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23rd September 2019 Jemma Green

A letter from Jane Cordell #AMAInclusivity

Hello,

My name is Jane Cordell. I am an AMA Board member and will be chairing Inclusivity and Audiences Day 2019.

By way of introduction, I call myself an AMA ‘insider-outsider’ because:

  • I am a musician and writer and love, but don’t work, in the arts.
  • I co-direct a social enterprise but not as a marketing professional
  • I became deaf as a young adult.
  • I love arts and culture but frequently feel excluded from places and events.

One of many things which drew me to the AMA was its openness. The AMA looks ahead and beyond the status quo and challenges their own thinking on a regular basis, bringing in people with different perspectives to help them do this. Unusually, I felt not only welcomed there, but also confident that I could ask any questions I had including challenging ones — and that I would be answered and heard.

Presumably what we all want, as arts and cultural organisations, is for as many people as possible to experience what we offer to be able to respond to it, regardless of their background. To achieve that, we cannot be static. We have to keep questioning and exploring who those people are and how they may experience what we offer.

As someone who works mainly with marginalised people, I notice that when events or services are accessible they can have a proportionately greater impact. Think about it. If you feel unwelcome or your needs are overlooked, you go to fewer (or no) places and events. So when you do feel welcomed, the performance or event can really take you by storm.

I once went to see a ballet locally. I was experiencing periodic mild depression and feeling very low at the time. I remember feeling uneasy about attending the performance in what ‘should’ have been work time. I was transported and emerged from the auditorium realising that I felt better — and lighter — than when I went in. Although intellectually I knew that the arts could have this effect, I was taken aback by how significant that effect could be.

My colleagues at the AMA asked me to consider a couple of really interesting questions, surrounding the topics of Inclusivity and Audiences Day 2019. I hope you find my responses useful and that they may inspire you to join us in Birmingham on 7 November:

 

— As a deaf person who has attended and spoken at a variety of events, what makes the most positive impact regarding the event and its marketing?

First it always has to be whether it appeals to me personally, professionally and/or artistically. I try my best not to ask first ‘Will I be able to access it?’ though it is difficult at times not to! I want to be stimulated, challenged and taken to what L.S Lowry called ‘the other side’. If such an event also offers access provision, then I will go a long way (literally sometimes!) to try to get to it.

I am married to a British Asian man, so as the family ‘culture vulture’, I will also consider whether an event would appeal to him. When we do attend an event together, we have fallen into a pattern of noting the usual lack of many other people in the audience who are not Caucasian!

 

— What makes the most negative impact?

Unnecessary layers of complexity and admin when booking. I am not naturally patient and get fed up when telephone booking is the only option given and websites haven’t been thought through for people with additional needs. I have lost count of the number of different access schemes I have signed up for at different organisations. I can’t help thinking that an arts version of the ‘disability passport’ — which some employers provide so that employees can move to different roles without having to explain at length each time their needs — used across the whole arts sector, would save everyone a lot of time and energy.

The good news is that the flip side of this is if you successfully engage new audiences, including those with disabilities, you are likely to achieve greater loyalty from them as customers[1].

 

— How challenging will it be for you to chair the Inclusivity and Audiences day, which is a multi-speaker event?

If you ever become complacent as a speaker or chair at an event, then it’s time to stop! I think of my deafness as a positive filter. I have to concentrate and ‘listen’ with the support of lipspeaker professionals, really well. I don’t have the option of filtering out the less fascinating bits as hearing people do. And if participants at an event don’t observe good etiquette, such as speaking one at a time and being clear, then I have an even greater reason than most to challenge this!

When I run training and coaching for disabled people in large organisations, we often discuss the fact that we need to develop skills as disabled professionals, but don’t always see that we have developed them, or how valuable they can be. For example, I read people visually, including their body language, and this can be a useful additional skill when managing the dynamics of any group, including a large one such as on 7 November. It is a privilege to be asked to chair the event and I am looking forward to it.

 

I hope this piece has given you a taste of how Inclusivity and Audiences Day 2019 could help you expand your strategic thinking and connect you to potential new audiences in future.

For our event to make an impact, we need you as participants to represent your organisation at all levels (appreciating micro-organisations may have one level only!). So I really hope that you decide to join us on 7 November at and look forward to continuing the conversation with you then.

See you at Birmingham Hippodrome,

Jane Cordell
Director, Result CIC


[1] ‘Disabled customers are more likely to be loyal customers, who may also bring their friends and family, meaning repeat business for you.’ Equality Commission for Northern Ireland: Every Customer Counts. https://www.equalityni.org/EveryCustomerCounts