Making Outdoor Arts accessible

Access & Diversity

Without Walls worked closely with the associate partners to help them develop strategic initiatives designed to improve accessibility for disabled audience members, and to raise awareness of work created by Black, Asian, ethnically diverse, Deaf and disabled artists.

Working with culturally diverse and Deaf and disabled artists

Since its formation in 2007, Without Walls has championed diversity in Outdoor Arts, supporting the development of 12 new projects by disabled artists, Many of these shows have toured widely across the current ATN partners, and received very positive feedback from audiences.

Shows include The Iron Man by Graeae Theatre Company, Two for C, Studies by C, You and I know and Dedicated To by Candoco Dance Company, (i)land by Marc Brew Company, Bill and Bobby by Stopgap Dance Company and many others.

Making performances accessible to Deaf people

In 2013-2015 Without Walls worked with STAGETEXT to provide captioning services to the ATN festivals for text-based shows such as The Iron Man by Graeae Theatre Company and As The World Tipped by Wired Aerial Theatre. The text was displayed on a caption unit facing the audience. Captioning proved to be useful not just for audiences who are deaf, deafened and hard of hearing, but also for audiences for whom English isn’t their first language.


Without Walls offered training opportunities to the ATN partners in the area of accessibility and supported partners to attend a workshop led by disability awareness experts and theatremakers Graeae Theatre Company about accessible marketing. This session provided a valuable opportunity for participants to reflect on their marketing tools and to learn about effective print and e-marketing approaches for accessible marketing campaigns. More resources are available in our resources section.

In 2017 SO Festival also focused on accessibility and achieved Bronze Level Attitude is Everything Charter status, which included additional training for staff and stewards, making the website and communications of the festival more accessible as well as having seating and various print options of the programme available (eg. large print and Braille).

In 2018 RUOS moved their summer festival dates and introduced a Light Festival in November. The focus shifted to accessibility, which included setting up a DN Festival Deaf & Disability Access Advisory group in collaboration with Cast, Darts, The Deaf Trust and Hesley Group as well as a Young Deaf Access group. The meetings with these groups offered valuable insights and changes were made to the festival marketing and delivery.

The impact with the Deaf, deafened and hard of hearing community was achieved through partnership and dialogue in order to ensure it was sustainable. It involved a holistic approach to supporting the audience experience and additional needs.

“With regards to the Deaf and disabled audience I feel that we made a huge difference to opening up access, we still have so much to learn, but for a first year the new partnerships we have formed have been invaluable and will continue to grow moving forwards. The access to Cast and their facilities, which ranged from a changing places toilet to the use of a meeting from as a quiet space, as well as the sensory room enabled a number of audience members to attend who would have struggled to do so otherwise. The venue’s experience in the area of accessibility was massively valuable also.”

“I feel very strongly about making personal invitations. Taking the time to meet with new groups, to ask their opinions and be more visible. This has led to the commissioning of a community ambassador who can go out into the community, both refugee and migrant as well as different faith groups, and talk to people about our work.”

“…Our festival is in an area that ranked 8th from the bottom of the Active Lives survey when we started out, so had very low arts uptake and understanding and experience as a community of outdoor arts. Added to this, our festival has moved dates, location and name which has made it difficult to sustain and grow an audience, but this was required to get our formula for delivery right. Now, I’m pleased to say, our festival is at a point where audiences are returning, and we’re no longer so heavily reliant on passing traffic/footfall – which is very important due to the festivals’ location.”

“Moving forwards I feel strongly that our festival will also become recognised as an inclusive one, but ultimately brand recognition, trust from our audience that we’ll deliver a quality event, and performances from both nationally touring and locally based artists, are all very important to audience development.”

Sally Lockey, Project Director, DN Festival evaluation 2018

In 2017 Appetite’s digital and disability ambassador Karl returned to film interviews with artists and Appetite introduced BSL interpretation for two of their family shows.

Building on the success of the engagement with Appetite’s digital and disability ambassador Karl over the past two years, Appetite worked with digital ambassador Louisa who is autistic and has experienced mental health difficulties. She selected five acts she was looking forward to in different performances sites around the City Centre and edited these together with artist footage which was then shared with her peer network on social media (this activity was produced at no cost).

In 2018, Vivacity hosted a performance of Faust by Southpaw in the city centre on the day before the festival. During the main festival, many activities were BSL interpreted and Vivacity included family craft workshops as well as quite areas for families and audiences with access requirements.