As a Tech4Good enterprise, we at TAA Tech Ventures prioritise projects that focus on applying technology for the common good. So, when we were commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE), on behalf of all the UK arms-length cultural funding bodies, to deliver a feasibility study on an access scheme for disabled people, we immediately knew it was a project we really wanted to do.

We’re confident that our solution will transform access to cultural venues for disabled people, an audience that has been shamefully underserved for too long. Disabled audiences have been making it clear for many years that they experience a confused, fragmented, and inconsistent provision of services not only at cultural venues themselves, but also while experiencing cultural activities. Too often cultural providers are failing to meet the needs of an underserved audience, as well as their obligations under the 2010 Equality Act.

We’re excited that ACE is beginning a consultation with the ticketed cultural sector to find out which of our recommendations excite and interest them most. This builds on a focused research programme we carried out with organisations in the sector as part of our feasibility study.

How we approached this project

As with all our projects, we used service design to inform our approach – which, crucially, was based on the social model of disability, not a medical one. This approach informed a qualitative research programme with disabled people and with cultural venues and producers, as a result of which we have considered the needs of disabled audience members all the way through their ‘user journey’, from:

→ When they start thinking about attending a cultural venue or event,

→ all the way through buying a ticket,

→ including their experience at a venue or event,

→ and what happens afterwards.

Our recommendations

At the heart of our approach is the creation of a three-part set of quality standards covering all aspects of service provision:

  1. Quality standards for the user experience, which describe and set bounds for how access needs of users are accommodated by access services of cultural venues and/or accessible features of cultural activities.
  2. Information standards, which define how such access needs, access services and accessible features are categorised and described on digital services and in printed media.
  3. Technical standards, which specify how users and their access needs, cultural venues and their access services, and cultural activities and their accessibility features, are represented in data, as well as how this data is exchanged.

We’ve also drawn up an indicative budget for the first three years and made detailed recommendations covering:
  • The technical architecture of the digital part of the scheme.
  • The data architecture - including what data needs to be collected, who by and how it’s managed.
  • How the scheme itself should be managed.

To run the scheme efficiently, managing and co-ordinating a diverse and complex ecosystem of service providers – the membership aspect of the scheme, cultural venues, people putting on events and the tech providers, we have recommended the creation of a bespoke central body. This should enable the following hurdles to be overcome:

  • Logistical. It won’t be possible to launch the scheme all in one go. It will take time to develop and roll out, and some parts will launch before others. One challenge is rolling it out across the many thousand cultural venues and events in the UK, another is co-ordinating the IT companies who will have their own development roadmaps. Plus, as the digital scheme will contain sensitive personal information, it will need to be very secure.
  • Financial. While we recommend that it should be free to users, we expect that economies of scale and the possibility of increased returns will make it attractive for venues and locations to pay a fee to join. Ultimately, should the central body be spun out of ACE, it will be able to generate commercial returns by licensing the IP in the scheme outside the sector.

How the scheme will improve people's experiences

Once the scheme is in place and the standards are agreed, lots of things become possible:

  1. Step 1 /2 | Registering your personal requirements. Disabled people will be able to easily join the scheme, which will include a digital service. When they join, they will need to record their individual circumstances – but this will be remembered so they don’t have to do it again, ever. However, should their circumstances change, they will be able to update them easily. This highly sensitive personal data will be held securely by the central body and be shared digitally with other IT platforms, only where necessary and in such a way that respects the privacy of the individual.
  2. Step 2 /2 | Arranging your cultural visit. Registered members will be able to see a list of venues and events which meet their needs and they will find it easier to buy the tickets they need. As the venue or event will know to expect them when they visit, they should find their experience much smoother and more enjoyable.

The standards will benefit cultural venues and events too:

  • They will be able to show that their facilities conform to the standards, which of their events have accessibility features, and that their staff have received training.
  • This will make them more attractive to disabled audience members, opening up new markets as well as saving them the expense and difficulty of managing their own schemes.
  • By standardising the way venues and events describe themselves, it will be easier for them to publish that information in a consistent way on their own digital services and make it easier to be aggregated and published elsewhere, such as on listings websites.
  • Finally, the standards should suit the IT companies who provide ticketing and other digital services as well, as they will be able to develop their software platforms with confidence that they will integrate with other systems.

What ACE and its partners are doing to make this a reality

While on paper this might sound simple, in practice it won’t be easy and will require investment – but in time that investment could well generate returns for the sector. ACE needs to ensure that the recommendations we’ve made meet the needs of the sector, hence the extensive consultation they’ve launched with the ticketed sector to nail down the details.

Perhaps the most important recommendation we’ve made is that, for this scheme to work, it needs to be be run by disabled people. Encouragingly, though not surprisingly, in researching this project we found that people in the cultural sector not only recognise the need for such a scheme but are also enthusiastic about it. Now, for the sake of disabled audiences, that enthusiasm needs to be matched with delivery. We’ll be supporting ACE as they turn this project into reality - if you’ve any interest in championing the needs of disabled people, we hope you will too.

Update - November 2023.

We’re really excited that Arts Council England has launched All In, their new UK arts access scheme for D/deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent people.

We’re proud of the work we did to open this project, carrying out primary research and writing the options analysis and feasibility study. It's great to see the new website which gives more details about the scheme and enables people to register their interest.

We'll definitely continue to be interested in this fascinating project!