ATU348 – Accessible Gigs, Bands, and Music Venues | Attitude is Everything

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Accessible Gigs, Bands, and Music Venues | www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk/accessguide

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JACOB ADAMS:  Hi, I’m Jacob Adams.  I’m the research and campaign manager at Attitude Is Everything, a disability charity based in London, England, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 348 of assistive technology update. We are scheduled to release this on January 26, 2018.

Today we have an all access pass.  We are going to spend some time with my new friend Jacob Adams from the UK.  We’re going to talk about accessible gigs, bands, music venues, and some of the innovative things that his organization is doing.  They are called attitude is everything, and I think that’s true.

We also have a quick plug on a blog post or a series of blog posts that are product reviews on reversible braille displays that are compatible with iOS devices.  It’s from our friends got better and is super helpful.

We hope will check out our website at EasterSealsTech.com.  Call our listener line at 317-721-7124.  Or hit us up on Twitter. You can find us at INDATA Project.

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If you are interested in braille, you might also be interested in how reversible braille displays work on iOS devices.  Friend of the show and contributor Scott Davert has a really interesting set of blog posts at Access World Magazine.  He spends some time doing some product reviews on those reversible braille displays that do connect to iOS devices.  He has three parts so far in a series where he talks about the VarioUltra, the Actilino, the Smart Beatle, ResfreshaBraille 18, and more. He talks about conductivity and cases and features at all of the different things that you might want to think about when considering one of those devices.  I’m not going to tell you whole lot more but I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to Access World Magazine so that you can find his articles and become more informed about those options. Check our show notes.

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Music has always been part of my life. I really like to have music playing all the time in the house in the workplace.  When the weather is nice, even when it’s not, I like to go to shows.  I like to go to music venues and listen to artists perform life.  Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it’s challenging.  I was excited when I learned about the work of the group called Attitude Is Everything who are working on the accessibility of gigs and bands and music venues and all that groovy sounding stuff.  I was excited when Jacob Adams, who is a research and campaigns manager for Attitude Is Everything, agreed to come on the show and talk with us a little bit.  Joining us from London, Jacob, how are you this morning?

JACOB ADAMS:  I’m good, thanks.  It’s a pleasure to join you.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m excited about our conversation today.  I’m a music lover and I’m also always interested in accessibility for folks who have disabilities and use assistive technology.  Before we start talking about our topic today, tell me a little bit about your organization.  It’s called Attitude Is Everything and I’d love to know about its goals and mission.  What are you doing over there?

JACOB ADAMS: Attitude Is Everything is a disability led charity.  As a project in our mission, we’ve been working since 2000, coming on 18 years, working with the UK’s live music industry to try and support the industry to be as accessible as possible for deaf and disabled people.  We originated from articles that our current CEO Suzanne Bull, MBE, wrote back in the very late 90s about her experiences as a music fan going to gigs, going to festivals, and encountering barriers which prevented her from having the experience you wanted to have.  That got picked up by somebody with an Arts Council, which is a government based funding body for the arts here in the UK.  Initially Suzanne was funded to come and do a very small piece of project work to look at, look at the issue and see what solutions might be.  Here you are 18 years later.

What quickly became apparent was, A, there is not a lot of provision across the industry at the time; B, there were a lot of people within the music industry who did want to do the right thing but simply didn’t have the knowledge or the confidence to deal with it. That’s what really led to the development of Attitude Is Everything, which eventually became a charity in our own right.  We are now what is known as a center support organization, still funded by the arts Council to support the UK live music industry.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s a fascinating story.  I know you are very busy there.  Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background and how you became interested in accessible music venues.

JACOB ADAMS:  I’ve always been really interested in music and going to gigs at festivals and events.  That’s an interest that is shared across your team, as you can probably imagine because of our focus.  My background was looking for learning disability organizations as a support worker and facilitator, and then for local disability organizations in London.  One an opportunity came to combine my two interests, I went for it and I’ve been working for Attitude Is Everything for the past six years now.

