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If This is The State of the Arts Then It's Not Access for All

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Arts Council England's State of the Arts Conference had a fantastic Twitter feed yesterday (#SOTA12). Provocative, entertaining, illuminating. Great stuff. Well done. But not enough.

I couldn't make it to the event so wanted to take part online - and was delighted therefore to see blogging, live streaming and webcasting all being built into the programme. Ideal.

I settled down from the comfort of my armchair this morning but within about 30 minutes had given up with all the technological faff and had to content myself with the 140 character world of the Tweet.

Now, one thing you need to know about me. I'm deaf, hearing impaired, auditorily challenged - whatever you want to call it. And accessing stuff can be a bit of a battle, all depending on how loud and/or clear speakers are, where the mics have been put and a whole load more.

Actually, that's not what you need to know about me. You need to know that I am passionate, creative, involved deeply in the cultural sector creating impact and innovation. You need to know that I'm simultaneously a pragmatist and a dreamer. Got to dream to make your dreams manifest.

At a live event I use interpreters, captions, speech-to-text reporters, lip-speakers, notetakers - whatever is at hand (and yes, that includes nudging anyone sitting near me to help me catch up if I get lost). Online it can all get a bit more complicated but there are lots of great examples of organisations and events - large and small - that have got it right, or at least have made the effort (The National Digital Inclusion conference was name checked as an example of good practice).

You can guess what's coming, can't you? Here's me on my sofa thinking "It's Arts Council England, it's their big showcase event, they're a public body and they've got a Disability Equality Scheme - they'll have got it sorted, they'll be showcasing best practice." But no. Although access one assumes was provided at the event, this commitment hadn't trickled down to their online content.

I wasn't alone in my frustration. A number of tweeters added their voices to the call for better access, not moaning but pointing out the universal benefits of getting it right. It shouldn't be advocated, but should be done automatically. I know its about money but if a voice stream fails people can follow subs, and if events have #subtitles #BSL #audiodescription livestreamed, this all equals a larger audience.

The whole point of providing online access is to gain wider coverage, to get more people to engage. Bit of a shot in the foot if in doing so you alienate people, no? The positivity of the comments continued - how can we all ensure improvements? A call to ACE to take the lead:

Since the live stream is inaccessible, where are the access guidelines for digital inclusion?
Do we need guidelines for live streaming to ensure disabled access as you do at events?

And also to make amends. The edited video footage goes online on Friday - will the videos be #subtitled? You could use @universalsubs, it's also free...

So ACE - that's the gauntlet laid down. Roll on Friday. I, for one, will be watching with baited breath.

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