Access and inclusion: Creating an accessible and inclusive group

Everyone who plays music and sings, or who is a regular concert attendee knows the value of these activities – for their happiness, health, social lives and the richness of the life of their community. But as people who organise music activities and events, how can we make these benefits accessible to everyone who would like to take part, and to make our group environments inclusive and diverse?

In the first part of our access and inclusion resources, we consider what this means and why this is important, the reasons people might be excluded from taking part and how to plan for change in your group.  

Quick links

  1. What is access and inclusion?
  2. Who is most likely to be excluded?
  3. What is a barrier?
  4. Common barriers in music groups
  5. Identifying specific barriers
  6. Making reasonable adjustments
  7. Resources for adjustments
  8. Planning for change at committee level
  9. Getting everyone involved
  10. Making a case for change

1. What is access and inclusion? 

There are a variety of words and phrases in current use to identify this area of work, so let’s look at the definition of some of these and why they are useful.  

Access – Providing access means taking action to identify and remove barriers to participation in the activities that you organise. Access usually refers to providing physical access for people with disabilities but it can also mean removing other access barriers e.g. unaffordable membership fees. 

Inclusion – Being inclusive means taking action to ensure all people are included equally in the activity you organise. As well as removing access barriers, action should be taken to welcome and value everyone’s contribution. It refers to the inclusion of anyone who may currently be, or feel, excluded from your group or activity, but should focus on taking actions to include those people who are experiencing more or greater barriers.  

Equality (or equity), diversity and inclusion or EDI – This phrase is often used in workplaces and describes the environment organisations are working to create. An equitable environment is one where everyone has equal access to opportunities, which may mean removing more barriers for some people than for others. A diverse environment welcomes the widest range of people from your community and recognises, respects and celebrates each other's differences.  

2. Who is most likely to be excluded? 

We know from research that there are groups of people who are less likely to take part in arts activity, including music making and concert attendance. These are: 

People with a physical or mental health condition - Research by Dr Daisy Fancourt has shown that poor mental and/or physical health is a clear source of barriers to engaging in the arts. People with health conditions that have a substantial and long-term (12 months+) negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities are considered disabled under the Equalities Act. 

People with a disability – 21% of people report a health problem or disability as a barrier to arts participation. As well as people with long-term health conditions and with physical impairments (e.g. vision/hearing loss, mobility impairment, acquired brain injury), people with neurodiverse conditions such as Autism fall under the legal definition of disability. 

People from ethnic minority groups - People of White or Mixed ethnicity are more likely to engage with the arts (78-81%) than those of Black or Asian ethnicity (61-63%). The term ‘ethnicity’ is now more commonly used than race to define this protected characteristic. In the government’s guidance 'Writing about ethnicity,' they use the term ethnicity rather than race and ethnic minority rather than BAME/BME (Black and Minority Ethnic). 

People of lower socio-economic status - 59% of those living in the most deprived geographic areas reported taking part in arts activities compared to 83% of those living in the least deprived. Research also shows that people of lower SES reported more barriers in terms of opportunities to engage with arts activities. People of lower SES have lower incomes and less stable employment. 

People over 75 - Those aged 75 years or older are the least likely to engage with the arts compared to all other age groups. 

Research references for this section: 

3. What is a barrier? 

Although we know the characteristics of people most likely to be excluded, there are many reasons why someone might find it difficult or impossible to take part in the activity you organise. It is useful to think of this experience as a barrier; that something in particular has stopped them from accessing and being included in rehearsals, workshop, attending a performance or enjoying a social activity.  

A barrier could be something: 

Physical – Something that stops someone from physically taking part in an activity; transport issues, lack of disabled access, venue/room layout, type of equipment
Practical – A practical arrangement that is not suitable; cost, timings, communication, food 
Cultural – The often unnoticed character of your group that might exclude a new person or someone from a different cultural background; specialist language, knowledge, behaviours

This approach of considering barriers rather than people’s characteristics takes its lead from the SCOPE charity's Social Model of Disability and can equally apply to people with other characteristics.

"The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people's attitudes to difference... The social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control." – SCOPE - disability equality charity

Identifying and removing barriers is a a practical way for organisers to address the issues. In a similar way to a standard risk assessment, you can carry out an access and inclusion assessment of an activity that identifies and then seeks to remove access barriers. You can work with the people who come or would like to come to your activity to identify the barriers specific to them, focusing your efforts and giving them some control over the environment you are designing.  

4. Common barriers in music groups

From research, we know that there are some barriers to arts participation that are more common. You can start by considering these barriers identified in the government report Arts - Taking Part Survey 2019/20 at GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Time – ‘I don’t have time’ is the most common reported practical barrier (apart from disinterest). Here’s an example of how one group has addressed this:

“I’m a shift worker and I don’t have much free time each week. I can get to maybe 2 out of 3 weekly choir rehearsals so I didn’t think I’d be allowed to take part in the end of term concert. But our MD has been posting videos online so I can rehearse at home when I have time. One of the other sopranos has offered to be my buddy and calls me every week to give me notes. She’s coming round on Sunday so we can have a practice before the next rehearsal.” 

Health problem or disability – The physical and practical barriers faced by people with physical and mental health conditions and disabilities are many and varied.

Cost - ‘Attending is too expensive’ is one of the top five barriers reported, but one that leisure-time music groups are less likely to be charged with creating. The membership fees and ticket prices you set are usually considerably lower than comparable activity in the professional and commercial arts sector. However, it’s still worth considering how to make sure that anyone who may struggle to make a payment might still be included, including staggered payments and ‘pay what you can’ systems.

