As Disabled Access Day approaches, I’d like to spend some time reflecting the journey that has brought me to this point in Singapore.
Access has become an important part of my life. The reason I engage with Access is because of my career in the Arts, building relationships and understanding the world through stories. It is a fundamental aspect of theatre and drama; making connections with other human beings through shared experiences, and surely the best stories are those that are dynamic and diverse?
In 2013 I had my first experience of working with two inclusive theatre companies in Lancaster (UK) for adults with Learning Disabilities, Autism and Down Syndrome. At day one of rehearsals, the first things that one of the actors in the group told me was, “Paul, welcome to our group, I just want to be clear, we may be a group of people with disabilities, but we don’t focus on that, we focus on our ability to make theatre”. I quickly learnt that this group was talented and made great work, not great for ‘disabled’ people but really great art, brilliant stories. How did they do it? They were given a safe and nurturing environment for them to grow, develop and master their talents. This exposure opened my mind to see that disabled artists are equal to non-disabled and not just that, ultimately to see people for themselves and not the labels given to them.
I first learnt of Disabled Access Day working as a Creative Learning Manager. That was in 2015. The role came with an added responsibility - to become an Access Champion where I worked with my colleagues to ensure arts venues were open for all to attend. This meant several things. Firstly, ensuring Sign Language, Audio Description and Relaxed Performances were regularly arranged for some of the biggest plays and musicals on tour. Besides that, I had to engage with the wider community and cultural sector in the town I worked in. We, disabled and non-disabled, met regularly and engaged in meaningful conversations, and respectfully challenged the experiences and processes of Access.
The dialogue was such an important part of understanding that Access to the arts is about equality and on many levels, great customer service. This was super exciting because by working collaboratively, sharing experiences and connecting on the very simple level of what we ALL need, we could start to adjust and offer choices.
Let’s fast forward to today, on Disabled Access Day 2019, where there is progress in Singapore as well. There are discussions about creating policies that will make the arts accessible to everyone. There’s a hive of activities on the ground to support access, e.g. multi-sensory performances and plays being curated and created locally, training of Audio Describers for the first time ever, availability of venue visual stories and many more. The biggest breakthrough for me is the collaborative effort to progress the agenda in the form of the Access Arts Hub. I say this because just as I wrote at the start of this blog, my route to Access is the arts – connecting with real people, telling real stories that reflect the amazing diversity we live in. And if we want to achieve a truly connected and authentic arts industry in Singapore, we need to give everyone the choice to attend and participate. When everyone has the choice to see an arts performance, then surely those who want to create it should have the opportunity to do so.
There is still a lot of work to do, and many hurdles and challenges to overcome together but on this day, I’d like to take the moment to appreciate the journey thus far as I look forward to the many opportunities we have yet to realise.
This Saturday 16th March, let’s do our part and shout from the rooftops about Access and the simple yet meaningful ways that we can make the Arts accessible to everyone. Here’s how you can lend your support to Disabled Access Day:
Download your Access Advocacy Pack here and use the icons and logos on your various social media platforms.
You can also hyperlink your images and posts to lead your network back to the amazing Access Arts Hub website for more information on upcoming events and performances. For more information on Disabled Access Day, please click here.
Paul Adams is the Learning and Engagement Manager of the Singapore Repertory Theatre where he focuses on facilitating and managing arts education programmes and participation opportunities across education, community outreach and venue-based programmes. He is part of a team driving the Access Arts Hub, a consortium of organisations and individuals championing better access to the arts for persons with disabilities.