Sunday 1 May 2016

Art for All

In my first term of junior school, I went from sitting at the back of the class to the desk directly in front of the chalk-board, and still I could not see what was written upon it. A speedy trip to the optician revealed a usually hereditary condition, which no-one else in the family was known to have had, as they all had or had had, really good eyesight. I required new spectacles every six months as my vision was deteriorating rapidly. My parents were mortified that they had just thought I was clumsy. I was apprised that I should likely be blind by twenty-one. Being a bibliophile I dreaded that I would not be able to read, so began to teach myself Braille.

As it happened, I did not go blind. My sight deterioration stabilised. My prescription is so strong that folk with good vision instantly hurt their eyes/get head pain when looking through my glasses. Even with high-density materials, my lenses look like the bottoms of bottles. Approximately eighty percent of folk with disabilities develop them during their life-times; so only about twenty percent are born already disabled. Very few have warnings of pending disability and time to prepare for it. And, per the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) around eleven million folk in the UK have some kind of disability; that's about one in six of us.

In my art classes at secondary school I developed my own personal technique to raise the images I drew so that they could be sensed via touch alone. I would start by thickly layering wax-crayon across the surface of the paper. Then I sponged colour as needed in blocks or across the whole waxed layer. Once this had dried, I used Indian-ink, most often black, and scraped silhouette images, usually of leafless trees, but also, bodies of water, people, dogs and other plants. To this day (I am now in my fifties) I still possess two or three works. Alas, in storage.

Galleries & Musea

In my late teens cum early twenties I went to work whilst most of my school-chums attended university. However, I used to spend most of my weekends visiting various university campuses. On one such trip I took myself to a museum, where I was the sole visitor. Back in the mid-1980s there were seldom security cameras. I strolled about the exhibits touching, feeling the statuary. I had not realised how cool marble is as I had not encountered it up to said point. My fingertips could feel the smoothness of skin, the curls of hair.

I understand that touching is a risk to artworks due to acidity and dirt in body oils and sweat. Nonetheless, there are millions of items that never see the light of day, I cannot see any good reason why a proportion could not be set aside for galleries where touching is permitted.

I should also like to see audio descriptions available for at least permanent items on display and their concomitant labels. This would be of assistance not simply to the blind but also those with other sight impairments.

And finally, a plea for seating that can be used for resting in every room/salon/space.


Prior to becoming disabled I was an avid theatre-goer. There are several reasons why I very rarely attend nowadays. The main reason is the seating, especially for older theatres, which is so damned uncomfortable. I have to be having a really good spell to be willing to put up with the resulting pain. A second issue which seems to becoming more prevalent in dance and avant-garde performances is no intervals. I understand that professional performers want to keep in the zone, but many disabled, chronically sick and indeed elderly need toilet breaks, or an opportunity to rehydrate, take meds, and so forth.

I would also like to see the return of usher/ettes. At Manchester's Opera House there is now an at-seat service, by which one can order drinks &/or snacks and they are brought to one at the interval. A boon to folk who cannot stand for long and especially not in queues.

However, pluses include occasional BSL-signed performances for deaf folk, loop-systems for the hard of hearing and free or reduced tickets for assistants.


With the same seating and lack of interval issues as theatres, cinemas additionally have the problem of loudness. In 2011 I went to the Cornerhouse cinema in Manchester to see Pedro Almodóvar's "The Skin I Live In". The sound-system created such noise and vibrations my blood-pressure dropped and I began to faint. My companion escorted me outside into fresh air and we decided to go home. I did not return until December last year in order to see the latest Star Wars. I took with me a pair of ear-plugs. I followed the tale with no problems and did not swoon. I may have found a means to more frequently visit the flicks.

Seating can be improved. Showcase Leeds Cinema offers fully reclining seats. I have inter alia osteoarthritis in my lumber and left hip. Sitting is one of the most uncomfortable/painful positions for me. Being able to recline, as at home, would be a genuine boon. There are many conditions where folk need to keep legs/feet raised.

However, cinemas ought to be offering some screenings with lower noise levels, which might be useful to all sorts of folk including so-called fuddy-duddies, those with hyper-acuity as well as some with autistic spectrum issues.

In larger cinemas, it would be good to employ permanent BSL-communicators, so that films could be signed at different times of the day, not just one performance every now and again in an evening slot.


Arts venues, of course in my opinion, need to do far more than pay lip-service and nod towards access for the disabled. A few ramps, lifts, a loop-system and a push-button to open doors are simply insufficient, especially when many of us find the lift out of order, the loop-system off-line, and so on.

