Spotlight On… Making Art Accessible
To mark International Day of Disabled Persons and as part of our month-long focus on the achievements and creativity of disabled artists, we caught up with MIF Access Manager, Kate Fox to discuss accessibility and representation for disabled people in the sector, and to reflect on the work that MIF is doing currently to build and improve accessibility in all areas of our work as we head towards the opening of Factory International.
What does your role as Access Manager at MIF involve?
My role at MIF is incredibly varied. It could involve organising accessible performances – perhaps a BSL (British Sign Language) interpretation of a theatre performance, audio description for blind and visually-impaired audiences, captioning for a live show or an online screening, or a relaxed performance that does away with some of the restrictive conventions of the theatre and creates an environment where audiences can respond to the work in whatever way is natural for them.
Another day, I might be involved in redesigning our recruitment processes, volunteering programme, website or even our office space to make those elements more accessible for everyone.
It’s still relatively unusual for an organisation like MIF to have a role like this that’s dedicated to accessibility. I think it’s a brilliant step forward, and one that shows how committed the whole team are to removing barriers and improving access for disabled people.
For me, great access happens when it’s really part of the DNA of your organisation – when it’s something you think about naturally at every stage of a project and in every area of your work. That’s why some of the most creative and groundbreaking examples of accessible art tend to come from disabled artists and disabled-led companies – and why it’s vital for arts organisations like MIF to have disabled people like me among their workforce, bringing both professional expertise and lived experience of disability to their role.
What changes have you witnessed at MIF since your started?
We’re still at the start of our access journey at MIF, but our team have been incredibly supportive of my role and we’re seeing a huge change in the culture of the organisation and the importance placed on accessibility that feeds through to the artists we work with too.
One particular artist at MIF19 was initially quite unsure about making adjustments to their work to improve accessibility, but by the end of the Festival they were telling visitors about the access provisions we’d integrated into the project and planning how to take those things forward as the work toured internationally. That felt like a real moment for me, and it’s one of my proudest memories from last year’s Festival.
What are your hopes and ambitions for Factory International?
Factory International is a hugely exciting opportunity to create a space that works for everybody – audiences, staff and artists alike. I’ve been working closely with the experts from our Disabled People’s Engagement Group (facilitated by Breakthrough UK) over the past year or so to examine plans for the new building, and to make sure that the voices of a wide range of disabled people are heard as we develop the building.
What are your lockdown culture recommendations?
During these strange times, we’ve seen arts and culture move online more than ever before. Whilst that isn’t a perfect solution for many disabled people, it has really shone a light on the need for accessible online shows.
There have been some fantastic lockdown offerings from disabled artists. I absolutely loved the quarantine monologues in Little Cog’s Funny Peculiar, and BBC Four’s CripTales, and my favourite re-watch has to have been Ryan O’Connell’s Netflix series, Special.