First steps to accessibility
This page has a lot of simple, practical steps you can take immediately to enrich everyone’s experience and set you on the path towards accessibility. It is a summary of the information in chapter two of Arts For All: Ngā Toi mō te katoa, pages 13 to 35.
- Ten things you can do now
- Engaging with the disabled community
- Developing an accessibility policy
- Developing an action plan
- Removing the barriers
- Enhancing the experience
- Walk around your venue or space as if you have never been to it before. How easy is it to get around? Record your findings.
- Download and complete checklists from this website.
- Get in touch with local disabled people’s organisations and start a dialogue. How could you work together?
- Download a copy of the Arts For All guide. Ask another staff member to read it and set up a meeting to discuss the contents.
- Talk to a colleague in another arts organisation about access and how you might work together to build a new audience.
- Download the guidelines called What words to use. Ask all staff to read them, then keep at least one copy handy for all front-of-house staff to refer to.
- Download and complete the Accessibility checklist. circulate to staff and get their feedback.
- Review the language your organisation uses in its print publications, in emails and on its website.
- Go to the Teach Sign website and look up New Zealand Sign Language classes. Ask staff if anyone would like to attend. If so, apply for funding to cover the course fees.
- Buy a notebook for all front-of-house staff to record audience feedback and anything they notice about access. What worked? What didn’t work?
The best place to start is talking with disabled people. Engaging effectively with disabled people will give you insights into the experiences they’ve had; what events they would like to attend; and some of the issues they face in accessing your venue, event or experience.
Disabled people’s organisations and groups will be keen to help if you engage with them. A good way to connect with disabled communities is by joining one of Arts Access Aotearoa’s regional Arts For All Networks. Otherwise, find out what groups are active in your area.
Here are some of the things disabled people’s organisations and groups might help you with:
- finding out what their members are interested in
- understanding the issues and offering expertise to help address them
- providing suggestions about how to improve access: for example, some groups might provide training for your staff or invite you to meetings with members to talk about what you hope to achieve
- providing or training volunteers for events
- making joint submissions or funding applications
- marketing your events to their members
- helping you gather feedback.
How can you get the most from your engagement? Here are some ideas:
- Build an enduring relationship rather than doing a one-off survey or having one meeting.
- Be willing to listen and to learn from your mistakes.
- Ask what you can do differently.
- Invite disabled people into your venue so you can explore ways to improve your access.
- Welcome honest feedback.
- Don’t expect people to give their time and expertise for free – and be grateful when they do.
Once you’ve made a commitment to becoming more accessible, the next step is to develop an accessibility policy with disabled people.
It might be tempting just to get on with it and put in place interpreters or audio describers for a one-off event. However, it’s not an approach that will develop your audience. You may find there is little uptake from the disabled community if you invest in only one-off accessibility events without building genuine relationships with the community.
An accessibility policy is a public statement of your organisation's commitment to accessibility. It will also help your whole organisation and the disabled community see that your commitment is long term. It should be endorsed by your board and senior management. Think about publicising it internally and externally so that everyone knows what you hope to achieve.
Getting buy-in to the policy from the whole organisation is crucial. Having one staff member with a passion for accessibility is great but one person cannot change a whole organisation without support and a plan to involve others. This includes budgeting for access, building accessibility into your programmes and providing ongoing staff training.
You don’t have to develop your accessibility policy all on your own. Arts Access Aotearoa has accessibility policy guidelines on its website and there are other organisations with accessibility policies you could use as the basis of yours.
Your policy on accessibility could specify a commitment to providing:
- staff training on disability responsiveness
- physical access to your venue
- inclusive ticketing practices
- a website that conforms with the priorities set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
- accessible formats (e.g. websites, emails, social media, large print, Easy Read)
- a way for audiences and visitors to give feedback or evaluation.
Now you have your accessibility policy in place, it’s time to write your action plan. The best action plans are the ones that involve all team members in identifying and removing access barriers.
Your plan also needs to be clear and achievable. It should outline the practical ways you can implement each of the objectives outlined in your accessibility policy, who is responsible and date to be delivered by. For example:
Policy objective: providing staff training on disability responsiveness.
