Hints & tips for artists & venues working with learning disabled people, October 2012

ARTS CHOICE was a pilot project in Newcastle from September 2010 to May 2011 that worked with families and carers, artists and venues and Newcastle City Council to explore models to overcome this risk; with the aim of making arts activities across the city available to all young people in the short to medium term and to help with understanding of the barriers.

See the article (right or below depending on your screen) entitled “Theatre ejects autistic boy, 12, for laughing”

This type of incident happens all too often and generally goes unheard, the fact that it now provokes report is a step in the right direction.  It takes a brave family to continually face this risk, but it’s the reality of being the family of a person with learning disabilities.

Through effective communication and experience, we gain understanding.  Through understanding we gain the ability to communicate more effectively and ultimately strike an appropriate balance to ensure that everyone is prepared, that there is a mixture of inclusive and specialist activity, that all young people can do arts and see shows that interest them; experiences which will open up their social circles, their understanding of the world and teach them skills that can entertain and engage them as well as being transferrable to help them become more able, independent and fulfilled people.

It is generally recognised that this is a right that should be open to all young people.

To make this all possible requires a small but concerted effort.  There are some important steps and everyone involved needs to understand that a positive attitude and empathetic understanding make it easy and effective.

The Arts Choice project encountered all sorts of barriers and challenges and managed to find some ways to overcome them, which this report will share.  There are many varying opinions within the worlds of arts and disabilities and this guidance can be developed, refined and improved with your input and responses.

Please send comments to [email protected]




  • People are all individuals
  • Experience is the best teacher in this situation
  • Prepare for the unexpected and it is less likely to happen


Advice for Artistic Directors or Chief Executives

  • Staff at all levels of seniority should be engaged in the process.
  • It should be OK to bend venue policies as people with learning disabilities need to be reached out to in a proactive way.
  • People with learning disabilities and their families and friends can be loyal customers, they may well have government income, they can be extremely friendly and their presence in your building can bring a friendly and more considerate atmosphere to your building.
  • Take care to prepare staff to carefully manage the behaviour of other members of the public; model welcoming and understanding behaviours to instill confidence.
  • Remove fear.

One member of staff in a venue can be enough to create a welcome, but we should expect more; consistency of welcome can be about allowing staff to add personal touches, which are really important to people with learning disabilities.


Advice for Marketing and Press departments

  • Ensure that some publicity expresses a welcome and explains how to find out more for people who have special access questions – ideally this should be a specific person to phone or email.  It is better to offer a single point of contact and the customer waits until that member of staff is on duty for call backs, is better in this situation.
  • The phrase ‘particularly welcoming’ when applied to one event does not imply that others are not welcoming.  People with learning disabilities and their families tend to look out for ‘disabled’ terminology.  If they don’t see it, they’re unlikely to even call.
  • Make available in all formats, web, print etc., details of all areas of access, including access and incluson policies, as a good marketing initiative in itself.  Submit this information with disability publications; invite social workers to the venue as advocates as this is a world in which word of mouth recommendations are especially crucial.
  • In Newcastle contact Newcastle City Council Arts Development and they will put you in touch with the relevant social work and disability professionals.

                 ** Some examples of good practice, include:        
                    (correct at date of first publication – August 2011)

  1. www.bagbooks.org
  2. www.unicorntheatre.com/booking/access_access_performances
  3. The Broadway Theatre Complex, Essex
  4. Glasgow Film Theatre
  5. Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
  6. Odeon cinemas, eg.    http://www.odeon.co.uk/fanatic/film_info/m100279/Autism_Friendly_Screening_Mr_Popper_s_Penguins/
  7. www.dimensions-uk.org/autismfilms/


Advice for Box Office and sales staff

  • If you’re asked about the suitability of a venue, show or event – don’t panic,
    • Ask the caller if they have any specific concerns or considerations
    • Don’t be tempted to answer without knowing exactly – the right answer later is better than the wrong answer there and then
    • If the enquiry is about a participation project, where possible ask the delivery artist to respond to the enquiry.  If not possible, make every effort that the person answering the question will be in the building or the room during the project
    • Ask the booker about what general conditions they consider important, not for a list of their challenges or medical details
  • You could ask if any of the following are particular behavioural triggers:
    • Loud or quiet environments
    • Bangs or flashes
    • Dark or light
  • You could also ask:Be aware that some people will want to tell you a lot, some people a little.  Be confident and clear about what answers you need to collect and about what questions you need to find out for the customer
    • Are there any behavioural triggers we should be aware of?
    • Are there situations that have worked well or caused concern in the past?
    • Is there anything about this young person that would be useful for the artist or support staff in preparing for the session
  • Prepare and ask a combination of open and closed questions to ensure that you are presenting the opportunity for all concerns to be aired.


