Ten years of progress

New cross-sector Audience Access Alliance releases open letter of support championing precious gains made towards inclusion

Marking the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act coming into force and in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, VocalEyes, along with 11 other audience accessibility organisations and networks and two government sector champions have come together to form the Audience Access Alliance.

Our first action is an open letter of support and solidarity to our partners across the cultural, sports, heritage and tourism sectors, celebrating the progress that had been made prior to COVID-19, and advocating for continued collaboration to drive forward an inclusive recovery and further positive change for millions of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people.

Instigated by music and event industry charity Attitude is Everything, the Audience Access Alliance letter is signed by Disability Collaborative Network, Euan’s Guide, Hynt, The Access Card, Performance Interpreting Inc, Shape Arts, Signed Culture, Stagetext, Stay Up Late, Transport For All and ourselves.

Additional signatories are Andrew Miller, UK Disability Champion for Arts and Culture, and Heather Smith, UK Disability Champion for Countryside & Heritage. Find out more about the members here [Attitude is Everything website]

Here’s the open letter in full:

An open letter of support from the Audience Access Alliance to our colleagues across the cultural, sports, heritage and tourism sectors on the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act coming into force.

Since March, we have been horrified to witness the immense impact COVID-19 has had on the talented and committed professionals we are honoured to work alongside. We extend our full solidarity to everyone fighting for survival as we enter more months of uncertainty and delay.

Today we should be marking the tenth anniversary of the Equality Act coming into force, and the positive impact this legislation, our support and your good practice has had on the lives of millions of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people, be they weekly gig-goers, loyal festival campers, fanatical sports fans, passionate art lovers, committed theatregoers, inquisitive heritage explorers or UK ‘staycationers’. By working together, we have seen continued growth in participation over the past 10 years.

‘Deaf and disabled people’ are a vast and diverse group in the UK – 14.1 million (1 in 5 people) people.  The total spending power of families including at least one disabled person is estimated at £274 billion a year.

In 2019/20, 76% of Deaf and disabled people engaged with the arts (vs 77% of non-disabled people), closing the estimated 9% gap in engagement recorded in 2008/09. Narrowing of participation gaps have also been seen across heritage, museums and galleries. Deaf and disabled people made up 12% of Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation audiences in 2018/19.

COVID-19 is deeply affecting all of us at a personal level. Deaf and disabled people are amongst the groups most impacted, with 2.2 million people told to shield and millions more having to take extra precautions due to existing and newly acquired COVID-related access requirements and health conditions. Not every disabled person is medically ‘vulnerable’ to COVID-19, but our deep concern is that all disabled people will be impacted if COVID-19 erodes the growth in accessible choices we have worked so hard to secure.

Evidence shows that there is a huge desire to participate in inclusive online events and return to in-person activities such as gigs, exhibitions and football matches when COVID-19 rules allow as long as they are accessible and come with the necessary online information and safety interventions.  Many disabled people will be first through the door if this is the case. Excellent work is already being done by many of our partners across all sectors to cater to this demand.

That’s why we as members of the Audience Access Alliance are working hard to support government guidance and the sectors we care so deeply about in every way we can. Most recently, some of us contributed to the publication of the essential ‘Seven Inclusive Principles for Arts & Cultural Organisations working safely through COVID-19’. We can connect you with Deaf and disabled audiences, ensure that the gains we have jointly made are not lost, and help secure the widest possible audiences to support you in the difficult times ahead.

With so much progress made, we want to work together whenever we can to ensure that your businesses and organisations can continue to play a vital part in making the vibrant cultural life of the UK accessible.

If we want to ‘build back better’, it’s vital that we build back for all.

Download the press release and open letter, including additional audience insight data and resource links

Welsh Language version of the open letter [Word download]

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