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Arts Access Card to launch in 2024

London's theatre land at night
London's theatre land at night Image credit: ft.com

Personal assistants are still expected to pay to assist disabled people to live events, especially in the West End.

Despite a number of promoters in the music industry offering free tickets to concerts when it comes to the theatre full concessions are rarely offered.

The Arts Council England (ACE) has devised a national access card in conjunction with the BFI which would allow people with disabilities to bring an extra person to a show for free, but the service has been delayed until 2024. 

Andrew Miller, government champion for arts and culture, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, discussing the prospect of the card after a similar scheme was launched in Wales.

He said:  "One of the principal reasons for my advocating a national arts access scheme was the lack of any consistency in venues' approach to companion tickets and disabled access.

"As I've experienced, through a lifetime of event attendance as a wheelchair user, buying tickets for 40 years, it's the Wild West out there for disabled consumers.

"There's no consistency between how companion tickets are priced. Some make them half price and the disabled person goes full price, others you get a free companion and the disabled person pays a reduced rate."

The national Arts Access Card was scheduled to launch in March 2022, but the High Court stated there was an inadequate consultation with disabled people, which has delayed the process. Although the card is being used independently.

University arts lecturer Therea Heath told BBC News: "It's discriminatory to expect someone to pay double to do something that a non-disabled person does not have to pay double for.

"Sometimes events I've been to will say that there is a PA [personal assistant] scheme, but it can be very difficult to get hold of anyone. At one event I went to, the so-called access helpline was also their ticketing helpline so it was completely rammed and you couldn't get through to anybody."

Heath tried to purchase festival tickets earlier this year, but could not find any accessible information on bringing someone to assist her at the event.

"They didn't have a shred of access information on their website," she said. "I was looking for whether they offered PA tickets. I was looking for information as to whether I could get my wheelchair onto the site, whether there were disabled toilets. And unfortunately at that point there was absolutely nothing on their website whatsoever."

Guidance published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) underlines the responsibilities live entertainment venues must have towards visitors with disabilities.

"Reasonable adjustments are not just about changes to physical features or the addition of auxiliary aids-such as a hearing loop, although these can be important to some disabled people," it states.

"Consider providing information (such as programmes and publicity material) in alternative formats and offering an additional ticket for free to a disabled person who needs to bring an assistant."

Research shows there is no consistency for disabled people at venues across the country, some offer free PA tickets, others offer concessions.

But things are starting to change, Ambassador Theatre Group has recently launched an online booking service for all their 37 venues.

Their access and safeguarding lead, Cate Gordon, said: "By registering with Nimbus's Access Card, customers will be able to log on to our website and book their own accessible seats, and also an essential companion ticket if required… at the time of day that you want to, just in the same way that any non-disabled person could.”

Miller believes the national Arts Access Card will go ahead in early 2024.

"It could be well be that it builds on what Hynt has established in Wales, what CredAbility Nimbus have done, and also what the UK cinema card (CEA) does. But the essential element for me is that the card is made free to disabled users. That for me is a red line,” he said.

“When this scheme gets rolled out, it will transform the lives of disabled audiences, making the arts and the venue sector far more accessible and radically change the access approach to all the venues who sign up to it."

Andrew Miller is a trustee at Bafta and the Royal Shakespeare Company.