In 2018, we will:
- ask all staff and volunteers to read Arts For All and then seek their feedback on its contents - team leader, October 2018
- provide disability responsiveness training for all staff and volunteers - team leader, October 2018
- provide and publicise a range of ways for audiences and visitors to give feedback to staff on their experience of our events - team leader, October 2018
- respond to audience feedback and take positive action, where possible - team leader, October 2018
Putting some of these suggestions into practice will benefit not only disabled people but also other audience members and, ultimately, your organisation. They are ideas to help you make some simple improvements while you put your long-term policies and plans in place.
People: looking after them
Whether it’s the public or your organisation (i.e. staff, board, sponsors, partners, artists, supporters), people bring your facility to life. Without them you’re lost. So look after them.
Disabled people often comment that attitude makes a huge difference. It can also be the most inexpensive way your organisation can provide access. If your staff welcome and respect disabled people, then you’ve already made a great start.
Involve all staff, including managers, in disability responsiveness training to ensure that inclusion is a culture – not just an add-on.
Here are some ideas:
- Relax and be your usual friendly self. In conversation and body language, talk and act as you would with all audience members or visitors. In other words, talk directly to the person and use eye contact. This still applies if the person is using an interpreter.
- If Deaf people are with a hearing companion, including a hearing child, always ask the Deaf person directly how they would like to communicate.
- Be honest: if you are unsure what to do, it’s okay to ask.
- Words like “see”, “walk” or “hear” are everyday words: they are okay to use around disabled people. Don’t freeze and get embarrassed if you use them and realise the person has an impairment that may make these actions difficult.
- Make a list of various ways you might overcome a communication issue: for example, writing things down, speaking clearly, rephrasing what you said if you’re asked to repeat something, being visually expressive in your communication and learning New Zealand Sign Language. Make a note of what has worked in the past.
- Be considerate: taking extra time might be all that’s needed for disabled people to enjoy your arts event or experience.
- Be flexible: requests to take drinks or food into a performance might be linked to having to take medication or needing regular hydration.
Everyone has to consider how they’re going to get to the venue or arts event. For disabled people, they need to think about access before, when and after they arrive. If they’re driving, there’s an additional concern about where to park.
Some organisations have their own venue where work is presented on a regular basis. Others use a range of venues and spaces, which can present access issues. You can make life easier by thinking about access before you decide on a venue and providing accurate information to your audiences before the event.
Promote your access on the homepage of your website, in your brochures, on your answer phone and on your tickets. Providing a concise, easy-to-follow fact sheet that details where your event is, how to get there and where its entry points are is a valuable resource for everyone. Always be honest and clear in your description of facilities. If access is limited and you can’t do much about it, you should also provide this information.
Here are some low-cost things you can do to improve access in the venue:
- Position your box office/reception so it’s easy to find and as close to the main entrance as possible. It also needs to be well-lit, clearly signposted and at an accessible (i.e. dining table) height.
- Think about your floors. Uneven floors, thick carpets, mats and rugs are hazards. A floor cluttered with things like boxes and props is also hazardous.
- Ensure your doorways and handles comply with accessible standards. If they don’t, have staff available to assist.
- Have seating available in all your spaces. Don’t let people sit on the stairs or in doorways as it blocks the way for others.
- Rather than just using a bell, you could announce the doors are opening and also use movement or something visual (e.g. waving hands) to alert audiences.
- Before your event, provide information about any strong lighting effects or loud sound effects (e.g. strobe, flashing mirrors, flickers, sudden changes in light, loud bangs or gunshots) as these can affect people with epilepsy, autism, neurological conditions or anxiety.
- Offer a pre-tour of your arts event, where possible. Giving people additional information about an exhibition, and the opportunity to touch and hear more about it, might be the difference between an okay and a great arts experience.
- If necessary, hire a ramp for accessing your venue.
Welcome service dogs (i.e. guide, hearing, mobility and companion dogs) to your venue. These dogs are legally allowed in any public place except for zoos and funeral parlours.
If your event is on a marae, talk to the kaiwhakahaere (manager) of the marae about its policy regarding dogs as many will allow service dogs. Here are some of the ways you can assist people bringing service dogs:
- Provide water and offer assistance (e.g. take it outside, if necessary, during the interval).
