Lottery cash gives the disabled a role in arts

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The Independent Online
The Arts Council has launched an apprenticeship scheme for disabled people who want to work in the arts, following the discovery that 0.02 per cent of the 500,000 people employed in the subsidised arts have a disability compared with 14.2 per cent in society generally.

The turnaround in thinking within arts organisations has been caused by the availability of National Lottery funding for capital projects and the strings which have been attached to it.

Pressure groups are hailing a new era which will at last recognise disability among both audiences and arts workers. They say the policy has gained more for disabled arts enthusiasts in 18 months than has been achieved over a decade of traditional lobbying and campaigning. Organisations applying for lottery money are simply being turned away unless they guarantee their new projects will be fully accessible to the disabled.

"These developments are completely transforming accessibility in the arts for disabled people," said Geoff Armstrong, director of the National Disability Arts Forum. "We have been fighting for this for 10 years and now the doors are starting to open. It is beginning to click that disabled people are potential audiences."

In return for lottery money, nearly 800 arts bodies have agreed to introduce facilities for the disabled, ranging from wheelchair lifts and ramps on new touring minibuses to big alterations to existing buildings.

When the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) has been refurbished with its recently approved pounds 22m grant, it will be the first major art school in the country with total accessibility.

The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester has been given pounds 84,000 to fund a study into how it can follow Rada's example, while pounds 64m will equip the Lowry Centre at Salford with a fully accessible theatre and art galleries. Other projects include the Harbour Lights Cinema in Southampton (pounds 374,000), Oxford Playhouse (pounds 2.5 m), the Grizedale Society Sculpture Park in Cumbria (pounds 391,000) and a library in Stockport (pounds 73,000).

"The progress we have made in a very short time has been amazing," said Patrick Masefield, the only disabled member of the council's National Lottery panel.

"We recognised that disabled people might want to work in the arts as a theatre director, a technician or a typist and that they should not be prevented from doing so."

Mr Masefield understands this concept: he was a theatre director, playwright and consultant for 21 years until he became a wheelchair user after getting myalgic encephalitis.