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Realising how many of its visitors had a family member with a disability was the catalyst for Z-arts to launch its inclusive family fun days. Ramsey Janini tells the story.

Photo of two children at piano

Emily Armstrong

According to the Family Resources Survey 2015/16, almost one in five people in the UK has a disability. In Z-arts’ December 2016 annual customer survey, 40% of the respondents reported having a family member with a disability. As a venue in Manchester that welcomes children and families, access is therefore one of our top priorities.

The fun days were organised in the spirit of a relaxed festival, with activities that families could join in and move between whenever they wanted

Though we have long been committed to improving accessibility and inclusiveness, last year we embarked on a more strategic approach, beginning with the formation of an access and inclusion advisory group. The new group comprised an internal steering group, which had been established for a long time, together with volunteers from external organisations committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities.The 'Z-Access' project provided opportunities for the member organisations to further develop their professional partnerships. Every aspect of the project was designed to be reciprocally beneficial for everyone involved.

We began our collaboration by drafting three organisational commitments:

  • To lead by example and drive forward change.
  • To ask – not assume – what audiences enjoy and require.
  • To create a programme for everyone.

Family fun days

We set out to create free family fun days that would welcome everyone, regardless of circumstances, and remove the barriers that prevented people with disabilities from enjoying cultural spaces.

We discussed how families, particularly those with disabled and non-disabled siblings, were desperate for activities they could do together. From an audience perspective, the primary goal of the fun days was to encourage new families into our building, and then give them the confidence to have their children join our regular programme. For that to happen, families had to see that their children could have a fun and creative day.

The two organisations, Triple C and Autism for the Arts, led sessions on autism and disability awareness training for our staff. Triple C also delivered a consultation and event-specific recommendations for our building, which built upon an earlier access audit we had commissioned from All in Access. As a result, our staff were well-prepared for the first event. With the help of our advisory group we also assembled a wonderful group of disability-inclusive staff, facilitators and volunteers in alignment with our new access commitments.

At the same time, our main programme and facilities had to become increasingly inclusive, and our preparations for the first event immediately made an impact. We put in place improvements such as consistent and clear signage throughout the building and visual menus for our café. These, like many other aspects of the project, have since become permanent fixtures at Z-arts as we embrace a more visual and pictorial approach.

As soon as the first event got under way, everyone felt that something special was happening. We were delighted equally by the new smiles in our building as well as by old familiar faces. To ensure that everyone who visited felt comfortable, safe and welcome, we held the fun days on Sundays. This allowed us to completely dedicate our facilities to the events.

The fun days were organised in the spirit of a relaxed festival, with activities that families could join in and move between whenever they wanted. A sensory space and a separate quiet space were available at all times, and BSL interpreters waited at the entrance to greet and assist any families who required them. Those who had booked on to the events were emailed a handout with details of the activities and pictures of the facilitators, to help them know what to expect when they arrived.

After a relatively small but happy group of visitors for the first event, the event has grown in numbers each month, with the third and final event of our pilot project nearly reaching full capacity. This was also our most diverse of the three events in terms of cultural background and age groups.

Positive changes

The feedback from everyone has been positive. Triple C’s Cherylee Houston, the patron of the events, remarked that the fun days are “a great way to make the arts accessible to all whilst having an adventure as a family”. Among various visitor comments, one parent wrote that it’s “vital that families have access to these kinds of events”.

We’ve been delighted with the project, which has driven forward many positive changes. We now have a better sense of our strengths and weaknesses regarding access, as well as a clear plan for continual improvement. We’re fostering excellent partnerships with external organisations, and in doing so we’re fast developing a great network of disability-inclusive artists, facilitators and volunteers.

Best of all, the events have inspired new children and families to attend theatre performances and weekly classes here. In this respect, the programme has taken us closer to our goal: a fully inclusive offer where events targeted towards people with disabilities are no longer necessary, or even relevant.

Ramsey Janini is Finance and Administration Officer at Z-arts.

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Photo of Ramsey Janini