Meet Kerami Roberts, Access Consultant, Sept 2018

Hello! I’m Kerami and I have just joined the Luxi team to help create better information about access for our venues.

I am passionate that information is key to audience members when planning their visit, especially to those who consider themselves to have a disability or long-term condition that sometimes makes getting out and about more difficult. Luxi is about creating world-class theatre and ensuring that everyone can feel able to be part of it. Choosing more accessible venues, having access strategies and audience experience at the heart of the creative process is important and so is giving an honest account of exactly what the audience and performers can expect. I have met with venue staff, visiting the very places where performances will be held and even tested out ramps and surfaces as a wheelchair user. I have taken part in training with Jess Thom and used my recent experiences as volunteer ‘Community champion’ and speaker for Scope.

More importantly I have felt what it is like to be given no or wrong information and be left out and disappointed. I have seen my family left out only because I am disabled by a society that caters for ‘the norm’. When I first came into contact with Jabberwocky Market events I was excited that I could finally access EVERYTHING on that programme and that I could take part in events as I did previous to becoming a wheelchair user. All I needed was the information and confidence to go for it… And that’s what I, with Luxi, am hoping to achieve as Access Consultant.

How I got here

I am currently rebuilding my life after coming to terms with the unplanned changes that came with becoming disabled 5 years ago. After spending all my school life wanting to become a music teacher I gained my Honours Degree in Music in 2004 from the University of Edinburgh. I loved my student years learning and studying in the ‘Festival City’ and enjoyed all the opportunities that came along. As a student I led music workshops and community projects with groups including ‘Headway’ for those with head injuries, local schools and the Children’s Secure Unit. I performed on piano, clarinet, percussion and voice with various groups, studied history and composition hoping to pass on these skills to others passionate about music. I also found roles as Secretary of the Edinburgh University Music Society and as Orchestral Manager for diverse ensembles gave me an understanding of the nuts and bolts of putting on a show and giving the audience a great experience. During summer vacation (in between earning rent) I was part of several teams who brought quality student opera shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.

In 2005, after completing teacher training at University of Durham, I married and settled down in Darlington near to where I then started my dream job, teaching music to pupils age 11 to 18 in comprehensive schools and sixth forms. Every day was exciting, challenging and inspiring. My students were talented but lacked opportunities and my job was to give them the skills they needed to build their craft. I was also charged with building up my school’s music department, creating a program of weekly mini concerts, termly shows and charity events supporting students in which ever instruments and musical styles were possible. Music is about relationships and creating a culture for staff, students and the school’s local community.

I was made redundant after government cuts in 2013 then shortly afterwards I became unable to work due to decreased mobility and chronic pain. I have to say that as it is true and such a big part of this role with Luxi, but it is hard to talk about because it’s painful and does not fit with my very positive outlook on life!

5 years later I have found the gap left by this loss is being filled! I started volunteering on a flexible term with Scope, the UK’s charity for disability. I started as someone who chatted with other disabled people online, sign-posting them to help and being a friendly face. Often this is on rest days or even during boring time spent waiting somewhere in my wheelchair. This presented opportunities to speak at an event in London to Scope managers and then as a guest speaker for the Helplines Partnership’s National Conference. The scariest stuff is no longer about public speaking or content… but around ‘Will I be able to get on the train in my wheelchair?’ and ‘Will there be a toilet?’… Gosh yes… I feel I’m constantly on the phone asking strangers about parking, the width of doors and toilets!

And now

2 years ago I became entitled to an electric power chair and this changed my life. I became much more independent on ‘getting out’ days and less exhausted on ‘rest’ days. It was during a trip out to a craft event in Darlington that I was introduced to Caroline, to Luxi and began to realise that perhaps my perspective as a musician, orchestral manager and teacher could be filtered through my newer experiences as a wheelchair user and create the Access Guides that I wish existed for everywhere I go.

Obviously, my perspective as a disabled person is as unique as every other unique person so I have spent time and energy in attempting to gather the questions that other people ask as they research venues and events to their own specific requirements. I have had advice from the RNID, from the deaf club where I used to learn BSL (I am very rusty now) from friends, parents, local venues and Scope colleagues that experience different conditions. I also volunteered as a teaching assistant for North East Autism Society to gain experiences away from mainstream education.

However! I am profoundly aware of my limitations and aware that no venue or event could provide everything that every person could need. Information is the key. Accurate, clear and honest information means that people can make their own mind up if and how they attend these performances. When I get good information, it means instead of being anxious and concerned about an event I can look forward to it, confident that I won’t feel disabled but just an average audience member.

I hope you find our Access Guides useful and please do send us comments and feedback as they’re new and we want to make them as useful as we can – I am certainly enjoying making them.