22/06/2015 13:21 BST | Updated 22/06/2016 06:59 BST

15 Years of Attitude is Everything


Strange to think it now, but two decades ago it was actually quite unusual for disabled fans to watch live music. Even 15 years ago, when the UK's festival scene was in the midst of an amazing transformation, I would often find myself in the company of the same small handful of friends (we all knew each other's names!) on the same viewing platforms, at the same events.

Facilities were few, if not non-existent ('hello': single disabled toilet!); and, although belonging to a close-knit community could feel empowering, it was also enormously frustrating that concepts like 'access' and 'inclusivity' were often alien to such a large part of the music business. By and large, disabled audiences, hugely passionate about live music, were off their radar.

However, even back then, it was not intentional that people in the music industry didn't understand access. When I questioned them further on it, and they said that they didn't understand the practicalities of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

For these reasons, alongside some pretty dismal personal experiences, in 2000 I wrote an article about poor access at music festivals. A colleague from the National Music Department at Arts Council England read it, then telephoned me with an offer to fund a pilot project, with the aim of reaching out to promoters and venue owners - not only to address some of failings around access, but also to help engender a new kind of mindset. With good reason, I called this project Attitude is Everything and we soon established a Charter of Best Practice as a set of guidelines for the music industry to use. The project was proposed to last 12 months, but from the start I had a gut feeling it would be around a lot longer.

And that's precisely what happened. Fast forward to the present, and Attitude is Everything is now a well established charity. We have some fantastic patrons and supporters, and we partner with the UK's most iconic venues and events - from the biggest festivals and arenas, through to a range of small clubs and community halls . Meanwhile, through our Charter of Best Practice, we have a vehicle in place to help live music businesses better understand and incorporate accessibility into their planning processes.

From experience, I have learnt that real and lasting change can only happen through cooperation. There's no point in standing outside of the proverbial tent, and so far more than 100 festivals and venues have signed up to the Charter. Most satisfyingly, we have also witnessed a tremendous upsurge in Deaf and disabled fans coming to live events. In fact, last year, sales of disabled tickets at Charter venues and festivals rose year-on-year by an incredible 70% - totaling a value of £5.4m to the music industry.

Clearly, promoters and venue owners who embrace accessibility are attracting a whole new audience, eager to join their friends and share their passion. In fact, these days, I hardly recognise anybody on the viewing platforms - which is perhaps the ultimate sign of progress.

When I hear that a disabled music fan feels more confident about going to gigs after becoming one of our Mystery Shoppers, or receive an email from a disabled customer saying that he no longer feels festivals are out of bounds because he received such great support from our volunteer stewards on-site, that's how I know we are making difference.

Does that mean that the battle is won, and disabled fans have reached a status of equality? No, definitely not.

It's taken us 15 long years to establish the Charter and reach 100 sign-ups. I am now hugely ambitious that we can push forward and clock up another century - particularly among the UK's small venues, that are so crucial to our music scene, but are so often lacking in basic access facilities, even if it is just information on their website.

There are also some really exciting innovations happening, that Attitude is Everything strives hard to be at the forefront of - whether they involve online ticketing, live captioning for Deaf fans, live streaming, or building our networks internationally. These are all compelling developments which could help further unlock the joy of live music to the estimated 11m disabled people in the UK.

Of course, these things don't happen by wishes alone, and in this regard Attitude is Everything has been fortunate to receive continued support from Arts Council England, as well as annual donations from companies like Festival Republic, Glastonbury and Ground Control who 'get' accessibility from the top down.

Going forward, I hope more can follow their example. To reach our ultimate goal of Music Without Barriers, then we will need every resource possible and even greater engagement and support from the commercial sector. But if convincing businesses to invest in us represents Attitude is Everything's next big challenge, then I'm convinced we can get there. And, once we do, I look forward to another 15 years, to another doubling of disabled audiences, and a retrospective look back around the year 2030 to cross-check all we've achieved.