Today (3 December) is International Day of People with Disabilities; a day that aims to promote the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities in all areas of society, and to increase awareness of their situation in every aspect of life.
To honour the day, we spoke to Paul Hawkins, head of volunteering and skill development at Attitude is Everything, to find out more about the organisation dedicated to improving Deaf and disabled people's access to live music.
Throughout our conversation, we discuss the barriers experienced by Deaf and disabled people seeking to work or volunteer in the music industry, new initiative Beyond the Music, the impact of COVID-19 and how the existence of an International Day of People with Disabilities reflects a failure of society to make the world accessible.
Hi Paul. Can you start by telling us about the important work Attitude is Everything do and why the company was launched?
Attitude is Everything was founded in 2000 by our Suzanne Bull to improve access to live music for Deaf and disabled people by working with the industry to address the barriers people with impairments can experience when accessing music. We get feedback from over 500 registered mystery shoppers who go to events, gigs and festivals and tell us about their experiences and we talk to venues, festivals and production companies about how to address those barriers. Venues and festivals can sign up to our Charter of Best Practice.
Since 2018, we’ve run our Next Stage project, which address the barriers faced by artists and performers and this year, we launched the Beyond the Music project to address the barriers faced by those working in the industry.
As far as I understand it, Suzanne launched the charity because she believed that the main reason the industry was not doing more to be accessible was due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of what was needed. She believed that by working in partnership with the industry, we could organisations in making meaningful changes that would really improve accessibility.
What are the biggest barriers faced by Deaf and disabled people when it comes to participating in music?
People tend to think of the physical barriers but organisational barriers can be just as much of an obstacle, if not more so. Far too often, organisations have blanket policies and procedures that don’t take into account individual differences and those policies can be interpreted in a very inflexible way. The major issue remains that, because Deaf and disabled people are underrepresented in the sector, decisions around accessibility are often made without anyone in the room who is affected by them and this leads to failures to consider everything to make things accessible.
Can you tell us about the Attitude is Everything initiative Beyond the Music?
We’re doing a number of things to address the barriers Deaf and disabled people can face working in the industry. Key points include:
- Establishing a network that Deaf and disabled people, and people with long term health conditions, can sign up to in order to meet other Deaf and disabled people within the industry, to learn from professionals and to access mentoring, shadowing and skills development opportunities.
- Running a set of events called Access Hours – PRS spoke at the inaugural for event! – where network members get to hear from an industry professional talking about their work.
- Creating tool kits and training for music industry organisations to ensure their recruitment and workplace culture is as accessible as possible.
- Once the industry is up and running again, working with industry partnerships to provide mentoring, shadowing and skills development opportunities.
The key things we are trying to push at the moment are our survey to capture the experiences of Deaf and disabled people working or seeking to work in the industry, which can be found here and our network, which people can sign up to here.
'...there’s an increasing realisation that, without making things accessible, you’re both missing out on potential talent and also not getting the best out of the talent that you do have.'
Why are Deaf and disabled workers are so underrepresented in the sector? What are the common misconceptions?
We know why we think it is but we also want to use our survey to check that our instincts are right.
We think there are a myriad of reasons, but a major one is that it is a sector where a lot of opportunities are accessed through recommendations from personal contacts and the fact that many gigs and industry events are inaccessible means that people with access requirements that are not being met do not get the opportunities to meet and network with others in the industry. We also think that a lot of employers aren’t necessarily confident in recruiting and employing Deaf and disabled people and that creates another barrier. One common misconception for example, is that disabled staff members take more time off sick than other staff members, whereas that isn’t backed up by research that’s been done.
Another issue we think is that disabled people and those with health conditions who do work in the industry may not be making themselves known. Obviously, many of the roles in the industry are on quite insecure contracts and people may fear they will face discrimination if they explain that they have access requirements. And a more major social factor is that the music industry is seen as a competitive and glamorous industry and poor experiences in the education sector and early in employment can dent some disabled people’s self-esteem to a point where they may themselves feel they are not 'good' enough to apply for roles in the sector.
I feel the thread that underpins all this is that the lack of representation becomes a barrier in itself. The lack of visible disabled people working in the industry means that employers don’t visualise disabled working in the industry and disabled people themselves don’t visualise themselves working in the industry. We feel the major thing that will change perceptions is when people disabled people excelling in professional roles.
