Chapter 8: Making Your Venue Accessible
As of 2018, almost 10% of the Northern Territory’s population is living with disability. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, people with a disability are significantly less likely to participate in arts and cultural activities than other members of the community and key findings show this predominantly relates to access issues. Creating a space that is open and accessible to all patrons, inclusive of those living with a disability, should be a major priority for all businesses. In this chapter we look at how you can work on an inclusion plan to create a space for all people to enjoy.
The concept of Universal access is an all-encompassing inclusion plan where activities, events, programs, projects and built environments (including your venue) are able to be used by the broadest range of people. In order for the design of a space to be truly universal, it must be useful to people with all kinds of conditions and abilities. This includes people with disability or activity limitations
Specifically, universal access addresses barriers to inclusion for people:
- Who experience mental health
issues; Who come from culturally
and linguistically diverse
- Who come from rural and remote communities;
- Who identify as Aboriginal or
Torres Strait Islander; and
- Who are disadvantaged.
Universal Access is of enormous
economic benefit to all businesses.
When people of all abilities are able
spend their money in venues of
their choosing and have a positive
experience doing so, everybody
benefits. People living with disability
have partners, families and friends –
all of whom will spend money if they
can come to an accessible venue.
Universal access seeks to:
- Make programs and services as
useable by as many people as
- Ensure that people can take part
on an equal basis in cultural life.
- Enable all people to develop and
utilise their creative and artistic
The concept of universal access relates to five key areas. By having an understanding of the following principles you can begin to implement a universal access plan for your venue.
1. Physical Environment
- Identify and provide the best physically accessible venues for arts events/programs.
- Provide clear, easy to locate information about physical access at your venue.
- Identify physical access problems or barriers and develop strategies to resolve these.
2. Information and Communication
- Actively research diverse communication delivery to a broad range of users.
- Ensure programs and services reflect the diverse communication needs of users by providing information in a range of languages and formats.
- Ensure access to websites and digital strategies comply with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards.
- Provide users with the opportunity to participate in programs and services in their chosen form of communication.
3. Cultural Relevance and integrity
- Embrace the right to express diverse cultural
- Ensure users are at the centre of organisational planning and delivery of programs.
- Create partnerships that promote inclusion and access.
- Train all staff in inclusive arts practice.
- Consider ways to provide programs and services in a range of locations.
- Build strategies to increase participation of people in a range of locations.
- Consider ways to subsidise participation for target groups.
- Provide a range of low cost/no cost program and activity options.
Best practice guidelines for making your venue universally accessible
Adopting the guidelines below will not only increase your patronage but also the aesthetic values of your venue and performances. Good lighting, where appropriate, clear signage and Auslan interpreted performances look great!
Disability awareness training for venue staff is another key aspect and the best place to start your journey towards universal access. National Disability Service (NDS) offers Disability Aware training online, which focuses on inclusion and awareness. The one hour session is a good
introduction for staff.
For industry-specific information, Arts Access Australia has a number of useful resources available online. These resources cover disability advocacy, inclusive language,
accessible marketing and more. They also offer additional resources and assistance via a member portal.
The following tips, relating to specific disabilities, can also help you with your move to being a universally accessible venue:
People with vision impairment or blindness may require:
- Clear, large print signs.
- Handrails on stairs and ramps.
- Good lighting around steps or changes in floor levels.
- Audio announcements for meals or table bookings (rather than LED boards or raffle tickets. Blind or vision impaired patrons may not be able to catch your eye when serving but that doesn’t mean they aren’t
waiting to be served).
- Reserved seating (if applicable) near the stage.
- Staff to use words as well as gestures when serving people (some subtle gestures may not be detected by
people with vision impairment).
- Security at the entrance to be verbal and not just gesture to a board or sign to show information.
- Guide or assistive dogs to be allowed into all venues (this is by law).
People who are deaf and/or hard of hearing (enjoy live music too) may require:
- Emergency lighting that flashes.
- Clear signage.
- Captioning on LED screens.
- Auslan Interpreter.
- Hearing loops or assistive listening systems.
- Reserved seating (if applicable) near the stage.
People with an intellectual disability may require:
- Plain English for all written communication.
- Communication prior to the event regarding the use of flash photography and strobe lighting (which can
cause epileptic seizures – this will allow patrons to determine if they are able to attend).
- A communication board with helpful pictures at the bar and or reception area (for example, a picture of a pot or schooner).
People with autism may require:
- Quiet spaces and rest areas.
- Communication prior to the event regarding the use of flash photography and strobe lighting (which can cause epilepsy seizures – this will allow patrons to determine if they are able to attend).
- Access to earplugs.
People with mental health issues may require:
- Quiet spaces and rest areas.
- Offer earplugs.
- Mental health first aid training for staff.
People with physical and mobility impairments may require:
- Accessible parking or reserved car spaces (if requested by a patron in advance).
- Signage at an appropriate height (approximately five feet from the floor is a good measure).
- A compliant, accessible toilet.
- Portable ramps (these can be handy if you have a small step to navigate and are relatively inexpensive or can be custom made).
- Seating and rest areas.
- Clear pathways through spaces.
- Automatic doors or the use of light-weight doors.
Universal access symbols
Universal access symbols will help visitors, audiences and staff identify accessible events at a glance. You can use these symbols in advertisements, newsletters, rock posters, social media, conference and program brochures,
membership forms, building signs, floor plans and maps. By including the symbols in your promotional materials, patrons will know if an event is accessible without the need to contact the venue. Use of these symbols will help all visitors feel welcome, for example the use of a wheelchair accessible symbol conveys not only that the venue is accessible to those in wheelchairs but also to patrons with prams, walking frames and people with mobility issues.
Here are some universal access symbols which are relevant to live music venues:
The Companion Card is issued to people unable to access community activities and venues without support and entitles their companion to a complimentary ticket. Use of this symbol will promote that your venue will accept Companion Card bookings.
Sign language interpreted:
The sign language interpreting symbol should be used where Auslan interpreting is available for patrons or audiences. This may be interpretation of performance, presentations or social interpreting for interval or afterparties.
Assistive listening systems:
Hearing loops, or assistive listening systems, are installed in venues and can be used to amplify or enhance sound quality and eliminate background noise for people who are hard of hearing.
The wheelchair access symbol identifies
that a venue is wheelchair accessible and has accessible bathrooms. A wheelchair-friendly venue should also have specific seating reserved for wheelchair users, if appropriate.
These symbols identify that captioning is available at selected performances. Captions are prepared from the lyrics or script by highly trained staff. During the performance the captions are displayed on a screen enabling the audience to read what is being said without obstructing the musicians.
Open-captioning is always in view and
cannot be turned off;
closed-captioning can be activated or deactivated by the viewer.
You can offer large print materials to your patrons including books, rock posters, brochures, guides, programs, forms and general signage. Large print materials should be 18-point or larger, have high contrast (such as black print on white or white print on black) and be well-spaced.
Arts Access Australia
AAA is the peak national body for arts and disability in Australia. They work to increase opportunities and access to the arts for people with disability as artists, arts-workers, participants and audiences. https://artsaccessaustralia.org/resources/
NT Anti-Discrimination Commission
The NT Anti-Discrimination Commission promotes equal opportunities for all Territorians. They provide training, public education, encourage community engagement and provide legal advice regarding complaints.
Entertainment Assist is a national health promotion charity that raises awareness about mental health and wellbeing in the Australian entertainment industry and advocates for generational change.
Australia Council for the Arts
Australia Council for the Arts, More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts. Sydney, Australia Council for the Arts, 2010.