Artists Essentials Toolkit #9: Accessibility for your arts project

In our latest video, Caroline Bowditch offers advice on making arts project more accessible for both performers and audiences.

With over 18% of the Australian population living with a disability, it makes sense to build accessibility into every arts project you do. But where do you start?

In our latest Artists Essential Toolkit video, Arts Access Victoria CEO Caroline Bowditch offers eight tips for making your work accessible including budgeting for accessibility upfront, getting creative with AUSLAN and audio descriptions, and methods of collaboration with artists living with disabilities.

Useful timestamps:

01:02 – Who has accessibility needs?
01:39 – Build accessibility into your budget
02:25 – What kind of things should you budget for?
03:15 – Collaborate with an artist living with a disability
03:50 – Get creative with auslan and audio descriptions
05:11 – Think of accessibility for both the performer and the audience
05:53 – Promoting your work as accessible
06:46 – Your accessibility checklist

Presented by Caroline Bowditch.

Music: Eternally Alone by Poppongene, realised by Our Golden Friend.

Performance footage provided by Rawcus Theatre including their productions Catalogue and Song for the Weary. This video also contains public domain footage from Color Key 1952.

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which this content was created. We pay our respects to Elders, past and present and future.



In a way, the world has never been more accessible to the disability community. People are now able to work, study and even view art from the comfort and safety of their homes. But it is frustrating to think that it took a global pandemic to make this happen.

I am coming to you from my office because at the time of filming I had to self isolate. With over 18% of the population living with a disability, it makes sense to build accessibility into every arts project you do. In fact, it should be one of the first things you build into your project. And it has amazing creative benefits.

Remember, the opposite of disability is not ability; the opposite of disability is access. On both the performer’s side and the audience’s side. So let’s get into how to make your work accessible.


First up, get informed about the types of access that people might need. It’s important to remember that only 4% of the disability community are actually permanent wheelchair users even though it’s the universal symbol of disability. 80% of disability is invisible, it includes mental health, learning disabilities, through to neuro diverse conditions, vision and hearing impairments. So when you’re thinking in terms of making your work accessible, it has to go beyond physical things like ramps.


Once you have an awareness of the accessibility needs, the most important thing to do at the earliest stages of your arts project is budget for it. Think of accessibility first rather than last. Many projects end up trying to retrofit accessibility. This can make a piece stilted or awkward. It doesn’t flow naturally.

If you think of it first, you’ll find it’s a juicy, creative opportunity to explore ways to weave new elements into your work. There are amazing creative opportunities to embed access that we’re constantly missing, so if you think of it first, it adds a dynamic strand to the work that wouldn’t otherwise be there.


So – when we say ‘budget for accessibility’, what does that actually cover? Remember that making something accessible isn’t just physical it’s also emotional too.

When the wheelchair entrance or an accessible entrance is in some grungy back lane, when only occasional shows are audio described, or AUSLAN interpreted that’s basically saying – well, we don’t think your needs are important. So, when you’re budgeting, consider costings for things like:

  • A digital version of your show.
  • Making sure it’s in an accessible venue.
  • Having a quiet room.
  • Smaller audiences.
  • Audio description, captioning and AUSLAN.

Make sure there’s a digital online version of the work, so it can be accessed by anyone who can’t get into a physical venue. Sourcing an accessible venue for at least part of your run, if you’re staging a work in an inaccessible space. Several festivals do this very successfully.

Organising a quiet room with a stream of the performance for anyone who needs some time out during the performance or event. Captioning, which is especially useful not only for the deaf community but also for the older people and for those who have English as a second language.


Too many times, Deaf people have to choose between watching the AUSLAN interpreter, who is usually set at the side of the stage, and watching the action on stage. It’s like havintg to watch a perpetual game of tennis. If you can bring interpreters into the body of the work, or even better, employ deaf performers it’s a more holistic, accessible experience.


So if you’re a non-disabled artist and you’re worried about addressing accessibility in a useful, day-to-day way, one of the greatest moves you can make is employ an access consultant. They can bring their artistry to your work and the artistic process will also be enhanced by collaborating with a Deaf or Disabled artist. Why? Because Deaf and Disabled artists are some of the most lateral, creative thinkers, problem solvers you could work with, because they are constantly needing to find a workaround to inaccessible places or situations.

By either collaborating with or be mentored by a Deaf or Disabled artist, your work will reach a broader, more diverse audience. If you’re looking for someone to work with, Arts Access Victoria can help you connect.


I mentioned earlier about thinking of accessibility on both the performer’s side and the audience side. Let’s think about that for a moment. If you’ve got someone in the cast who requires access, you will hopefully embed it instantly because you need to.

When you stop thinking about disability in an audience perspective and start thinking about it in our work, it has a ripple effect – it has the potential to attract new audiences who want to see disabled performers on stage and it attracts people who have potentially felt alienated from the arts becasue of a lack of access. It’s a win-win situation all round.


Okay, your work is almost ready to go. Now, how do you promote it so people know it’s accessible?

The easiest thing, use access symbols. These are things that people look for. They’re free, they’re universal, and you can download them for free online. They send a really clear message that you’ve actually thought about your audience, you’ve thought about making your performance accessible and that makes a massive difference to people and what they will then connect with.

Most people find out about access and shows through their community so really connecting with the Deaf and Disabled community is also an essential thing to do. This will also show that you’re genuinely wanting to engage the community with your work.


So, let’s do a quick recap. If you want to begin making your work accessible: Budget for access; Collaborate with and employ disabled artists; Promote your work with access symbols and connect with the Deaf and Disability community; Incorporate these thoughts into your work and you’ll discover how beneficial they can be for everyone involved.

The complete Artists Essential Toolkit series, co-produced by ArtsHub and Creative Victoria, can be viewed online. More videos will be added in the coming weeks.

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