Spotlight on: Accessibility and inclusion in Outdoor Arts

10 August 2020

The release of the new Without Walls Access Guide, a look back at disabled-led shows, ways to embed access into your work and some useful links

The work of Without Walls is deeply embedded in Arts Council England’s mission to achieve great art and culture for everyone. We work closely with festival partners and artists to support them to embed accessibility in their events and raise awareness of work created by culturally diverse and Deaf and disabled artists. We do this through a programme of collaborative training sessions, additional resources, and practical recommendations.

Introducing the Without Walls Outdoor Arts Festivals and Events Access Guide 2020

Alex Covell, Without Walls Access Advisor and Engagement & Access Producer at FESTIVAL.ORG, has created an Access Guide to support organisations in finding inclusive practices when working with Deaf and disabled audiences and artists. FESTIVAL.ORG are widely recognised for their work in promoting inclusive practices and this guide provides an insight into how FESTIVAL.ORG addresses these priorities, particularly in their flagship annual production of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF).

Each year GDIF presents a three-week festival across multiple sites in London. Commissioned by Without Walls, this guide aims to promote good practice amongst festivals and events that are involved in the network. The guide is also intended to complement other existing resources such as the ISAN Access Toolkit. Originally developed in 2009, the ISAN (now Outdoor Arts UK) Access Toolkit broke new ground in promoting access and inclusion in the outdoor arts sector. It aims to complement that work by highlighting some of the innovations that have taken place in the decade since the ISAN Access Toolkit was first published.

Following the publication of the Access Guide, Without Walls Access Advisor Alex Covell will share practical tools and information for event organisers to find inclusive practices when working with Deaf and disabled audiences and artists in a free webinar on Wednesday 14 October 2020 which is open to all event organisers and creative professionals.


A rich and diverse Without Walls programme

Since 2007 Without Walls has championed diversity in Outdoor Arts, supporting the development of new projects by disabled artists, many of which have then toured widely across Without Walls festivals and received very positive feedback from audiences.

Shows include The Iron Man by Graeae Theatre Company; Mirror Mirror by Mind the Gap; Alive! by Rachel Gadsden and Deaf Men Dancing;  Studies by C, You and I Know and Dedicated To… by Candoco Dance Company; Nocturne and (i)land by Marc Brew Company; Tracking, Bill and Bobby and Frock by Stopgap Dance Company; Buck A Brenda and Bingo Lingo by Wild N Beets and many others.

Mirror Mirror

by Mind the Gap

(i) LAND

by Marc Brew Company

Explore the rest of the programme

Image from Dedicated To... by Candoco Dance Company

Inclusive Outdoor Arts for all

Without Walls is also committed to exploring ways to ensure that everyone has access to the great outdoor work we support. This includes looking at and trying to remove some of the barriers that might make it difficult or impossible for a number of people to engage with our supported shows. Following pilot projects in 2018-19 to support Without Walls artists to make their shows more accessible, we had planned to provide five of the supported 2020 programme companies with additional resources to embed access provision in their productions. Due to the delays to many of these projects caused by COVID-19 we are currently exploring with each company how to ensure that access continues to be a priority in their rearranged development and touring plans.

Some of the suggested ways in which this support could be used included BSL, audio description, creation of audio-visual materials and supporting the access needs of cast members. Companies were also given the opportunity to attend Touch Tour training and receive some bespoke recommendations from our Without Walls Access Advisor.

Previous examples include:

2018: Bicycle Boy by Helen Eastman

This bicycle-powered show was commissioned by Without Walls in 2018 and received support to enhance accessibility for wheelchair users. Having identified a number of barriers for audience members to participate in the show, the team purchased two cycles that are designed to make cycling more accessible: a recumbent hand-cycle sized for adults and a children’s recumbent cycle.

2019: Fantabulosa! by Tickertape Parade

A BSL interpreter and performer was recruited as part of their cast and within the 'world' of the show. This embedded BSL into the show from the start, and not just as an added extra. 

Best practice for accessibility online

We have gathered some useful links for guidance on ensuring we can remain inclusive in this increasingly digital time: