Arts and culture

20.1 While activity in the arts is on the increase in Ireland, not everyone participates equally, least of all people with disabilities. The main barriers to their participation are those already identified in other chapters of this report - lack of access to venues and to transport, inadequate information, and low economic status.

20.2 Demand for, and participation in, the arts is closely related to income and education; it increases as income increases and the higher the level of education and goes down as income and education levels decrease. The extra costs of disability and the low average level of income of people with disabilities in Ireland impacts disproportionately on their participation in the arts.

20.3 Arts education and arts approaches in education and training have a particular value for people with disabilities, including many people with learning disabilities, autism or mental health difficulties for whom other subjects and teaching methods are problematic or who have difficulty in using conventional ways of making or expressing choices. Being involved in arts activities can help people with disabilities to avail of other possibilities and thus function as a channel for achieving other personal objectives.

20.4 The marginal status of both arts and people with disabilities in each other's worlds can be measured by the fact that only 10% of the submissions received by the Commission mentioned the arts. Many of these only mentioned the arts in a general list to do with access. Very few submissions from organisations of or for people with disabilities mentioned arts or cultural issues and only two submissions were received from arts organisations (the Arts Council and Very Special Arts).

20.5 Those which did deal with the arts brimmed with suggestions for improvements, many of which have been incorporated into the recommendations of this report. While the prevailing view of the current state of affairs was negative, people with disabilities making submissions made it clear that they want to be involved in cultural activity. Several submissions also stressed the joy of discovering the arts.

20.6 The low participation rate of people with disabilities as arts practitioners is partly explained by the same factors which inhibit their participation as audiences - the lack of arts education and training, appropriate access and low income levels. While people with disabilities have always been notable practitioners in the arts in Ireland (Carolan and Joyce, for example), this aspect of their experiences has generally been unacknowledged, considered irrelevant or hidden. It is only in recent times that a generation of artists has emerged whose work is informed directly by their experience (e.g. Mary Duffy, Corban Walker).

20.7 On the whole, artists with disabilities are primarily concentrated in visual arts (e.g. George McCutcheon, Stephen Walsh, Maeve McCormack Nolan) and writing (e.g. Christopher Nolan, Maureen Charles, Davoren Hanna), rather than performance arts. A submission to the Commission suggested that this was not least because writing and visual arts can be created alone, in one's own space, while performance arts require access to public spaces, collaboration with teams of people, auditions and career structures, specialist education and training - all of which pose problems at present for people with disabilities.

20.8 Many of the Commission's earlier recommendations apply equally to the arts, particularly in the area of access. The review of the Building Regulations 1991, recommended in Chapter 9: Access, should include all arts venues and aim to make them as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. Among the facilities that should be available in all theatres, cinemas, auditoriums and concert halls are transfer places (which allow wheelchair users to sit in a seat) and wheelchair spaces (where the user can stay in their wheelchair). Induction loop systems, which amplify sound for hearing aid users, should be installed in all auditoriums, especially those in receipt of grant-aid, while infra-red systems are preferable in music venues. Stages may also require loop systems to facilitate deaf performers.

20.9 Box-office desks should be located at heights accessible to both wheelchair-users and ambulant people and should incorporate a counter loop system and a minicom or other text telephone system. Audio description systems - through which people with visual impairments can hear during pauses in dialogue descriptions of action taking place on stage or screen via a headset - should be installed in all cinemas and buildings where performances take place. The same equipment can be used for such services as simultaneous translation.

20.10 Super-titling equipment should be available for use in the Abbey Theatre, Siamsa Tire, the Municipal Theatre, Galway, Wexford Theatre Royal, Waterford Theatre Royal, Cork Opera House and any commercial theatre with more than 800 seats.

20.11 The Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht should draw up a code of practice for all the national cultural institutions and the heritage services to provide facilities and information at their institutions, sites and visitor centres for people with disabilities. The recent refurbishment of the National Gallery in Dublin is a good example of a serious effort to make it more accessible to people with a disability. Every level of the Gallery is now accessible, with chairlifts strategically positioned in a number of locations. Staff have an appreciation of signing, and the overall impression is that people with a disability are made welcome in the Gallery at all times.

20.12 Strategies should be developed by the Arts Council, the Heritage Council and the National Monuments and Historic Properties Service to find ways of making accessible those arts and heritage activities which take place in existing buildings, including listed buildings. Operating in a building which cannot easily be made wheelchair-accessible should not prevent arts organisations from providing access features for people with sensory or other disabilities.

20.13 The Arts Council should disability proof the Arts Plan 1995-1997.

20.14 This is particularly important in the light of such general barriers as the uneven spread of arts activity throughout the country which can only be overcome by a proactive policy of inclusiveness allied to the priority zones strategy detailed in the plan.

20.15 The joint action research project by the Arts Council and the National Rehabilitation Board, mooted in the plan, should be expanded to include the Council for the Status of People with Disabilities as a third partner. Meanwhile, organisations in the field of disability should develop and implement arts policies in order to encourage and support access and opportunity in the arts for people with disabilities.

20.16 In order to increase access to, and participation in, the arts for people with disabilities, relevant state agencies should devise systems of incentives for them, both financial and otherwise. Along with local authorities, the Arts Council should provide adequate and clearly ring-fenced funding as a temporary strategic tool to increase access and opportunity in the arts for people with disabilities through grants to

  • Encourage the development of both disability arts and arts and disability practices, including integrated provision;
  • Ensure that venues become accessible to audiences and practitioners with disabilities.

20.17 The Arts Council should also develop a concessionary card system, through which people with disabilities in receipt of state benefits could obtain admission to arts venues and courses at concessionary rates. Priority seating in certain parts of auditoria (e.g. With level access for wheelchair-users, aisle seats for physically disabled people, near the stage for visually-impaired people, in good view of sign interpreters or super-titling for deaf people) should be offered to people with disabilities who need it, at the cheapest rate on offer. This is an access requirement which should be fulfilled at all times and should not be subject to the same conditions as financial concessions.

Education and Training

20.18 The Arts Council, local authorities, arts and disability organisations should introduce a system of bursaries for people with disabilities, with the aim of increasing their representation in all artforms and methods of cultural expression.

20.19 All children with disabilities should be given the opportunity to participate in a range of arts activities as part of their general education, including at preschool level. This is of paramount importance, particularly for those children who have difficulty in using other, accepted ways of making or expressing choices or of learning.

20.20 People with disabilities who have missed out on arts education should be offered compensatory education through adult education programmes run or funded by the VECs. Providers of adult, second-chance and continuing education should ensure that arts education is made widely available to students with disabilities.

20.21 The training, including in-service training, of primary school teachers and secondary school art and music teachers should have an arts dimension as well as the disability dimension recommended in Chapter 11 on Education.

20.22 All arts organisations should institute disability equality training for their staff, members, and volunteers. Disability equality training is particularly vital for front-of-house and box office staff, whose offers of assistance, pro-activity, information-giving skills and knowledge are of paramount importance in dealing with customers with disabilities.

20.23 Arts awareness courses should be run in disability organisations, including for access experts. This is intended to ensure that disability organisations develop awareness of the arts and encourage their membership and client groups to seek involvement in the arts at all levels.

20.24 The Council for the Status of People with Disabilities should develop models and mechanisms for the identification of talent, leading to professional training in areas of disability arts or arts and disability practice where few role models exist and/or where the appropriate language and aesthetic are only in the process of development. The training itself should take place in mainstream settings.

20.25 Training in music, art and theatre for people with disabilities should be open in its entry policies, modular in structure, and lead to clearly-specified, national qualifications.

20.26 Artist-in-residence schemes should be organised to ensure that

  • Artists with disabilities work as artists-in-residence in both inclusive and disability-specific settings;
  • Artists-in-residence working with people with disabilities are of the same standard of excellence as those who work with other people.

20.27 The Irish Writers' Centre should develop training and standards for live and recorded audio description.

20.28 Theatre-in-education companies and others involved in outreach work in schools should ensure that their performances and workshops can be accessed by all children with disabilities in any class or school with which they work.


20.29 Arts and cultural organisations should strive to make information on their facilities, services, events, or performances available in a wide range of formats (e.g. Large print, tape, Braille, computer disk, signing). The Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the Arts Council should lead by example in providing information.

