Accessibility means more than having a wheelchair-friendly venue. It means making a wide range of considerations, such as catering to sensory needs, chronic pain, physical disabilities, and mental health issues. Deaf and Disabled people experienced more barriers attending events than the non-disabled population including:
- Physical (e.g., lack of wheelchair access to any part of venue, finding the right instrument to play, or adapting instruments to be used by the musician)
- Communication (e.g., lack of interpreting, difficulty reaching venue staff, interpersonal communication difficulties with work or band mates)
- Transport (e.g., lack of transport to venues, difficulty transporting instruments/musical equipment)
- Social Connection (e.g., difficulty finding people to play music with, attend gigs, or network with)
- Education (e.g., music lessons are inaccessible, instructors do not understand or are unable to accommodate for students’ needs, it takes too much time to learn new skills)
- Technical Skills (e.g., not knowing how to use technology, or what technology exists)
- Programming (e.g., an event’s start time, length of event, lighting, and volume levels)
- Financial (e.g., it is too expensive to buy instruments/equipment, take lessons, purchase what is needed to be able to adapt the instrument to play)
- Self-Confidence (e.g., feeling like a person doesn’t deserve to be somewhere, not feeling comfortable to speak up themselves and/or state their needs)
- Self-Management (e.g., difficulty getting places on time, keeping motivated, staying organised)
- Attitude/Inexperience of others (e.g., stigma, stereotyping, not having needs taken seriously)
Legislation, such as The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2021), have made it against the law for public places such as pubs, theatres, and places of entertainment to be inaccessible, stating:
“Every area and facility open to the public should be [accessible] to people with a disability. People with a disability should expect to enter and make use of [public] places if [non-disabled] people can do so.” (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2021).
The only exception to this law is if providing greater accessibility will cause “unjustifiable hardship” – such as major difficulties or high costs that the person or organisation cannot meet. The government response to addressing the financial hardship of improving accessibility has been encouraging venues to apply for government grants (Australian Government, 2021).
“A recent survey of Victorian musicians during COVID-19 (Strong, 2020) found that many participants would like to see increased access for marginalised groups as the music industry reopens.“
Results of our research showed that it is clear the Victorian music industry has a long way to go to meet the standards set out in The Disability Discrimination Act (1992), or Music Victoria’s “Best Practice Guidelines for Live Music Venues – Making your venue accessible”. Some basic low-cost (or free) changes can make a big difference in accessibility, such as:
- Including access information on event advertisements using plain English,
- Sending out Access Riders to performers,
- Reserving seating near the stage,
- Setting aside a space for sensory respite,
- Training and awareness with assisting those with mental health issues,
- Providing clear contact details for access requests.
There are many free online resources (Attitude is Everything, 2017; Attitude is Everything, 2020; Collett, 2018; Music Victoria, 2020) available for industry workers to use and learn from, if they are aware of the issues and willing to work towards solving them. Further disability awareness training and public awareness campaigns could ensure bigger steps toward a more accessible industry.
“Assume that people are diverse, instead of assuming they’re all capable.” – anonymous survey participant.
One of the most common pieces of feedback from participants in this research was the importance of education and understanding regarding disability in the music industry. Venues and industry workers need to be made aware of the many barriers facing people who identify as Deaf and Disabled and must take steps towards creating a more inclusive industry. Education on these barriers, as well as their solutions, will create safer spaces and encourage attendance.
Participants often mentioned physical access to venues as a barrier to participation. Problems with buildings can exacerbate symptoms of certain disabilities. Things like narrow doorways, steps, inaccessible toilets, and sensory-related issues (such as strobe lighting, lighting that is too dark, noise levels of musicians, and extreme temperatures). The late starting time of most music events make it impossible for those using public transport to attend. These late finishes can leave people feeling vulnerable, endangered, and anxious when traveling home.
Mental health issues disproportionately affected members of the music industry even before the COVID-19 pandemic created additional stressors; with depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and suicidality all experienced at higher rates in industry workers than the general population (van den Eynde, 2016). Victorian music industry members would benefit from training that views mental health issues through the lens of ongoing disability. Understanding the many forms of mental health issues, the way it impacts work and creativity and how best to accommodate it will reduce harm. By increasing sensitivity and empathy, the industry can become a more supportive, inclusive, and connected community.
Across the board, Music Maker Mentees called for the need to highlight Deaf and Disabled people in the music industry; requesting more opportunities, greater disabled representation in mainstream media, and better platforming of disabled people. It is a recommendation of this study that mentorship programs continue to be funded to build community and showcase role models for Deaf and Disabled musicians and industry members. Another meaningful way to acknowledge the existence and experience of Deaf music industry participants is to allocate funding for AUSLAN interpreting at more events.
With the results of the studies in mind, the Victorian music industry can begin to address the barriers that Deaf and Disabled people encounter with solutions informed by those people with first-hand experience. By improving awareness and education surrounding barriers related to Disability, the industry can unite to dismantle the systems that exclude a vibrant and enthusiastic group of people that have a wealth of skills, creativity, and knowledge to contribute to the music scene. Inclusion facilitates a more diverse, vibrant, and productive industry. Not only does it make Melbourne and Victoria the leading music regions in Australia, but the world.