Dance, Drama and Performance and Mobility Difficulties
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The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) aims to end the discrimination which many disabled people face. The DDA will affect dance organisations of all scales and types, potentially impacting on the way they deliver services and provision of access for disabled people. 2001 saw an amendment to the act relating specifically to education (The Special Education Needs and Disability Act (SENDA)), which requires that:
- Disabled people must not be treated less favourably than non disabled people for reasons related to their disability without justification.
- There is a requirement to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people are not placed at a substantial disadvantage.
Disabled people make up between 14% and 26% of the population, depending on the definition used (although only 4% of the disabled population are wheelchair users). And the expectations disabled people have about access and inclusion are growing all the time. It is time for all sectors, including the dance sector, to think through the issues that inclusion brings and form a coherent response. The Dance and Drama Awards scheme has done so. It is now equipping all the schools involved in the scheme with guidance on access and inclusion, providing a specifically created day long session of disability equality training for each school and developing a number of pilot action research projects designed at bridging gaps in the sector including:
- A foundation course for disabled dancers run by CandoCo in partnership with a school.
- A programme for musical theatre looking at new writing and new approaches being developed by Guildford School of Acting.
- Research into a programme for learning disabled dancers.
In some areas, the dance sector has been quick to respond to the inclusion agenda, in others it has been a real fight to even get the subject discussed. However, the increased inclusion of disabled people is now everyone’s responsibility and now, thanks to the DDA, everyone’s legal obligation. Educational providers need to take into consideration the needs of their learners, but also their audiences when putting on productions or exhibitions, reasonable steps must be taken to:
- Provide auxiliary aids and services to enable, or make it easier for a disabled person to use a service.
- Change policies, practices and procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.
- Provide a service through a reasonable alternative method which will overcome barriers presented by physical features.
For example, it may be considered unreasonably difficult for a visitor with arthritis, who finds standing for more than a few minutes painful, to have to stand to view an exhibition. By providing appropriate seating, the organisation would be making a reasonable adjustment. However, if a visitor cannot use the seating, because it was too low, this would not be a reasonable adjustment. Other considerations for students and audiences with mobility difficulties might include: providing a pre-booking or telephone information service about productions, ensuring presentations are at an appropriate height for wheelchair users, considering evacuation procedures at venues, the use of portable ramps if access is difficult and is there sufficient accessible parking available for students and visitors?
In many cases all that is required is some creative thinking, new attitudes and new solutions with regard to inclusivity. Try to think of reasonable but cost effective ways of delivering the curriculum of offering the service if the physical environment makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use it.
Institutions are legally liable for any acts of discrimination carried out by a member of staff. A useful starting point is to consider implementing the following:
- A procedure for training and informing all teaching staff in the department about reasonable adjustments and the implications of discriminating against students.
- A policy towards disabled students.
- An appropriate complaints mechanism.
- An amendment to the Equal Opportunities Policy
Look carefully at all the educational opportunities provided for students e.g. exhibitions, concerts, festivals, training, workshops, conferences, information, library and research facilities, venues, transport, etc. Decide a priority for areas requiring attention and how this will be achieved and devise an action plan detailing how the changes will be implemented and monitored.
This case study outlines the experiences of staff and students working with a student wheelchair user on a Dance and Professional Practice Programme at Coventry University