Category Archives: Media

A personal perspective on arts access

I spend a lot of time advocating for various forms of arts access for disabled people. For once I thought I would share some of my own personal views of things I dislike most about museums, galleries and theatres, and a few things I like too. Don’t get me wrong, I love GLAM, (galleries, libraries, archives and museums,) theatre and music performances; I have done so all my life. But as a vision-impaired person, as distinct from blind, I often feel frustrated by the simple changes that could be made that would be helpful for many arts patrons, especially in an ageing community. As a lifelong arts patron I think I, and others like me, deserve better. Currently we often pay the same price as everyone else for a lesser experience.

Here are some of my pet peeves, and likes, starting from the beginning of the process, which can stop me in my tracks.

Advertising is often unreadable. Accessibility options are buried on web sites and difficult to find. Its fine to have aesthetic design but communication with an audience is paramount. Web sites and other advertising are often designed with art rather than access in mind. The two aren’t incompatible. The New Zealand Festival is making progress this year with an easily found accessibility section on the web site, (although an access link would be even better on the home page.) The Fringe, not so much. A shame as Fringe events may be within the budgets of more disabled people.

Booking is often difficult and expensive and plain inaccessible in many cases. I love Circa Theatre for their friendly and direct regular booking process. Chamber Music NZ  and New Zealand Opera also have user-friendly ticketing for audio described performances. The booking process should be easy, with accessible alternatives if necessary.

Lighting can be very poor in places where I most need it, such as reading my programme or catalogue, often difficult to read anyway, or on labels on exhibits. Carefully targeted lighting is possible. Transitions from light to dark, in particular are often inadequately managed and a bit scary.

Clutter and wayfinding. Museums often leave me exhausted with sensory overload and a struggle to find one thing to focus on, with so much sound and vision all together all at once. I realised how much I miss when I get a little taste of audio description. Poor lighting can contribute to this confusion.

Print materials are generally designed to look good rather than for readability. A downloadable more readable and accessible version would help. Labelling in galleries and museums could be easier to read, with larger, clearer print, or again downloadable so I can read them on my chosen device in comfort.

Libraries.  As a passionate reader, I am a regular user of our precious public libraries. Here there has been a real change. I use an online catalogue to find my chosen reading matter, but best of all, public librarians will, without question, help me find things on the shelves. In the past I found librarians rather intimidating and unhelpful. I don’t use the Blind Foundation library as I can read some print, often on my iPad. If the government ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty there should be more large print books available too.

Disability experience reflected in art, culture and heritage.  Last but not least we, disabled people, and our stories on our terms are largely absent. So-called “outsider” art is fashionable and collectable, but often not seen alongside “real” artists’ work in mainstream galleries in New Zealand yet. Theatre is slowly beginning to explore our stories, and disabled performing artists are appearing. But we still have a long way to go. Our heritage and history on our terms are not included in museums, and literary writing by disabled people is invisible. I have found few books on disability subjects I can relate to in our libraries by New Zealanders. Popular media stories are not the answer as they reflect unrealistic stereotypes. I want to see and hear and read “real” stories like mine.

What can we do? I am a practical person who tries to find solutions to the problems I encounter. In the research I have done over the years I know there is a lot of help available, and some wonderful stories to be told, and I’m not talking about sob stories, super crips or inspiration porn either, but human nuanced stories well presented. Our history, sometimes uncomfortable, unsafe and shameful, is largely untold in heritage institutions.

There are also opportunities missed. For example the wonderful Shapeshifter sculpture exhibition at the last NZ Festival would have been an audio describer’s dream as most exhibits in the outdoor exhibition were touchable. Perhaps this year? Cultural festivals such as the Chinese New Year, Cuba Dupa and Diwali, have possibility too. We have terrific trained audio describers in Wellington who are really keen to work.

Making change is not always easy. The disabled audience is diverse, and has to be cultivated and developed.  But talk to us, engage with us on social media and in person. Often the people factor is the most important. There are Arts Access Advocates who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, often arts practitioners ourselves. The skilled and helpful people at Arts Access Aotearoa, have a wealth of resources available, some of which I helped create. These resources include a much wider range of arts access ideas, tools and advice than I have covered in this personal account. Most are free.

But don’t take the expertise of individual disabled people for granted. We are experts just like curators and other staff. That needs recognition in the same way.

We are an ageing population. Arts institutions need to retain us as audience. The arts are a critical part of my life. I desperately want to keep it that way.  We, disabled people are 24% of the population, and growing. Ignoring and excluding us as patrons and participants is not an option.

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Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Media, The Arts, Web Accessibility

Disability as metaphor

Portrayal of disability in the arts and the media is a perennial and important issue if disabled people are to feel like equal and valued members of the community.  Portrayal issues are as important as access to the arts and media.

Last Thursday morning’s RNZ Summer Report featured a group of young people in Masterton talking about their production to help with confronting the loss of their peers through youth suicide.

Their play Smoke and mirrors presented scenarios with the themes of hope, purpose and belonging, powerful and universal concerns for young people.