How successfully do you believe we’re working towards an inclusive music industry?
I certainly think there are reasons for optimism. I think the Black Lives Matter in particular has had a huge impact on how people view diversity and made people realise that it’s not enough to talk about supporting diversity if that is not backed up by meaningful action and I think that is opening up discussion about diversity right across the board.
I also think that there’s an increasing realisation that, without making things accessible, you’re both missing out on potential talent and also not getting the best out of the talent that you do have. The reality is that, both in the music industry and the working environment in general, there are aspects of workplace culture that don’t work as well as they might for anyone and making things more accessible for disabled people can often improve the culture for everyone.
How has COVID-19 impacted that progress?
It’s had a huge impact. The major concern around COVID from a disability perspective has been the focus on the idea of disabled people as being 'vulnerable' and I think that can entrench attitudes and stereotypes that are not helpful. The impact of COVID legislation has also led to some people losing support and personal care which clearly has an impact on independence of those affected.
From an industry point of view, we’re obviously at a point where much of the industry is not functioning and jobs are being lost and clearly that means a lot of organisations are not at a point where they can recruiting new staff. We know a lot of very talented, very capable and very knowledgeable people who have a lot of knowledge about accessibility in the industry currently have uncertainty over their futures and it is one of many areas where the industry really risks losing knowledge and talent due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
I do think there is an increased flexibility within jobs. The ability to work from home obviously is helpful for some disabled people and I think there is a massive psychological effect of going into work meetings and seeing your colleagues’ homes which has led to many employers being far more aware and understanding of the fact that the people they employ have personal lives outside of work, and I think does have the potential to create an environment which is more accepting of reasonable adjustments to accommodate people.
'In a world with accessible approaches to education, employment and leisure and a world where Deaf and disabled people are informed, engaged and consulted on around the issues that affect them, an International Day of People with Disabilities would not need to exist.'
What can music fans and industry representatives do to play their part?
Industry representatives can join our network as organisations and get in touch to discuss how they can support network members and how we can support them to be more accessible. I think major industry organisations being more explicit about the fact they welcome applications from disabled talent and will make reasonable adjustments would have a huge impact for those who do not see themselves in the industry due to a lack of confidence that the industry will want them.
Deaf and disabled music fans, and those with long term impairments or health conditions, can sign up to our network or complete our survey. They can also sign up to be mystery shoppers here and tell us what they think of the access at events they visit.
How important do you think it is that we celebrate days like the International Day of People with Disabilities?
I’d never want to dismiss something that raises awareness and it’s great to get focus on discussion around access but I always worry that focussing on a particular day takes the focus away from the fact that accessibility is something that is achievable on the other 364 days of the year too.
Ultimately, the existence of an International Day of People with Disabilities reflects a failure of society to make the world accessible for approximately one sixth of the global population. In a world with accessible approaches to education, employment and leisure and a world where Deaf and disabled people are informed, engaged and consulted on around the issues that affect them, an International Day of People with Disabilities would not need to exist. That’s the world Attitude is Everything are working to achieve.
What does 2021 look like for Attitude Is Everything? What projects should we look out for?
The major thing we hope we’re looking forward to is celebrating our 21st anniversary as a charity. We’d big plans for our 20th anniversary celebrations that we were forced to put on hold due to the pandemic and we’re very lucky in that, if things ease next year, 21 sounds as good as twenty does as an anniversary to celebrate!
Beyond that, we really want to start to push on the projects we’ve developed this year. I’m really keen to get the Beyond the Music Network established and reach 100 members as quickly as possible, as well as building relationships with music industry organisations that cannot support us around shadowing and mentoring opportunities, or who would like our help in supporting them to develop more inclusive employment processes. We want to push our Next Stage project for artists and build relationships with bookers too.
We’re very aware a major focus of our work has to be on accessible reopening and supporting venues and festivals to restart gigs and events in a way works well for everyone who wants to attend. I think there has been a lot of conversation this year about people who are vulnerable or shielding and I think that not all venues and festivals will realise quite how many disabled people are champing at the bit to be the first through the door when events begin again!