Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)

Implications for making music members

The DDA gives disabled people rights in a number of areas, but the area of most relevance to Making Music societies is that of access to goods, facilities and services. The Act has been implemented in stages from 1996 and came into full force in October 2004.

The onus is on a ‘Service Provider’ not to discriminate against a disabled person by failing to provide a service which is made available to other members of the public, or by providing service of a lesser standard or by failing to make reasonable adjustments in order that a disabled person can avail themselves of a service. A ‘Service Provider’ is defined as anyone who provides a service to the public or a section of the public. Any group or society promoting a concert is providing a service; likewise, by opening its doors to members who wish to play or sing, a society is providing a service to its performers. Therefore the terms of the DDA apply equally as much to a society’s membership as to its audience.

The term “disability” covers any condition that is permanent and affects someone’s way of life, and it includes a wide range of impairments such as reduced mobility, sensory impairments, heart conditions, mental health, epilepsy and incontinence – so not simply wheelchair users. There are around 10 million disabled people in the UK. How does this affect societies?

Every society has a legal duty to anticipate that disabled people could want to use their services and to consider what reasonable steps can be taken to facilitate this. The message is “Don’t wait until you’re asked”. Things to think about are:

Venues (both for rehearsals and for concerts) – most societies do not own their own venue and therefore have little or no control over physical adjustments, but there is nothing to prevent them from carrying out their own access audit. This would involve checking the venue for such things as level access/ramps/lifts, disabled toilet facilities, doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, a telephone mounted low enough to be accessible to a wheelchair user, the height of the box office counter, the provision of a loop system for the hearing impaired etc. In case of emergency, there should also be adequate provision for disabled people to be safely evacuated. If there are disabled society members, access to the stage/platform and changing room facilities should also be examined. If the venue is found to be well short of the required standard, there can then be a discussion with the management as to their plans to make the building DDA compliant.

As well as internal features, look at disabled parking provision or, at the very least, the availability of setdown space close to the entrance. If a venue is totally unsuitable for disabled use, then by the terms of the Act a society should be considering seriously the possibility of seeking an alternative, although it is accepted that some may not have a choice. Some venues with fixed seating will have designated wheelchair spaces incorporated in the design. Where the seating arrangements are within the society’s control, wheelchairs should not be relegated to the back row or an odd corner “out of the way” and there should always be enough space allowed for them to manoeuvre.

Those who are deaf or hard-of hearing prefer an uninterrupted view of the performers.

If a disabled person requires a carer to be in attendance, the carer should be admitted free of charge.

Print and publicity – this area is within a society’s control and it is not difficult to ensure that publicity material is produced in print that is easily read. If activities are also publicised via a website, consider whether the site could be accessed via specialist software used by a disabled person and think about a text-only option for the visually impaired.

Whatever means are used for the sale and distribution of tickets for concerts, a disabled person should be able to acquire a ticket as easily as an able-bodied person. Advance publicity should also ideally include some form of words indicating that special requirements will be catered for to the best of a society’s ability. An example might be: [Name of Society] will make every attempt to accommodate everyone comfortably. Please let us know of any special requirements you may have by contacting (phone number/email address). The venue is suitable for the mobility impaired. All information relating to this event can be made available in large print on request..

For the actual concert, it is a relatively simple matter to organise a few enlarged photocopies of the printed programme and to publicise the fact that these are available if required. Alternatively offer the services of one of the front-of-house helpers to read the programme to a sight-impaired person. For society members, be prepared to accommodate those who might need music in larger print or even in Braille.

Of those 10 million disabled, many are potential concert-goers, if not society members. So many of the steps that can be taken are relatively simple, and a society which anticipates need and demonstrates a willingness to make provision to the best of its ability will attract not only the disabled, but also their family and friends as potential new audience.