Fortunately I was the festival project manager, working exclusively with outdoor events.  Now we work with over 130, 140 venues and festivals across the UK including the smallest and some of the biggest festivals like Glastonbury here in the UK.  We are the access consultants for them and have worked with them for a long time.  We’ve been instrumental in supporting them to develop to the point where they are now which is one of the most accessible festivals in the UK despite being the biggest.

In terms of the history of Attitude Is Everything, as I said we are disability led. From the early days what we were about was channeling the voices and experiences of disabled music fans and being an interface between them in the music industry.  To that end, we have a mystery shopping component to our work which is at the heart of what we do.  We have hundreds of deaths and disabled people around the UK who go to gigs and festivals and offer feedback on their experiences. We take that feedback and channel it.  Our guidance in our reports, we can look back to organizers and work with them to overcome some of the issues which were highlighted.

We do that through the prism of the charter best practice, which we’ve had in place for many years now.  That is a framework by which we work with venues and festivals.  We award them bronze and silver and gold awards.  A bronze menu or festival will have basic accessibility in place, physical access, accessible toilets, and step free access and things like that.  As people progress up the awards, we work with them on ever more focused areas, extending access to performers, looking at the information provision and really trying to get the basics right but also support the industry to push best practice.

We are now in a situation in the UK where it’s actually quite a broad picture on one hand.  There is still lots of work to be done.  Many venues and festivals are currently not thinking of accessibility in the way they should be. But on the other hand, there are festivals and venues who are doing incredible things and pushing the boundaries.  We try to straddle both ends of the spectrum and try to raise the whole industry in terms of the customer service they provide to death and disabled people.

WADE WINGLER:  I love the fact that you are consumer led.  It’s obvious you’re getting some very practical, technical advice and input.  It sounds like you’re showing that back with venues and organizers.  Which leads me to the point, I saw online your do-it-yourself access guide.  That was fascinating and I think that has a ton of information that we can talk about.  Tell me about why did you come up with the do-it-yourself access guide.  Who is the target audience for the publication?

JACOB ADAMS:  To begin with, as a final comment on our work, since the day one, Suzanne has led the organization in terms of our ethos in the way we try to approach this topic.  It would be very easy to be totally campaigning, naming and shaming venues, calling out bad practice.  It’s very apparent to us that that wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere.  The recently been able to be successful in the UK is a whole ethos is being supportive friends of the music industry so we can shine a light on where things are not working correctly but offering solutions and also really being a beacon of cooperation and saying the best way for things to change and be better for everybody is a people work together and if negative situations are channeled into positive change.

That philosophy underpins the DIY access guide.  There are three components which led to it.  For very long time, since the early days of Attitude Is Everything, part of what we were doing was putting on DIY accessible small-scale gigs in small venues just to promote our work and give a platform to death and the artists.  We’ve done over many years and developed our experience and knowledge.

Secondly, in the past year or so, we’ve been focusing particularly on engaging with grassroots music venues because for a lot of people, that is the entry point to live music.  Sometimes people associate gigs and concerts with big arena shows.  That’s a big important component copper people’s local, independently run venues are really important.  In many cases, if they are accessible, it can be the most convenient and accessible route for people to access music.  Obviously lots of bands started out in those venues. A lot of small towns have a venue which is under a lot of pressure, but that is an important aspect for us as well as working with the biggest music venues. We’ve recently recruited a grassroots venue product manager to work with the venues.  That’s underway now.

The third part of it was over the years we’ve engaged with lots of different artists.  We sought support from major artists but also a lot of grassroots and emerging DIY artist.  Similar to the original message that we got from the music industry back in the early days, we are very aware that there are lots of people in bands and promoters who do want to do the right thing, who do want to welcome desk and disabled audiences and their fans, they want to reach the widest audience possible for their music, but again don’t know where to start. All that experience came together, and we decided that what we wanted to do was produce a document that wasn’t focused at venues and festivals but was actually focused at bands and promoters and people who put on gigs at a grassroots venues.

