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Inconsistencies stop disabled customers from enjoying the arts

There are many inconsistencies preventing those with disabilities from enjoying the arts, from ticketing through to accessible venues.

A free national Arts Access Card for disabled people to use at theatres, concerts and festivals has been delayed by two years. The card was part of the UK Government’s National Disability Strategy.

Arts Council England (ACE) and the British Film Institute (BFI) are responsible for creating the card and told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row that the pilots will not be up and running until early 2024.

The card would have helped with inconsistencies surrounding concessionary and companion tickets.

Andrew Miller, the Government’s disability champion for arts and culture from 2018 until 2021, told the show: “One of the principle reasons for my advocating a national arts access scheme was the lack of any consistency in venues’ approach to companion tickets and disabled access.

“As I’ve experienced, through a lifetime of event attendance as a wheelchair user, buying tickets for 40 years, it’s the Wild West out there for disabled consumers.

“There’s no consistency between how companion tickets are priced. Some make them half price and the disabled person goes full price, others you get a free companion and the disabled person pays a reduced rate.”

The Arts Access Card was due to launch in March this year. However, the High Court ruled the strategy unlawful due to a lack of consultation with disabled people. The Government has applied for permission to appeal, but the card is still set to be rolled out independently.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival is currently under fire as much of its programme remains inaccessible to disabled audience members.

The Herald, in conjunction with investigative journalism co-operative The Ferret, found that almost 40% of venues were hosting no accessible shows, and that almost two-thirds of Fringe venues were currently inaccessible to wheelchair users.

The Fringe website allows visitors to filter shows by seven accessibility criteria including captioning; audio description; signed performance; relaxed performance; wheelchair access; audio enhancement system and wheelchair accessible toilets.

As of Wednesday August 3, there were 3,445 shows listed on the site and 75 shows – which equates to 2% – were listed as including captioning. Seventeen (0.5%) included audio description and 64 (1.9%) said there would be a signed performance.

Some 2,163 shows, equating to 63%, said that the venues were accessible to wheelchairs, but 622 of these shows did not have a wheelchair accessible toilet.

There were no shows that included all seven of the accessibility criteria.

A Fringe Society spokesperson told the joint investigation between The Herald and The Ferret that the festival had already taken steps to improve accessibility, but recognised there was still more to do to support disabled artists and audience members.

Image: Kristine Wook on Unsplash