgets and facilities.
Over 40 venues are signed up to the scheme. Membership is free for cardholders, over 15,000 of whom have joined. YouTuber Jake Sawyer summed up what Hynt means to him by saying: “Hynt is a really, really amazing service across Wales… so if I’m off to see something that I really want to see… the theatre will give me one free concession ticket for my carer who can be anyone, which is great. I love it. It’s a fabulous service. It’s always been a thing I’ve asked in theatres… but it’s awkward.”
We’re pleased with the take-up, but Hynt has more audience development potential. Awen Cultural Trust told us: “Before the Hynt card people were inclined to choose between shows, but the great benefit of the card is allowing people with additional needs to come along and enjoy a cultural experience which they wouldn't necessarily be able to afford.”
We’ve analysed audience data through box office reporting and Audience Insight but we don’t yet have a full understanding of whether Hynt has led to audiences visiting new venues. But we know the scheme is growing, and are looking at developing a booking model for Night Out venues and the National Eisteddfod.
The government’s Disability Champion for the Arts, Andrew Miller, has a vision for a single UK online ticket booking scheme for disabled customers which he is pursuing with all four national arts funders. He says: “The success of the Hynt model in Wales is proof that a national approach using the social model of disability can work, and prevents situations such as a request for personal information at the point of booking.”
Megan Merrett is Project Administrator at Hynt.