You get to see less art and more arses when you're a disabled person trying to visit a gallery

I also ended up seeing a lot of them seated in the away end at Charlton Athletic a few years ago – meaning I missed one of Sheffield United’s precious few goals 

James Moore
Friday 25 November 2016 18:01
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The Royal Academy is touting tours of Jackson Pollock's work for those with mobility impairments
The Royal Academy is touting tours of Jackson Pollock's work for those with mobility impairments

I don’t know much about art but I know what I like, and I’ve liked the work of Jackson Pollock ever since I learned that he was the guy John Squire was knocking off to produce all those wonderful Stone Roses record covers in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

So the fact that the Royal Academy was touting tours for those with mobility (hello) and visual impairments around an exhibition featuring his work (and that of others), well, I thought, sign me up.

I confess I’ve not been to a gallery since acquiring my mobility impairment after an uncomfortable hour or so trapped under the wheels of a cement truck five years ago.

Part of the reason is that I’d imagine if you use a conveyance such as a wheelchair it’s not so much art you end up looking at as it is arse – by which I mean, other people’s arses, given the level at which you’d be viewing from and the crowds the more popular works can attract.

So a tour at a time set aside for that not to happen is a good idea. Trouble is there’s a catch. The tours start at 9am on a Monday morning. Which basically rules it out for me or anyone else who works. Take a day off, I hear you say! Well, firstly, why should I have to? Secondly, it’s not always practicable, even if I were minded to do so.

And finally, there’s another issue with that 9am time which emerged when I posed the issue to a visually impaired friend of mine, the writer Selina Mills. She pointed out that unless you happen to be a banker, or a hedge-fund manager, with enough money to be able to live somewhere near Piccadilly, you’re going to have to use public transport to get to the Royal Academy for 9am. Using public transport with a disability is challenging at the best of times (Transport for London sets a worse example than the Royal Academy). Rush hour on a Monday morning, when buses and tubes are jam-packed full of tired and grouchy people trying to get to work, is anything but the best of times.

I know, I know. You could at this point say that plenty of places don’t make any effort at all to accommodate people who are, ahem, differently abled. But is offering a tour at 9am on a Monday really making an effort, or does it amount to making a half-arsed attempt to tick an inclusivity box?

It might be mean to single out the Royal Academy, a spokesperson for which emailed me a long list of things they do to try and assist, because that sort of thing happens all the time.

I’ve spoken to people involved in disability sport who run into similar problems to the one I’ve just discussed. They struggle to find venues willing to offer them times when people are likely to want to play. It’s often first thing on a Sunday or something like 10pm on a Friday.

Talking of sport, and arses I’d rather not look at, I ended up seeing a lot of them seated in the away end at Charlton Athletic a few years ago. The disabled viewing section was halfway up the stand, and because football fans have a tendency to stand, and the stewards made only a half-arsed effort to make them sit down so we could see, it meant one of the goals was basically invisible. No cracks about that not being a problem given the limited chances of Sheffield United, which I was supporting, troubling it, please.

You do rather wonder if any of these organisations have ever heard the phrase “must try harder”. Because serving disabled patrons isn’t really that hard for organisations minded to actually make it happen. It can be done. One of positives to come from my accident is that I’ve seen an awful lot of live music since it happened. Most of the London venues we’ve been do make a good attempt to accommodate people.

Others should follow their example. People with disabilities should have the same rights to go to events as anyone else, whether cultural, or sporting, or whatever else tickles their fancy. If that means setting aside an hour or so at a sensible time of day, then that’s what needs to happen.

Sadly, I sometimes feel that to achieve meaningful change we might need to follow the example of Jackson, and of the Roses, and splatter paint over a few of the organisations that need to do more. In the name of art, you understand.

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