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The date is two years later than outlined in the government’s National Disability Strategy, while an existing access card expands a free online booking system for disabled audiences.

Disabled person in audience
Mousetrap Theatre’s Relaxed Performance of Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre.

Alex Rumford

A sector-wide access card for disabled audiences is due to be trialled two years later than first publicised, it has been confirmed.

The arts access card, which is expected to be valid at all arts and cultural venues and promises to offer “seamless, barrier-free booking”, was the only cultural element of the Government’s National Disability Strategy published last August. The document stated a launch date for the card of March 2022.

But Arts Council England (ACE), the lead delivery partner, has told ArtsProfessional it is working towards a pilot for the scheme to be up and running within the sector by early 2024, ahead of a full launch.


Consultation on the arts access card began in 2018. An ACE spokesperson told ArtsProfessional work on the project is now underway: “This has included wider consultation with potential users, as well as feasibility studies to inform how this scheme can address the access barriers faced by disabled audience members.”

The funder has recruited for an Access Scheme Advisory Group, which will be announced later this year.

“This is in line with our ambitions set out in our 10-year strategy Let’s Create and our Delivery Plan,” the spokesperson added.

Former ACE Disability Champion Andrew Miller said the start date included in the National Disability Strategy was “fairly random” and “did not take account of the pause in major developmental projects like this”.

“Inevitably work was paused whilst the UK arts councils focused on stabilising the sector and administered the unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund, but I am confident that work on the scheme is now progressing at pace.”

Nimbus card expands partnerships

Meanwhile, an existing access card for disabled audiences that covers some of the UK's arts and cultural venues is rolling out an online booking scheme with two of the UK’s largest theatre groups.

Martin Austin, Managing Director of Nimbus Disability, which developed the booking system and administers the Nimbus Access Card said the service is “a free, universal way of customers registering access requirements,” while removing administrative burden from venues.

The system, which is available to disabled audience members who register their details for free with Nimbus, allows audience members to complete a registration form on participating venues’ websites, giving them an access registration number locked to that venue. 

This code will ensure the audience member’s access requirements are automatically included in any future booking with the venue, helping to remove barriers to registration and inconsistencies in the availability of disabled seating.

Nimbus has operated the service with The Ticket Factory at Birmingham’s NEC for several years and is rolling out the model with Ambassador Theatre Group and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, as well as Merlin Entertainments, which owns some of the UK’s largest attractions, and Paultons Park.

Austin estimates the new partnerships will bring 250,000 new customers to Nimbus.

Around 60,000 people currently have a Nimbus Access Card, up from 38,000 this time last year. The card, which costs £15 for three years, means the holder’s access needs are automatically registered to 2,500 participating venues across the UK, including many arts and cultural venues, relieving disabled audiences of repeated registration processes.

“From our stance, what [ACE] are trying to achieve already exists,” Austin told ArtsProfessional.

“Our Access Card has proof of concept, it’s out there in the private sector and has been well received by the public and businesses we work with, and it’s run by disabled people, for disabled people.”

To be determined

It is not known whether ACE’s access card will builds on an existing model or will start from scratch.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Miller said ACE’s access card “may well end up involving” existing systems such as Nimbus’ Access Card, or Arts Council of Wales’ Hynt card, which is free for disabled audiences in Wales.

A tendering process for ACE’s arts access card is expected, which could yet lead to Nimbus administering the card.

Austin said an additional card could end up creating more barriers for disabled audiences: “It would have to recognise the Access Card as a form as proof of eligibility to get an arts access card, which could just force customers through another level of registration.”