Audience Access Alliance publish open letter in support of live music and cultural sectors during coronavirus crisis

The new group includes Attitude Is Everything, who are aiming to improve deaf and disabled people's access to live music

The newly formed Audience Access Alliance — comprised of 12 audience accessibility organisations and two government “sector champions” — have published an open letter in support of the UK’s live music and cultural sectors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Spearheaded by Attitude Is Everything, who are aiming to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music, the Alliance has been officially launched today (October 1) to mark 10 years since the Equality Act came into force.

The Alliance have published an open letter this morning to show “support and solidarity to [their] partners across the cultural, sports, heritage and tourism sectors”, especially to those who are “fighting for survival as we enter more months of uncertainty and delay”.

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“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,” the letter states.

“‘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,” the letter continues. “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.”

The letter then points to “evidence [that] 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.

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“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 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.”

The letter is signed by the following groups: Attitude is Everything, Disability Collaborative Network, Euan’s Guide, Hynt, Performance Interpreting, Shape Arts, Signed Culture, Stagetext, Stay Up Late, The Access Card, Transport For All, VocalEyes.

Two “sector champions”, Andrew Miller (Arts and Culture) and Heather Smith (Countryside and Heritage), have also signed the letter.

Yesterday (September 30) the Music Venue Trust’s #SaveOurVenues campaign made an urgent call for “decisive, direct action” by the wider music sector, music fans and local communities to protect grassroots music venues during the pandemic.

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