Advice for Front of House and reception staff

  • Be welcoming.
  • Respect all people, both the disabled person and the carers are important.
  • Carers can be the decision makers about whether a person with disabilities stays and then comes back, don’t under estimate their influence.
  • Managing the expectations of other members of the public can be one of the most important things to remember.
  • Model calm, understanding and confident behaviour in order to reassure other customers and members of the public.


Advice for Learning and Participation department

  • See all other advice.
  • Where possible, collect information from participants in enough time for the artists to prepare and ask questions beforehand; this is useful for all participants.
  • On sign up sheets for participation, add questions around:
    • Behavioural triggers
    • Behavioural issues
    • Who will drop off
    • Who will collect
    • Contact details for that person
    • Are there any situations in which you want to be called?


Advice for Artists

  • See all other advice.
  • Consider before planning whether your session should be integrated (for anyone who wants to attend) or specialist / exclusive (only for people with disabilities).  Integrated sessions can be brilliant, but think about whether the workshop would be good for all age groups and consider ability levels.
  • Decide on what information you would like or need to know before the session and communicate with parents, carers and venues, as appropriate, to ensure that you remain able to deliver a high quality workshop
  • Consider the extra support you need in the session and make sure it is provided – either by you, the venue or the participants carers
  • Consider if you would like to engage carers in the session – many will be reluctant but it can prove beneficial and enjoyable for you, the disabled person and the carer themselves
  • Remember, sessions and performances for people with learning disabilities require more planning, more pre-session communication and more thought about timing, follow up and content.


Prepared by Caroline Pearce, in consultation with Liberdade CIC, Aug 2011, as part of the Arts Choice project for Newcastle City Council


The original format report is attached here  OUTCOMES FROM ARTS CHOICE PROJECT_aug 2011 rev oct13 for web

From The Evening Standard “Theatre ejects autistic boy, 12, for laughing by Tom Harper 2 Aug 2011 A West End theatre has been accused of “outrageous discrimination” after its staff ejected an autistic boy for making too much noise. Gregor Morris, 12, was thrown out of a performance of hit musical Wicked following a complaint from a “precious sound engineer”. A manager at the Apollo Victoria theatre initially asked Gregor’s father to move his family behind a glass screen at the back of the stalls.  The manager then told the Morrises to sit on some steps away from other people before finally ordering Glyn, 41, to remove his son from the theatre. Mr Morris told the Standard: “Gregor was not flapping or shouting. All I can think of is that he laughed too loudly but it was never at inappropriate moments. I asked to see the manager, queried the complaint and was told ‘it was our precious sound engineer’. I asked if any of the audience had complained and was told, ‘No’. One member of the audience even stood up to fight our corner. “I will never forget the look of shock in the faces of people nearby as we were asked to leave, and for the humiliation caused to Gregor.” Gregor, who lives near Inverness, suffers from neuronal migration disorder and epilepsy. It was his first visit to London since he was a baby. The family visited Hyde Park, the Eye, Legoland and Buckingham Palace during a three-day break before spending £270 to see Wicked, the story of a witch called Elphaba who struggles to overcome victimisation. Mr Morris, who owns a piano sales and hire company, has now created a Facebook group called “Wicked Discrimination” which has attracted 4,000 supporters, many of whom are parents of disabled children. One member, drama student Yasmin Harley, wrote: “It’s outrageous… I have always loved the theatre for accepting anyone and bringing anyone and everyone together.” A spokesman for the Ambassador Theatre Group said: “We deeply regret any upset caused to the Morris family and would like to apologise for their bad experience last week at the Apollo Victoria in London. “We are grateful to them for highlighting an issue as we firmly believe that everyone has the right to access live theatre and we especially welcome children and young people.” www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23974878-theatre-ejects-autistic-boy-12-for-laughing.do