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It may be news to most people that 18.4 percent of Victoria’s population lives with disability. With our growing population, it’s projected that by 2031 more than 1.5 million Victorians will live with disability. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, people with disability are significantly less likely to participate in arts and cultural activities than other members of the community and key findings show this predominantly relates to access issues. Creating a space that is open and accessible to all patrons, inclusive of those living with disability, should be a major priority for all businesses. In this chapter we look at how you can work on an inclusion plan to create a space for all people to enjoy.
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The concept of Universal Access is an all-encompassing inclusion plan where activities, events, programs, projects and built environments (including your venue) are able to be used by the broadest range of people. In order for the design of a space to be truly universal, it must be useful to people with all sorts of access needs. This includes people with disability.
Specifically, universal access addresses barriers to inclusion for people:
- With disability;
- Who experience mental health issues;
- Who are neurodiverse
- Who are d/Deaf
- Who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds;
- Who come from rural and remote communities;
- Who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander; and
- Who are disadvantaged.
Universal Access is of enormous economic benefit to all businesses. When everyone is able spend their money in venues of their choosing and have a positive experience doing so, everybody benefits. People living with disability have partners, families and friends – all of whom will spend money if they can come to an accessible venue.
Universal access seeks to:
- Make programs and services as useable by as many people as possible
- Ensure that people can take part on an equal basis in cultural life
- Enable all people to develop and utilise their creative and artistic aspirations.
The concept of universal access relates to five key areas. By having an understanding of the following principles, you can begin to implement a universal access plan for your venue.
1. Physical environment
- Identify and provide the best physically accessible venues for arts events/programs.
- Provide clear, easy to locate information about physical access at your venue.
- Identify physical access issues or barriers and develop strategies to resolve these.
2. Information and communication
- Actively research and offer diverse communication delivery to a broad range of users.
- Ensure programs and services reflect the diverse communication needs of users by providing information in a range of languages and formats.
- Ensure access to websites and digital strategies comply with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards.
- Provide users with the opportunity to participate in programs and services in their chosen form of communication.
3. Cultural relevance and integrity
- Embrace the right to express diverse cultural perspectives.
- Ensure users are at the centre of organisational planning and delivery of programs.
- Create partnerships that promote inclusion and access.
- Train all staff in inclusive arts practice.
- Consider ways to provide programs and services in a range of locations, including hybrid and online.
- Build strategies to increase participation of people in a range of locations.
- Consider ways to subsidise participation for target groups.
- Provide a range of low cost/no cost program and activity options.
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Best practice guidelines for making your venue universally accessible
Adopting the guidelines below will not only increase your patronage but also the aesthetic values of your venue and performances. Good lighting, where appropriate, clear signage and Auslan interpreted performances look great! (Checkout the Red Hot Chilli Peppers performing with a sign language translator: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBpuIgVbE1s)
Disability Awareness Training for venue staff is another key aspect and the best place to start your journey towards universal access. Arts Access Victoria offer tailored training for the creative industries that responds to your specific needs. Disability Awareness Training allows staff to feel confident in providing a service to people with a wide range of access requirements.
The following tips, relating to specific conditions or impairment types, can also help you with your move to being a universally accessible venue:
People who are Blind or have low vision may require:
- Clear, large print signs
- Hand rails and Tactile Ground Surface Indicators on stairs and ramps
- Good lighting around steps or changes in floor levels
- Audio announcements for meals or table bookings (rather than LED boards or raffle tickets. Blind or low vision patrons may not be able to catch your eye when serving but that doesn’t mean they aren’t waiting to be served)
- Reserved seating (if applicable) near the stage
- Staff to use words as well as gestures when serving people (some subtle gestures may not be detected by people with low vision)
- Security at the entrance to be verbal and not just gesture to a board or sign to show information
- Guide Dogs or Assistance Animals to be allowed into all venues (this is by law).
People who are d/Deaf and/or hard of hearing enjoy live music too and may require:
- Emergency lighting that flashes
- Clear signage
- Captioning on LED screens
- Auslan Interpreters
- Hearing loops or assistive listening systems
- Reserved seating (if applicable) near the stage.
People with intellectual disability may require:
- Plain English and Easy English for all written communication
- Communication prior to the event regarding the use of flash photography and strobe lighting (which can cause epileptic seizures – this will allow patrons to determine if they are able to attend)
- A communication board with helpful pictures at the bar and or reception area (for example, a picture of a pot or schooner).
Neurodiverse people may require:
- Quiet spaces and rest areas
- Communication prior to the event regarding the use of flash photography and strobe lighting (which can cause epilepsy seizures – this will allow patrons to determine if they are able to attend)
- Access to earplugs
- Visual Stories or Virtual Tours of venues, so they can prepare to attend an event.
People with mental health issues may require:
- Quiet spaces and rest areas
- Access to earplugs
- Mental health first aid training for staff.
People with physical mobility impairments may require:
- Accessible parking or reserved car spaces (if requested by a patron in advance)
- Accessible public transport nearby
- Near-by drop=off and pick-up zones
- Signage at an appropriate height (approximately five feet from the floor is a good measure)
- A compliant, accessible toilet
- Portable ramps (these can be handy if you have a small step to navigate and are relatively inexpensive or can be custom made)
- Seating and rest areas
- Clear pathways through spaces
- Automatic doors or the use of light-weight doors.
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Universal Access Symbols
Below are some universal access symbols which are relevant to live music venues which can be downloaded here: https://www.artsaccess.com.au/resource/universal-access-symbols/
|The Companion Card is issued to people unable to access community activities and venues without support and entitles their companion to a complimentary ticket. Use of this symbol will promote that your venue will accept Companion Card bookings.|
Sign language interpreted:
|The sign language interpreting symbol should be used where Auslan interpreting is available for patrons or audiences. This may be interpretation of performance, presentations or social interpreting for interval or after-parties.|
Assistive listening systems:
|Hearing loops, or assistive listening systems, are installed in venues and can be used to amplify or enhance sound quality and eliminate background noise for people who are hard of hearing.|
|The wheelchair access symbol identifies that a venue is wheelchair accessible and has accessible bathrooms. A wheelchair-friendly venue should also have specific seating reserved for wheelchair users, if appropriate.|
|These symbols identify that captioning is available at selected performances. Captions are prepared from the lyrics or script by highly trained staff. During the performance the captions are displayed on a screen enabling the audience to read what is being said without obstructing the musicians. Open-captioning is always in view and cannot be turned off; closed-captioning can be activated or deactivated by the viewer.|
|You can offer large print materials to your patrons including books, rock posters, brochures, guides, programs, forms and general signage. Large print materials should be 18-point or larger, have high contrast (such as black print on white or white print on black) and be well-spaced.|
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Arts Access Victoria
AAV is dedicated to an ambitious agenda of social and artistic transformation for people with disability, the communities in which they live and the arts sector in which they aspire to participate without barriers.
Entertainment Assist is a national health promotion charity that raises awareness about mental health and wellbeing in the Australian entertainment industry and advocates for generational change.
Australia Council for the Arts
Australia Council for the Arts, More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts. Sydney, Australia Council for the Arts, 2010.
City of Darebin
Access Enabled Festivals and Events Disability Access Guide, prepared by City of Darebin
Online accessibility checklist
On-site accessibility checklist
Patternmakers Audience Outlook Monitor “How the pandemic has changed audience accessibility”
Melbourne Fringe Producers Guide to Access
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