20.30 Information on arts and cultural facilities, events and performances should state clearly their arrangements for people with disabilities. This must include access information, pricing policy and any special features (such as the use of a strobe light or glitter ball which can have adverse effects on some people with epilepsy). Events and courses should be publicised by the widest possible range of media including Aertel, local radio, teletext, magazines for deaf people, specialist TV and radio programmes aimed at people with disabilities, the disability press and newsletters, and via disability organisations such as Deaf Clubs to ensure that the maximum number of people with disabilities have access to the information.

20.31 Arts and cultural organisations should provide scripts, précis, introductory talks, taped programmes, audio and sign language interpreted tours, touch tables, thermoforms and other means of ensuring maximum access for people with disabilities to venues, performances, exhibitions and events.


20.32 The Council for the Status of People with Disabilities should appoint an arts officer. This will ensure that arts and cultural matters assume a central position within the Council's work from the beginning. The Arts Council should nominate a professional member of staff to act as a link between artform officers and people with disabilities and their organisations.

20.33 The Council for the Status of People with Disabilities should also set up a talent bank of interested and suitably qualified people with disabilities to be recommended to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht for consideration as nominees to state boards. The Arts Council should also have access to this talent bank and should ensure that people with disabilities are included as nominees to boards of management of arts organisations.

20.34 The Arts Council should commission the production of resource packs for arts organisations to assist them to implement ways of involving people with disabilities as audiences, participants or employees.

20.35 CAFE (Creative Activity for Everyone) should be developed as a central independent source of expert advice on arts and disability issues. CAFE and APIC (Awareness Publishing Information Communications) should co-operate more closely in order to facilitate such developments as the disability access coding of CAFE's extensive database. CAFE should also consider the establishment of a system of arts animateurs to facilitate the interface between arts and disability organisations.

20.36 County arts officers should conduct an immediate disability audit/inventory of all venues and arts organisations in their areas, reporting to the Arts Council, relevant city/county managers and regional authorities. This process should be repeated and updated in 1999 as part of a review of progress made arising from the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.

20.37 Application forms issued by the Arts Council, the Ireland Funds and other funding bodies for arts organisations should include a section requesting information about facilities for people with disabilities and arrangements made to ensure their full participation in the applicant organisation. As well as tracking progress made, this mechanism will also enable the Arts Council and other funding bodies to make disability-specific grants from time to time in respect of staffing and recruitment and numbers and types of exhibitions.

20.38 A touring "hothouse" roadshow should be developed by Very Special Arts to provide opportunities for people with disabilities, including those who live in institutions, to sample arts approaches in workshops and developmental projects.

20.39 The Arts Council should revise its handbooks for exhibition organisers to include sections on display, particularly as it affects people with disabilities. Exhibitions should be mounted in such a way that exhibits can be clearly appreciated by both wheelchair-users and ambulant people, with cord barriers, if used, at heights which do not present a trip hazard. All exhibition rooms and galleries should include seating to enable ambulant people with disabilities to rest.

20.40 The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht should propose an amendment to the Arts Act, 1951, Section 1, recognising "creative communication in sign language" as a specific artform. This will ensure the recognition of deaf arts and culture at the most formal level, alongside drama, literature and music. The drama officer of the Arts Council should provide a list of all sign interpreters qualified to work in theatre to all theatres and theatre companies.

20.41 Moltar don Roinn Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí, i gcomhar Ie hUdaras na Gaeltachta, staitisticí maidir leis an Iíon iomlán de dhaoine Ie mí-chumais sa nGaeltacht a chur Ie chéile, agus cláracha a fhorbairt chun cuidiú Ie daoine Ie mí-chumais bheith páirteach i saol cultúrtha agus soisialta na Gaeltachta tríd is tríd.

20.42 The Department of Enterprise and Employment should ensure that the legislation currently in the course of preparation by its Copyright Unit exempts from liability for copyright infringements any reproductions in formats other than print of copyright works, which are made for the use in education, or otherwise for the personal use, of people with visual impairments. Where the extent of such reproduction might conflict with a normal exploitation of the work, or risk prejudicing the legitimate interests of the author, the legislation should provide for the payment of equitable remuneration to a body representative of the rightsholders affected.

The second part of this recommendation may be necessary to ensure compliance by the state with its international obligations under the copyright conventions.