All ventures need to attract the largest audiences possible: disabled folk, chronically sick people, and elderly individuals make up a very large percentage of the population. Making accommodations should be designed in to all new construction programmes, from architects (who are still obsessed with using flights of steps instead of clever use of graded access), sound design, use of colour, clear and ample signage, etc.

I should like to see the various arts' councils of the UK's nations insist upon clauses relating to accessibility issues added each time grants are made. I think grants from local authorities similarly should insist upon improved access.

I am no expert on disability issues nor disability access. I observe these issues trying to come up with some common-sense, pragmatic solutions. The reader may have other suggestions or observations: feel free to add them in the comments section below.


"And now: the Gallery…" an exhibition of art for disabled is also published today for Blogging Against Disablism Day (#BADD2016). The reader may also find of interest a post I published in March entitled "Towards a Theory of Art". 

As per previous years the archive for BADD2016 is being hosted by Goldfish on Diary of a Goldfish and is being administered by her and her hubby, Mister Goldfish. There one can find previous years' full archives as well as this year's as it grows over the next few days. Please do take a look - one is bound to find something that is of interest or piques one's curiosity!


  1. This is a terrific list of accommodations. I am enthusiastically mining it for some of my settings that are especially disability-friendly.

    1. Hope you don't mind: I've posted your comments as well as cross-linking to your actual blog. Thank you so much for your wonderful piece.

  2. This is Ysabetwordsmith's ( wonderful analysis and extension of what I wrote. Really appreciatehow much thought & effort went into her post. %D

    Improving Accessibility
    May. 1st, 2016 02:33 pm
    ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
    [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
    I found this post about accommodations (from Blogging Against Disablism Day) very helpful in thinking about ways to make the arts more accessible for everyone. Not mentioned is the fact that many of these ideas would also make art more accessible for small children, who also need frequent potty breaks and want to touch everything.

    I'm also watching for things that Terramagne does, and accessibility is something they do very well. They have a LOT of statuary that is just plonked down on the ground for people to climb on. Touch the art! See it with your fingers! Skateboard over it! Not all art is meant to be preserved carefully under glass. It's meant to be lived with. Art is baskets and benches and knitted tree cozies and fountains and all kinds of cool stuff.

    Also worth mentioning is the amount of job creation going on. When you buy lots of public art, then you can have lots of professional artists. When you routinely hire sign language translators, you not only attract more hearing-impaired folks, you also provide jobs for people with those translation skills. Same with descriptions for the vision-impaired. It's not just a hint about how much you care for people with disabilities, but your commitment to the economy and the culture as a whole. In particular, T-America has a much more active economy because they collect more taxes from corporations and then dispense that money through education, art and science grants, social safety nets, and other things that benefit the population at large.

  3. (/cont.)

    Notice that while some of these accommodations focus on infrastructure (ramps instead of stairs) many of them are based on services which can easily be added (at-seat usher services). So if you ever organize events or are in charge of spaces, look at the list and think about whether you could include any of these value-added accommodations. Think about advertising them not just for people with disabilities, but also children and seniors. Consider taking flyers for your event or business to hospitals, child care, senior centers, and other places where there may be people who find it challenging to locate activities they can actually do.

    Something else that has occurred to me recently: There is no Big Book of Accommodations. All we have are tipsheets and ADA regulations. Those are helpful, but not sufficient. Suppose you're an employer who wants a diverse workforce. You make sure everything is up to code, but your employees are still bonking, and because you've hired two (totally different) autistics, a blind woman, a guy in a wheelchair, and three people who (for different reasons) need to eat frequently they are all bonking in different ways. Now what? Your choices are to ignore it until they ask you for something, which is discreet but looks less-supportive; or ask them what they need, which can be intrusive and is exhausting for them to have to keep explaining everything to everyone. People who have limitations are constantly encountering both problems and solutions. What we really need is a collated resource where folks can look this stuff up. You're in a wheelchair or you just hired someone who is. Where is The Big Book of Wheels so you can plan for this instead of bonking into it? And we need that for every disability, so that every individual and every employer does not have to reach the end of the tipsheet and then reinvent the wheel from there on.

    What are some other accommodations you can think of? What would you like to see me write about? Next up is the May 3 fishbowl with a theme of "schooling vs. education" so that's relevant to accessibility.

    Current Mood: busy


    activism, holiday, how to, reading

  4. A fabulous article has today been published in the "National Post" of Canada on a gallery striving to be as accessible as possible. Something I had not myself considered, but which I wholeheartedly back, especially for more precious objets d'art, is "the use of 3D printers to produce tactile versions of every piece" being shown. Do read over this inspiring article!