In one scenario, a young man sees a shadow in the mirror, a blind man, a metaphor for his “blindness” to his own considerable potential, and his “tunnel vision” view of a meaningful future for himself.

The use of blindness and low vision in this way in such a sensitive situation and subject came as a shock. It was quickly followed by sadness to find myself encountering a new generation, albeit I hope unintentionally, perpetuating the myth of blindness and low vision as a wholly negative and life-limiting experience. It was hard to listen to that.

As a young vision-impaired person I was nearly defeated by those very fundamental questions of hope, purpose and belonging. If I was a young person today, struggling with them, how would such a play resonate with me? What kind of message does such a portrayal give to depressed blind and vision-impaired or other disabled young people?

We know very little about disabled youth and suicide in New Zealand. We have no information readily available, not uncommon in relation to disability. We do know that disabled people are amongst the poorest, and suicide rates are higher in the most deprived areas, and that men and Maori have higher suicide rates than women and non-Maori. (Ministry of Health.)

The disability section of the Lowdown youth and depression web site looks promising but delivers little. It is very wordy, links within the website occasionally fail to work, and no Sign Language or easy read information is offered. There is also no guidance about the accessibility or appropriateness of general services.

We have ample evidence of the devaluing of disabled lives every day in the media and in the experience of disabled people. It would be helpful to see more realistic portrayals of disabled people, and for them to be meaningfully included in campaigns such as suicide prevention and depression support.

And portrayal of disability and disabled people doesn’t have to be inspiration porn. But it must be respectful and it must be real.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Media, The Arts

Writing disability

Because this year is my Year of Serious Writing I have been reflecting on writing about disability. You could say I have been writing about disability for many years, and I have, but writing from a deeply personal perspective and exploring events, memory and distance in place and time is very different from journalism, reports, blogs on information access and related themes, even speaking notes.

As if writing about memory and the past are not difficult enough, writing about a life with disability is more so. Drawing the meanings and lessons complicates my task even more.

I must explore and create my truth through a language that shifts and flows, an unstable country, a language that seems in some ways not up to the task and in others so nuanced and complicated that I may drown.

For example, when I think about the everyday language we use in the disability world I encounter problems. The words “disability” and “impairment” themselves are deeply contested, never mind such phrases as “the lived experience of disability.” The language used is also littered with medical and sociological jargon. I had to explain what DNR meant recently on Facebook. ( It means do not resuscitate, instructions sometimes found on a medical file.) My fault for using jargon.

The “social model” of disability which is a strong thread in disability identity is not well understood, either within or beyond the disability world. Sociology and psychology, even religion describe disability as object rather than subject. Medicine defines body as machine. None of them take real account of meaning for the heart, soul and spirit.

Internalised stigma and ableism, by me and the reader also complicates the writing process. We have all internalised social oppression that declares disability to be undignified, the “fate worse than death” scenario most disabled people steadfastly deny in the face of prevalent community incomprehension. We often feel like second class citizens in our own country. That has interesting implications for a writer.

The disability human rights and equality on which I have focused so much of my life’s work and commitment are also contested subjects. They are couched in frustratingly legal terminology. Terms such as “reasonable accommodation,” (the degree to which an employer, education provider, retailer, transport and other services and so on must meet the disability requirements of their customers,) have a degree of currency. But that term in particular is legalistic, grudging and ungenerous, lacking a warm and wholehearted welcome, calling into question another contested word, “inclusion”.

I also have to negotiate the “poor me,” “aint it awful” pity scenario and its equally unacceptable opposite, “disability porn,”  two extremes so popular in the media and a trap for the unwary writer.

For me it has become increasingly necessary to travel beyond the clinical, the medical, the legal, the sociological. I have to banish stigma and negative belief to excavate the more dangerous depths of meaning.

It’s a scary enterprise for a private person. I may uncover sadness, rage, rejection, even shame in those depths. But memory can discover surprise and delight as well as pain. There is also joy, humour, friends found and strength drawn from a strong sense of community.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Media, The Arts

Robyn Hunt wins Supreme Award at Attitude Awards

Hi everyone

I’m very pleased to announce that my AccEase colleague, Robyn Hunt,who authors most of the blog posts on this blog site has received public recognition for the work she does in the disability sector.

Robyn Hunt wining the Making a Difference Award at the Attitude Awards - with Jill Lane and Ruth Dyson

Robyn Hunt wining the Making a Difference Award at the Attitude Awards – with Jill Lane and Ruth Dyson

The Attitude Awards were held Robyn won the Making a Difference category award from 20 finalists and then was awarded the Supreme Award with the contenders being the winners of the other seven categories.

Robyn Hunt accepting the Supreme Award at the Attitude Awards

Robyn Hunt accepting the Supreme Award at the Attitude Awards

As you well know, Robyn is a tireless supporter of disability rights and has stuck to the task despite it being an area that gets little mainstream recognition.

The full report “Disability rights advocate wins Attitude Award” is on the TVNZ website.

Congratulations to Robyn, who is a most deserved winner!

Mike Osborne
Director – AccEase Ltd

PS – You can watch the full awards ceremony online – and the video controls are accessible.


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Filed under Disability Rights, Media, Women