Build Your Dream Venue workshops: What we learned
At the end of January, in association with Belfast City Council and the artists collective Molto Vivo, we ran a series of workshops to support arts and culture venues to think creatively about how to improve their Access for Disabled People.
The workshop was a result of an important finding from a study we carried out for Belfast City Council in 2017. We asked 2,200 Belfast residents about their cultural habits and looked closely at their levels of attendance and participation. We found out that 87% of Disabled People in Belfast were engaged in arts and culture but that there was a 13% gap in attendance compared to the total Belfast population. We’ve been thinking about how we can close this gap and eliminate the barriers that prevent more Disabled People from attending arts and culture events.
The Build Your Dream Venue workshops brought together participants from Belfast and beyond to complete two tasks. First, if money was no object, how would you design a space so that it’s as accessible as possible? For the second task the context was flipped entirely – participants had 24 hours before Disabled audience members arrived to attend an event and had to come up with quick no cost solutions to make their venue more accessible.
At the end of the series, we pulled all the conversations together and spotted some themes.
It’s not just about Physical Access
When we talk about Access, most people think of the building first. Does it have a ramp? Does it have a lift? Is it on the ground floor? But having those things does not guarantee that your venue is accessible.
Access is not only physical. It’s also about how your organisation’s products and services are delivered and your attitude towards your different audiences.
Ask yourself: are Disabled audiences treated in the same way as others?
It doesn’t have to be complicated
When we asked participants what they learned from our workshops, they told us that the 24 hour task had helped them realise that there are simple, low or no cost improvements that they can make straight away.
You do not have to demolish your entire building and start from scratch to be more Accessible, and you don’t need to apply for funding. Ask yourself what you could do to improve your Access overnight. Often providing information is the most effective thing you can try - putting up a sign in your bathroom letting people know that the hand-dryer is loud and providing hand towels as an alternative. To sum up, put your DIY cap on and get creative!
When it comes to information, more is more
We are often too caught up in our own routine to realise that what makes sense to us is not crystal clear to others.
Before coming to your venue, people will first find you online. So it’s particularly important to supply as many details as possible about your venue, what it looks like, what can people expect when they arrive.. It is also good practice to add visual aids for people who have never been to your venue – pictures of your building and your space.
People can then decide for themselves if they can visit your venue or attend your production without the hassle of finding a way to get in touch with you to explain their personal situation.
Communication is key. It is essential to talk and listen to Disabled Audiences. Don’t assume or make decisions for others. Always ask what someone’s preference is because in most, probably all, cases, they will know best.
We are currently putting together a Welcoming Disabled Audiences toolkit that will be available soon in our Toolkits & Templates section.