Accessibility for artists - does the music industry need to do more for those with a disability or mental health condition?

22 May 2019

Next Stage is an Arts Council England funded initiative to champion disabled talent and make the music industry more accessible for artists with access requirements.

A recent Next Stage survey conducted by Attitude is Everything surveyed 96 artists from across the UK about the barriers they have faced when developing a career in music.

The results of the survey show that UK Music venues can be doing a lot more to assist those with physical and mental conditions or impairments. With so many music venues facing inflated business rates across the UK, it’s evident they need to adapt their strategies or face permanent closure.  

What did the survey reveal?

The survey found that over half the artists had encountered access barriers when seeking to rehearse, including the 56% who had used recording studios.

Of the 79 artists who have played live, half of them have encountered access barriers at most gigs. 2 in 3 have had to compromise their health or wellbeing to perform and 1 in 5 have had to cancel a show due to bad access.

70% of artists have withheld details about a condition or impairment due to concerns that it would damage a professional relationship.

Of those surveyed, 15 different impairments were listed, with mental health conditions accounting for 43% and chronic physical health conditions accounting for 41%.

Some artists with mental health conditions have spoken out against venues which pay bands in alcohol and other prominent musicians such as the Mystery Jets’ Blaine Harrison, who has spina bifida, have said:

“Making a living from music is tough enough. But for musicians with access requirements, it can be even tougher. In 2019, it is absolutely heartbreaking that so many artists are still encountering barriers and obstacles between them and their audience.”

SAE spoke to James McCormick, the Audio Programme Coordinator at SAE Liverpool, about these shocking statistics. He said:

“These results don’t surprise me as I have encountered these issues myself at venues, rehearsal spaces and recording studios. I am a performer in a band myself, and I also have a spinal injury that has required a few surgeries. These facilities are rarely set up to assist artists in terms of load-in, setup or load-out. Often the buildings themselves have poor access to begin with, particularly with independent venues, and restrictive space around the stage area. I found personally that the nature of performance venues led me to change the equipment that I used when performing live; I have reduced the amount of kit I take and invested in equipment that was more lightweight. Ultimately, in the twelve years I've been performing we have only twice been asked about anything to do with access. As an artist you might have had little contact with the venue and so would not know who to approach even if you wanted to, and there's certainly an attitude that the band gets on with it and deals with everything themselves. It's good to see this as an area of action, and venues need to be more progressive in this area.”





So what can be done?

It shouldn’t have to be up to artists such as James to buy new kit to make it easier to perform live. Venues should be doing more to improve accessibility - both for the artists themselves, as well as for gig goers.

Attitude is Everything have a DIY access guide which can help independent venues to be more accessible to individuals with physical or mental health problems.

Ways that the guide says venues can help artists include providing clear access information online in advance; welcoming assistance dogs; making sure there is easy stair-free access to the stage and keeping accessible toilets clean and in working order. At the very least, access information should be clearly displayed on the venue website.

Ways that venues can help ensure all fans feel comfortable attending their favourite artists’ shows are through measures such as guest list allocation for personal assistants so that music fans don’t have to pay for a second ticket to allow their carer to attend the event; making sure accessible toilets are in working order; setting up an accessible seated viewing location; limiting strobes and other flashing lights and using DIY captioning for accessible lyrics.

Venues need to do more to be more open to all, but until that day, artists and music fans should not feel ashamed about articulating their needs to a venue in advance. The music industry is infinitely richer for the inclusion of the 13.3 million deaf and disabled people who live in the UK, and so there is no reason for them to be excluded from performing or attending a live music event.

Attitude is Everything are running an #AccessStartsOnline campaign which revolves around helping venues put on accessible and inclusive events.

Find out more here.

Watch James McCormick perform as part of new band ‘Narrow Alps’ in the latest SAE Live Lounge here.