The issue of disability has been on the agenda of the Arts Councils since the publication of the Attenborough Report on Arts and Disabled People by the Carnegie UK Trust in 1985. In 1986, all four Arts Councils in the UK also reached a common agreement to adopt a voluntary Code of Practice on Arts and Disability produced by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The latter was intended to encourage subsidised arts organisations to consider the needs of people with disabilities in their employment policies, programmes, outreach work, marketing and in facilitating access. However, despite pioneering work by companies such as Graeae, which featured disabled theatre performers and was founded almost 40 years ago, the long-established Shape Arts, Candoco, and ground-breaking artwork by more recently established companies, it has taken a considerable time to begin mainstreaming disability arts.
The Government has now appointed a Disability Champion for the Arts and Culture, Andrew Miller, who also serves on the councils of both Arts Council England and Arts Council of Wales. Among organisations active in the sector are Disability Arts Online, an organisation led by disabled people that gives artists with disabilities a platform to blog and share images describing their artistic projects and practice. DadaFest has been promoting disability and deaf arts including a festival for some years and also provides training and a young people’s programme.
In 2015 Creative Future, as part of its Fair Access to the Arts project, commissioned research to determine the factors preventing artists with disabilities and other marginalised adults from participating in the arts. The recommendations that followed fed into ACE’s Creative Case for Diversity.
People with disabilities are underrepresented within the cultural sector and in 2016 ACE commissioned research from the EW Group with a view to identifying such things as recruitment practices of arts/cultural organisations and opportunities for disabled employees to acquire relevant skills and advance in their careers. A report of the findings, Making a shift, was published by ACE in 2018. In another development the BBC indicated its intention to increase the representation of people with disabilities on air (see chapter 2.5.3).
In 2018 more than 100 arts organisations and others agreed upon a Cultural Inclusion Manifesto with a commitment to make the arts and education more inclusive for children and young people with disabilities, not least in relation to ACE’s vision of arts for everyone (see also chapter 5.2). The following year a campaign, Design Can, was launched calling on the design industry to be more representative of the public it serves, whatever their abilities, background, ages and identities.
The British Council and IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) have initiated a four-year pan-European project – Europe Beyond Access – aimed at supporting disabled artists to internationalise their work and improve their employment opportunities, as well as build audiences in the dance and theatre sectors. An early outcome of this initiative is a dedicated website and digital newsletter.
Targets have been set by the Arts Council of Wales in its Corporate Plan to double the number of people with disabilities in the subsidised arts workforce and to triple representation on governing boards by 2023. This follows earlier evidence of a decline in the number of disabled people working in the arts and a fall in audience numbers of people with disabilities. ACW has also initiated a national access scheme, Hynt, for theatre and arts centres. Managed by Creu Cymru in conjunction withDiverse Cymru, the scheme provides disabled people with a card that enables any accompanying carer or companion to obtain a ticket free of charge. By early 2019 more than 40 venues had signed up to the scheme and it is hoped other Arts Councils in the UK will be encouraged to follow the example.