The whole idea, and I think this underpins a lot of our work, is what we’re trying to do is drive demand for improvements in accessibility.  Obviously ultimately we want more depth and disabled people to go to live music, but we also want to drive the demand amongst venues and festivals so that that raises the game of suppliers.  Artist and promoters are an essential part of that, and there is a role that the artist can play to work collaboratively with venues in a way that benefits everybody in terms of making the nights which happened at those venues as accessible and inclusive as possible.

That with the background.  What happened was at the end of 2016, we linked up with an amazing DIY volunteer-run menu in London called DIY Space for London, who do lots of amazing things but they are entirely run by volunteers.  They have collectives who oversee different aspects of the venue including an access group with lots of hands-on, basic tweaks to the venue which is on a low rise industrial estate in South London.  It was crowd sourced. Very much in the mode of similar DIY spaces which are across the UK and other countries including the US.  Also a judgment named Richard Phoenix who works under the banner of constant flux.  He had a lot of work on programming and going on tour with artists with learning disabilities and interacting directly with venues to make gigs happen.

We came together, and in March 2017 we put on a weekend of events.  We had a talks evening. The weekend was called Insight Weekend. We had talks evening of death and disabled artists talking about their experience of making music, making art, in some cases talking about the experience of having hearing impairments publicly for the first time.  That was an incredible event.  On the Saturday, the following day, we had an open workshop session to examine what barriers might be presented and how they can be taken down by grassroots and small venues in collaboration with artists and audiences.  In the evening we put on a DIY accessible gig including DIY captioning.

Here in the UK as in the States, captioning and subtitling of lyrics is still massively underdeveloped here in the UK.  In the world of theater, that has become a fairly well entrenched.  There are technical solutions for that.  We are in the early days of thinking about how we address that with music generally, but particularly at the grassroots level.  Obviously it would be very easy to think it’s impossible, insurmountable, unreasonable adjustment.  It’s not possible to provide.  We put in place a DIY captioning.  There is a band called Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences who had done this for their own gigs in London.  We adopted that model.  Basically it boiled down to having the been sent us the lyrics and having them on a PowerPoint on a laptop and manually feeding them throughout the band is played on the TV screen.  That was one of the DIY solution we put in place.

The long and short of it was that piece of work was funded by a funder called Paris Foundation. The ultimate goal was to produce a guide to take all that learning and experience and share it widely.  That’s what we did.  That’s what led us produced a DIY access guide which we published in November of last year.

WADE WINGLER:  I would love to spend some time talking about a couple other common barriers and solutions that are in the guide, and then we are going to move on for the remainder of the interview and talk about the response in the future.  What other things would people find in the guide in terms of common barriers and solutions?

JACOB ADAMS:  With the guide, who wanted to make it as easy to follow as possible. It’s a [Magazine] sort of format to make it so that the guide itself isn’t a barrier.  What we wanted to do was get people in the headspace of being an audience member and facing barriers and perhaps missing out on going to gigs and missing out on going to see their favorite bands.

We broke it down into several areas.  You broke it down into simple things you can do when you play a random gig.  If a band was playing a gig that they had been booked for, what can they do.  It boils down to things like checking if the venue has information for disabled people and encouraging the venue to put some in place if they don’t.  We have another campaign called Access Starts Online which provides guidance for venues to do just that.  Sharing information on event pages, Facebook pages and things like that, is a simple thing.  Just basic information, whether there is an accessible toilets, whether there is step free access, are there personal assistant tickets, things like that.

We also had to look at things people can do when they put on their own a gig where you have a bit more control. Again, talking about information and PA tickets but also thinks that captioning and thinking about how accessible seated viewing location could be set up in collaboration with the venue.  Flagging the fact that if you have an opportunity to have a no-strobes policy, then do it because there are people for whom strobe lighting is the end of their night if it comes on, or they will avoid the night altogether.  Things like setting up a quiet room if you have space.  Just generally engaging with the venue to work together to put on the most accessible night that you can.

Off the back of that, we’ve got some guidance on what to do if you want to set up and promote and accessible, inclusive tour. We have had bands who do want to do that and they want to make a commitment for their fans across multiple dates.  Then we move into things like five tips for making accessible flyers, just basic things, things you can do, things you can avoid to make it easier to read for everybody.