- Never pet or command a service dog, and only lead it if instructed by the owner.
- Check if the person with the dog would prefer to be seated at the end of the row so there is a bit more room.
- If your performance involves loud noises, consider offering to accommodate the dog outside the auditorium with a staff member to look after it. This will enable the person to travel safely to the venue with their dog but avoids the dog being exposed to noises that may startle it during the performance.
Clear, prominent and well-lit signs with good colour contrast let disabled audiences and gallery or museum visitors know what facilities are available for them. It’s not just about toilets and ramps. It’s also about things like parking, entrances, the booking office, galleries, lifts, audio guides, seating and service dogs.
If you use symbols, make sure they are easily recognisable, and at an accessible height for everyone. Could you provide a tactile version of your signs? Include braille signs and audible lift signals to indicate the lift’s position (e.g. its arrival at a floor level).
Talk to your local council about signage to your venue, in the car park and on the outside of the building. Council staff may be able to help.
There are various procedures and systems that will affect an audience member’s experience of your arts event or activity: for example, your seating policy; the response people get when they phone you; your systems for making bookings; and processes for receiving audience feedback.
- Where possible, make aisle seats available to people who ask for them even if you can’t see why: for example, a person who has anxiety or panic attacks.
- Have processes and trained staff in place so that people using wheelchairs can transfer to a venue seat if they want to.
- Find out about the most suitable seating for Deaf audience members so they can watch the Sign Language interpreter and the performance.
- Be as flexible as you can about where people using wheelchairs can sit. In many venues, allocated spaces for wheelchair users are at the side or the back of a venue. This can restrict the person’s view and create a sense of isolation.
- Some people with low vision might want to sit near the front to see as much of the action as they can. Others might not care if they have a restricted-view seat. If you have an audio described performance, make sure a range of seats are available and think about whether you can offer them all at a discounted price.
The timing of an event can be very important for disabled people. The Court Theatre, for example, finds that the matinees and early evening performances are often more popular for people with physical or vision impairments because they feel more comfortable going out when it’s light. If you’re scheduling a programme of events, check with someone from a disability organisation about what times work best for their members. Day-time events will not suit everyone due to work commitments or the availability of companions, so it’s good to have a couple of times that suit accessibility requirements: during the day and in the evening. This also helps prevent segregating disabled people.
Ticketing offices can be difficult places to access. The counters are often too high for wheelchair users to see over, and staff may be locked behind desks and unable to offer easy assistance. Sometimes, booking by phone can also be a frustrating process if the person taking the booking can’t answer your questions.
Can people book by email? Can they book online and, if they can, is it easy and accessible? Or are there complicated forms to fill out before they get to the purchase page? Do you insist on phone or in-person bookings for disabled people, then charge them more for not booking online?
If your arts organisation uses a ticketing agency, find out its processes for ensuring all people have access to your arts events.
Cost is perhaps the biggest issue for disabled people wanting to attend more arts events. Increasingly, arts organisations are offering discounted tickets to disabled people or free companion tickets.
Think about ticket pricing and discounts as a marketing tool – a way to reduce barriers, attract disabled people, and build a loyal audience not only of disabled people but also of their family, whānau and friends.
Disabled people often have to do a lot of planning before attending an arts event. To make it easier, they may need:
- a companion to go to the arts event with them (and therefore an additional ticket)
- accessible transport and parking
- a choice of seating to enhance the arts experience.
Someone who has been to an arts event and has enjoyed the experience is a potential audience member or gallery/museum visitor for another time. Make sure people’s details are captured on your database, along with their access requirements (e.g. use of wheelchair, person with visual impairment). Building up your attendees’ list with relevant information will enhance your ability to reach audience segments and develop your audience. Have a “preference” column where you can record your visitors’ access requirements. This means they don’t have to repeat information every time they book.
Under the New Zealand Privacy Act, you need to ensure people are aware:
- that you’re collecting information about them
- that they don’t have to provide you with this information
- why you’re collecting the information and what you’re going to use it for
- whether you’ll be giving the information to anyone else
- that they can access the information you hold about them and can correct it if it’s wrong.