Disability Equality Ethos at ARC

ARC is committed to sharing the exciting, diverse, and intersectional work of disabled artists in our programme and ensuring that our activities are accessible to disabled participants and audiences. We recognise that historically disabled people have experienced barriers to full participation in the arts, and over the last ten years have worked in partnership with Little Cog – a disabled-led theatre company – and other disabled artists, to explore and examine how we as an organisation could bring about meaningful change. Our aim has been to increase and improve opportunities in the arts for disabled people in our communities and further afield, and to learn more about how to embed good disability equality practice into our work. One key programme of research, development and practice in this area was our Cultural Shift programme, held between 2015-2018, and the legacy of that work continues to inform our work.

What Do We Mean by the Term Disability?

Our learning about Disability Equality comes directly from disabled people and draws on important concepts developed by the Disabled Peoples’ Rights Movement. There are different ways that disability is viewed in modern society. We respect every individual’s choice about how to describe themselves and know that sometimes words perceived as ‘labels’ can be viewed as contentious. As part of a wider equality framework, it has been useful for us as an organisation to make decisions about practices and terminology. Disabled people make up 25% of the population in our area and under that umbrella term, people with a broad range of conditions are included: Deaf people, visually impaired people, learning disabled people, people with mobility conditions, people with mental health conditions, neurodivergent people, people with chronic conditions and many more. The shared and common experience of everyone under the disability umbrella is one of barriers and obstacles, including attitudinal barriers, in society which prevent full and equal involvement and opportunities. This is described as the Social Model of Disability. ARC has adopted the social model of disability as a model of equality. We feel that this is much better than the outdated, but sadly still dominant, Medical Model of disability which places emphasis on what individual people ‘can’t do’, and which informs negative tropes and narratives around disability. See below for some other useful definitions.

Our Commitment to Disability Equality

We are working to ensure our cultural landscape is vibrant and representative of the people living and working in our communities. Through our artistic policy, we are committed to supporting work which is contemporary in its approach and relevant to peoples’ lives today.

The aims of our disabled-led work policy are:

  • to challenge negative commonly held perceptions about disability and disabled people
  • to involve disabled people in the arts at every level
  • to ensure all of our opportunities are open to disabled artists, participants and audiences through accessible communications, processes and practices
  • to include disabled artists in our core programmes of support, development, and programming
  • to involve disabled people in conversations about equality
  • to provide disability equality training for our staff
  • to keep up to date with developments, practice and thinking in disability equality

Programming and Commissioning

Our artist development and artistic programmes include space and a platform for the voices of disabled artists and disabled-led companies. We support work which champions changing perceptions of disability and disabled people, and ensure the work we programme and commission does not perpetuate negative stereotypes and myths around disability and disabled people (read more about that here). We aim to increase our dialogue with companies and enhance partnerships.

If you are a disabled artist or are approaching us about work that considers please watch our short film for more information.

We are conscious of the ethics of who tells the stories of disabled people and expect that work with a disability focus is disabled-led and that artists creating work about disability are disabled people. We expect disabled people to fill the roles of disabled characters and we also to encourage artists and companies to cast disabled people in roles where disability is not necessarily a focus of the production.

The work of disabled artists and participants in our programme may or may not have a disability focus, although we are ensuring that the work is disabled-led.

Audiences and Participation

We aim to ensure that all events and activities for audiences and participants are accessible to disabled people, and we will promote this in our marketing and audience development work, and through the development of key partnerships.


Accessibility is included in our planning and in the processes through which people can connect with us. Accessibility includes time frames, communication, and transparency. Please let us know your communication requirements when you approach us. Access features we provide include captions, BSL, audio description and relaxed performances across our programmes of activities, online and live, and we advertise access through our website and marketing. We are always open to conversations about access so do get in touch if you’d like to know more.

We would encourage all disabled artists to consider developing an access statement or an access rider to share with partners and people you are working with. You can find out more here.

A Bigger Conversation

We have been embedding our learning and practice around disability equality into our work for ten years now. We don’t see it as an add-on, it’s an essential part of who we are as an organisation. We are committed to change and have a wide range of strategies and staff dedicated to this work, and we are keen to keep expanding the conversation and our practice.

Equally the work of ARC does not sit in isolation but is part of local, regional, and national arts landscape where we are proactive members and leaders of several professional networks with whom we share our work and our practice. We aim to bring influence and support to our partners and colleagues in these networks, and to introduce the work of disabled artists to them.

We are always keen to talk to disabled artists, disabled-led companies and organisations, participants, young people, staff, participants, and audiences about improving the many and varied opportunities created at ARC.

Future Planning

We are proud of our work on disability equality, our partnership with Little Cog and the legacy of Cultural Shift as it continues. ARC will strive to act as a beacon for best practice around disability, demonstrated by:

  • New work by disabled artists will continue to be programmed
  • Conversations will be held with disabled artists about how to create safe and accessible working practices in the time ahead
  • More disabled people will engage with ARC at every level
  • Full Circle will continue as an associate company at ARC
  • More disabled people attending ARC events as audience members and participants in creative activities
  • Greater visibility of the work of the venue in a disability context
  • Regularly review our policy and practice
  • Continuing to share our models of practice about disability equality and disabled-led practice across the region and beyond, seeking to influence practice in other venues and organisations


Some Useful Definitions

Disability: We are working to the Social Model of Disability which was developed by disabled people. The social model says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s condition or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. Such barriers include physical, sensory, information and attitudinal barriers and solutions include accessible buildings with level access and lifts, British Sign Language, and infra-red or induction loop hearing access, guide or assistance dog access, braille, large print and audio information, and a change in attitudes and practices by increasing understanding of disability and disability equality. We aim to work with disabled people of all ages and from across all communities.

The Medical Model of Disability is the dominant model used to describe disability in most of the world. It focusses on a person’s condition and the things they can’t do, viewing them as ‘less able’. As a result, disability is often then seen and presented as pitiful and tragic, and centred on the condition rather than the cultural, historical, social and political experiences of being excluded on the basis of having a condition. We aim to programme work which does not perpetuate this model of disability. This does not mean that we do not acknowledge the pain or challenges of individual conditions, and that people require medical support and services, but rather that they are not the identifying factors of a person. The systems and services we encounter, when poor and underfunded, can also be a disabling factor in disabled peoples’ lives.

Disabled-led: A programme or project which is informed, managed, and delivered by disabled people as the lead artists.

Self-definition: We also realise that many people with different conditions do not identify themselves as disabled people, for many reasons, but sometimes due to the negative stigma attached to ideas around ‘disability’ in society. Whilst we have made some decisions around language and practice to support our framework of disability equality, we respect and do not expect people to change, how they choose to define themselves.