An important point for us, because we knew it would crop up as an issue, what we are quite realistic in some much as what we are not doing is campaigning for all an accessible venue to be closed down.  Obviously we recognize here in the UK and other countries, there are certain venues, smaller venues, who are dealing with the building they’ve got.  In some cases there are opportunities to make physical changes, but in other cases possibly not.  It could be a venue that is down a flight of stairs.  Lots of grassroots knights that might be in inaccessible locations.  We could have said boycott those venues, don’t use them, but that would be so far removed from the reality of the venues.  It would be slightly ridiculous.  What we could’ve done is just ignore them and I talked about them, but again that will leave a gaping hole in that landscape across the venues.  What we wanted to do in the guide was flag the fact that there are things you can do that even if you happen to be playing in an inaccessible venue.  We’ve got examples of this now.  Avenue that doesn’t have an accessible toilet for wheelchair users and disabled people, that’s not necessarily the end of the road.  There is a venue that we are doing a bit of work with, we are involved with an event happening at the end of January where they don’t have an accessible toilets, but they have an arrangement with the public store that they can signpost at to the people coming to see a gig.  That’s a solution.  That’s a DIY approach to it.  It’s not the ideal answer, but is dealing with the reality and is a solution that would work for many people.

Another big thing for us, if you have venues that do have flights of stairs or steps, obviously if you can maybe overcome them with things like a ramp if it is a couple of steps into a venue, but if you have flights of stairs, I think sometimes it’s easier to think a flight of stairs equals a no go zone for all disabled people, which clearly isn’t the case either.  What we flag is the fact that if your event space is in a basement, tell people how many steps there are and maybe have a photo of it.  Give people as many facts as possible so that they can make a decision.  Just bear in mind that somebody may be able to navigate a flight of steps, but they might need a chair for the rest of the evening.  Just trying to educate people about the nuance of what we’re talking about.  Even now there is a mental association with the universal symbol of disability and accessibility. Often people associate disability with wheelchair users, and that’s the end of the line.  Of course that’s a very small proportion of people who might be going into a venue. Many people with physical impairments who just might require a chair and a viewing area location for their evening.  That would meet their access requirements.

The other things we do is we have several of these Top Five lists. At the end, it’s really important to us that we provided – we call them “gig hacks.” We have four gig hacks, like how-to guides, on how to set up specific things.  The gig hacks we have our how to set up in accessible seated viewing area, how to set up personal assistant tickets easily. Again people get a bit paralyzed thinking about that, but the reality is it can be as simple as adding people onto a guest list.  It doesn’t need to have lots of hopes for people to go through.  How to set up DIY captioning.  How to set up a quite space for people, if it is possible, having a space away from a main crowded area where people can go and just take a break from the sensory overload.  It might be the difference between them being able to attend or not attend.

We were pleased we were able to get quite a lot of content in.  It could’ve been just a few pages of a few things.  What we ended up with is quite a neat guide which does equip people, bands and also promoters, with a lot of things that can do, actions they can take.  I think that’s our key message, is that there are things that dancing promoters can do.  This is our invitation and our gift to those people to say we want you to join us in this campaign to make music as inclusive and as accessible as possible.  That’s the whole point of it.

WADE WINGLER:  The bad news is we are out of time for the interview today, but the good news is I know that people can get in contact with you and get access to the guide.  How would they do that?

JACOB ADAMS:  You can download the guide for free from www.AttitudeIsEverything.org.uk/DYIaccessguide. You can print it yourself and make copies.  We want people to share copies with their bands that they love.  Take one to a gig and give it to a band and maybe suggest that they have a look at it.  Can also look at online and share.  That’s what we are all about now is getting out there as widely as possible.

WADE WINGLER:  I will pop a link to the guide right in the show notes so that if you didn’t get the URL as you are listening, go over to EasterSealsTech.com and check the show notes and we will have it linked in.

Jacob Adams is a research and campaigns manager for Attitude Is Everything and has been a delightful guest today.  Thank you so much for been in our show.

JACOB ADAMS:  My problem.  Thank you for having us.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi.  For requests and inquiries, contact tjcortopassi@gmail.com***