Disabled Access Day

Posted 16/03/2024

Gig Buddies with Thera work closely with venues to work on how they can make venues and events more accessible for people with a learning disability.

Access to events is a main focus for us at Gig Buddies with Thera. We spend a lot of time enabling our members to get out to events, and we are in a lucky position to be able to see first-hand the impact of accessibility when it’s done well. However, we’ve also been at events where access doesn’t live up to expectations. Our members have a variety of access needs, and we’re passionate about creating opportunities for open conversations, and enabling them to share their experiences with us.

Since 2021, we’ve focused heavily on supporting venue and event organisers to become more accessible and confident in welcoming neurodivergent audience members. We have found that although many venues are aware of access issues in relation to physical access needs however they are not as aware of access issues for people who have a Learning Disability, or who are Autistic. These needs are a mixture of social, sensory, processing and information based and are often overlooked when considering access requirements.

The first stop for anyone looking for advice from us starts with our free DIY Access Guide. This can be found through our webpage and our Instagram page, and features quick tips about providing better access for people with a learning disability and autistic people. It also contains many quotes from Gig Buddies members, detailing how specific access provisions have helped them enjoy events.

More recently we have started delivering our Learning Disability and Autism Awareness Training. This session is focused on improving peoples understanding of what autism and learning disabilities are, the stigma people in these communities’ face, and the barriers people encounter day to day. The training can be delivered online or in person. Once a venue or organisation has had this training, we’re keen to keep the conversation going and give them an accessibility workshop specific to their space, or events.

We co-deliver the training with Sarah, our Access Coach, who has lived experienced of Autism, personally and as a mum.

Here’s what Sarah has to say about her role:

This work is incredibly important to me as an autistic person as it allows me to provide a lived experience to the training that not all awareness training is able to give. Also, as a parent to an autistic 11-year-old this training gives me hope that more venues and organisations will understand that not all autistic people are the same, which could potentially change the social barriers we sometimes come against.

It is important to me that I co-present the training as it means that organisations can gain insight from an autistic person at the time of their training. I firmly believe that there should not be any changes made for autistic people without the consultation from autistic people and working with gig buddies allows me to do this.

Like Sarah, Gig Buddies as a project believes in the notion of ‘no conversation about me, without me’, and we want to encourage more organisations to include people with lived experience in their decision-making process when it comes to access. This is exactly what we’re now doing with our friends at the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, where a number of Gig Buddies members have formed a Learning Disability and Autism Access group in order to give their feedback to the orchestra.

If there’s one take away we can give anyone though, it’s to be honest. Especially if you can’t meet access requirements. We acknowledge that for some venues, accessibility can be limited due to factors like financial restrictions, the age of the building or other environmental issues. If people could know before they come along, they can make informed choices about events they attend.

Ruthanne Baxter from the University of Edinburgh said on the topic of the training:

The Learning Disability and Autism Training provided by Gig Buddies was perfect for the needs of our public museums and galleries service and the wider work of the Heritage Collections teams here at the University of Edinburgh. Sam, Molly and Sarah were exceptionally knowledgeable and, importantly, brought everything back to the individuals with lived experience. I would highly recommend to other organisations and already have our second training date in the diary!

Our team are always up for talking about access, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. If you have any questions about how you can make your events more accessible to autistic people or people with a learning disability, or if you’d like to book us for our awareness training you can contact us at gigbuddies@thera.co.uk