Learning Disabled People Returning to Arts and Culture

Sarah Watson
Chair of Carousel
9th September 2021

At Carousel we have worked hard for many years to make sure that learning disabled people are fully included in the arts, both as artists and audiences. We want to make sure that we don’t miss out as things start to open up after the pandemic.
Many learning disabled people have been more affected by the pandemic and the lockdowns as they might have other health conditions, have had their services cut, or have found the information difficult to understand. Lots of people have found the isolation very hard.
Everybody with a learning disability is different. They live in different sorts of homes and have different levels of support. Some are more afraid of the Covid virus than others. These are my thoughts and ideas

I feel anxious when places are busy and everyone is up close.
I did go to the Bowie exhibition last year at Brighton Museum but I went when it was quiet. I felt OK.
I would be nervous about going to the theatre or the cinema at the moment as everyone would be sitting close together. I would find it uncomfortable to wear a mask indoors for a long time.
I sometimes have to wear ear defenders and if I had these on as well as a mask I would worry that people would stare at me.
I do have an ‘anxiety card’ that I can use if I can’t wear a mask but I wouldn’t always feel safe if I don’t wear a mask
I am worried about having to show a vaccine passport on my phone. I would feel happier to have a paper copy if I have to show it.

There are some other problems with learning disabled people going out to see the arts.
The internet
Not everyone has a computer or the internet, and not everyone knows how to use it. How will people find out what is going on and what they would like to see? Most places now want people to book tickets online – which might not be accessible.
Are venues going to start sending out paper flyers and brochures again?
How do we get back in touch with people after the lockdowns?
People might need to phone up to book a ticket. Will book offices reopen?
Not all learning disabled people have a debit card or can do a contactless payment.
Many people still use cash. This has been difficult in the lockdown as lots of places stopped taking cash.
Will venues still have a box office or the opportunity to buy a ticket with cash
Because of the pandemic many people have had cuts in their care support. This can make it difficult for some people to attend events or get the support they need to find out about what’s on or book a ticket.
Another problem can be finding someone to go to events with. Even if you feel safe enough to go you might find it difficult to find a friend to go with if they don’t feel safe.
Transport can be difficult if people don’t feel safe on busy buses or if they don’t have the support they usually have to get to venues. This is also important when people need to get home after the event if it is late.
Following the rules
Some people live in residential homes and they have been more strict about what people are allowed to do. They have rules or do risk assessments that people have to follow and that can mean that people can’t go to places that are busy.
There has been a bigger problem with the guidance from the government. Sometimes it has been very confusing and learning disabled people can find it difficult to understand.
Some venues might ask that people do a Lateral Flow Test before coming to an event. This can be very difficult for some people to do and they might not be clear about the results. Again not everyone will have the support they need to do this.
I hope that venues and arts organisations will make sure they think about learning disabled people when they are planning to open up. I hope that we can find simple solutions that will help learning disabled people feel confident to come back to the arts.