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There’s better guidance in the UK, study suggests, but work remains to remove structural barriers across Europe. 

performers from La Ribalta Theater take part in a production. four girls are on stage, one looking forward, three looking backwards, all wearing white dresses
Un Peep Show per Cenerentola by Paola Guerra and Antonio Viganò, featuring performers from La Ribalta Theater

Sarah Melchiori

European cultural industries lack the knowledge and experience needed to improve access for disabled artists and audiences, new research indicates.

Commissioned by the British Council, the Time to Act report - the first cross-border study into disabled peoples’ cultural participation - found a “huge need” for guidance and increased understanding in the sector. 

Across 42 countries, 52% of arts professionals rated their knowledge of work by disabled artists as poor or very poor, compared to 16% who reported good or excellent knowledge.


British Council’s Head of Arts and Disability for the EU Ben Evans says the data reflects the structural marginalisation of disabled people as artists, arts professionals and audiences.

“For those of us working in the sector, we inherently knew this information, but it was really important to have the evidence for ministers and arts councils to work with.”

Most European venues and festivals are not profiling work by disabled artists regularly, with just 28% presenting or supporting at least one production by disabled artists a year. Nearly a third of arts organisations (31%) said they do not look for new work by disabled artists.

A lack of knowledge is a major obstacle for the 48% of organisations who say their programmes aren’t fully accessible. One in six respondents had not seen any productions by disabled artists in the last two years.

We Shall Not Be Removed Co-Founder Andrew Miller says the report offers few surprises. 

“It’s perfectly apparent the cultural sector does not engage or represent disability well.”

Best practice areas

The UK is a good source of information and guidance for working with disabled creatives, according to the report.

Some arts managers in Europe, finding their national councils to be lacking resources, turned to UK guidance. 

Shape Arts, Unlimited, and Attitude is Everything were quoted by non-disability organisations in Europe as key sources for best practice toolkits and guidance. The Without Walls consortium’s guidance on accessibility for outdoor events was also highlighted.

Evans said other countries’ reliance on UK organisations’ guidance is to be expected: “This is an area where the UK is seen as an area of best practice, even though there is still more work to be done.”

Caution over Covid-19

Inclusive measures need to be adopted more broadly as shifts around Covid-19 threaten progress, the report warns.

Arts professionals on the continent noted the ongoing health risk is disproportionately impacting disabled people, with some fearing inclusion strategies may be deprioritised amidst tightening budgets. 

Others warned against the digital shift being reversed, pushing accessibility efforts backwards.

Evans said these concerns are even more acute in parts of Europe where disability has traditionally been a lower priority, having only hit the cultural agenda two or three years ago. 

Taking a transnational approach to sharing knowledge, involving disabled people in decision making and embracing diversity at the ‘gatekeeping’ level are among the report’s key recommendations to ensure progress is not lost post-pandemic.

Miller called Covid “the greatest challenge to maintaining access to culture in our lifetimes”.

“[It’s] one that is not yet fully understood by the wider arts sector.”