Access to venues - ‘It’s difficult to get to’ is one of the other top five barriers that leisure time-music groups are well placed to challenge, rooted as you often are in the heart of your communities. Do consider what else you can do – from moving rehearsal times in line with public transport, to organising car pools, to raising funds so you can use a more expensive but more central venue. 

5. Identifying specific barriers 

Although organisers can assess an activity and try to remove common barriers, there will be barriers that are specific to individuals that you will not spot. Increasing your knowledge will help, and the best person to tell you about barriers to participation is a person with the lived experience of that barrier. This could be a current group member or someone who already attends your events, so invite people to advise you as a member of an access and inclusion sub-group.  

There are also lots of organisations who support and represent people who experience barriers who can provide guidance e.g. Euan’s Guide is a disabled access review site founded by powerchair user Euan MacDonald. We’ve provided another resource with links to specialist resources about access and inclusion including: Attitude is Everything (examples of disability, race, deprivation).

It will also be the case that an activity will involve barriers for some people but you don’t know whether a person who will experience this barrier will attend. For example:

“I know that not everyone will be able to read this lyric sheet but do I need to find an alternative to written lyrics if I don’t know if anyone will need it? And what alternative should I provide?” 

When you are designing, planning or reviewing any activity, you should build it in ways for the people who would like to take part to tell you about the specific barriers they will face and suggest ways of addressing and removing these. Rather than writing a survey or series of questions that attempts to identify the most common barriers, you can keep the question open: 

We are committed to making sure everyone can access our events and feels included.

Are there any barriers to you taking part fully in this activity? 

What adjustments could we make to enable you to take part fully?  

You could include this as: 

  • A question on an application form 
  • A box to complete on your online ticketing system 
  • A question in an annual survey of members 
  • In a welcome email for new members along with the contact details of your access and inclusion lead 

If you spot that there is a very common barrier to your activity, you may want to ask more focused questions to help you take action, for example:

Asking people in plenty of time before they take part will help you to plan for adjustments, but you can make adjustments for someone already attending. Keep asking your current members too as their circumstances may change and may need a new adjustment.  

Remember to keep the information that people share with you securely and deal with it responsibly. The people who have to take action and make adjustments need to know this information, but it should not be widely shared or stored somewhere that more than the key people have access to.  

6. Making reasonable adjustments 

The Equalities Act 2010 requires clubs and associations to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to become members and for them and any disabled guests to participate in their activities. To be generally inclusive, you can broaden the principle of reasonable adjustment to include anyone who would benefit from an adjustment. An adjustment could be providing information in different formats or making physical adjustments such as adding a ramp to a riser.

You are only required to make adjustments that are reasonable, which will depend on factors such as the practicality and cost of making the adjustment. So when considering how to remove a barrier, consider if an adjustment:  

  • will remove or reduce the disadvantage  
  • is practical to make  
  • is affordable   
  • could create a barrier for someone else

The law does not require you to do anything that will alter the fundamental nature of your group, so it is not considered discriminatory to, for example, audition people and select according to their level of skill. You are also allowed to restrict membership to people with a particular protected characteristic – for example to have a gay men's chorus - but you can’t exclude people who have a protected characteristic that does not define your group. Here's an example from the Government Equalities Office document Equality Act 2010 What do I need to know? (publishing.service.gov.uk) 

“Ahmed is a Muslim gay man and would like to join a city choir specifically for gay men. The choir can restrict its membership based on the protected characteristics of sex and sexual orientation, but cannot discriminate against Ahmed because of his religion. Therefore the choir cannot refuse membership to Ahmed, or treat him less favourably, because he is a Muslim.” 

If you want to be more inclusive, you will need to consider whether some of your more ingrained practices could tolerate an adjustment. Do your members really have to purchase expensive concert dress or could you simply keep to a colour dress code? Does everyone have to audition in person or could you accept audition videos? Consider which of your red lines could be made pink.  

Do your members really have to purchase expensive concert dress or could you simply keep to a colour dress code? Does everyone have to audition in person or could you accept audition videos?

7. Resources for adjustments 

To make the adjustments needed to remove a barrier you will need resources, but these might not be cash resources.  

Knowledge - The person to tell you what adjustment will be most suitable is the person experiencing the barrier, so respect their knowledge and include them in choosing what adjustments to make.  

“Large print versions of our song sheets are produced each term. But when Jean joined the group, she asked on her sign-up form if she could have the lyrics emailed as a Word file. She uses a screen reader and can also enlarge the font on her own tablet. It has saved us producing the large print versions that aren’t getting used.” 

Representative organisations produce a lot of information and guides about suitable adjustments. Our resource on representative organisations can link you to many of these, such as The OHMI Trust who provide a wealth of information on adapted instruments for people with hand, arm and other physical impairments and (non disability resource) 

Creativity and flexibility - Sometimes solutions can be found by exploring possibilities, as a sub group or whole group that includes the person experiencing the barrier. A desire to be genuinely inclusive and an openness to change is a great start to discussion about alternative ways of doing things. 

“We’ve always had an end of term concert in December, a Christmas concert. As our band has become more multicultural though, we’ve noticed that there are more members who don’t celebrate Christmas. Our Access and Inclusion sub-group suggested that we change the concert to be a winter celebration and asked the whole group to suggest music from around the world that celebrates winter and any festivals that take place in December. Our programme was so varied this year and our audience was bigger than ever.” 

Funds – There's no getting around it, some solutions will involve a cost; buying or hiring equipment, building a new website, reducing fees. It may be the case that your own reserves can cover costs, or that you can budget to include an amount of your cash income each year to be kept aside to cover annual inclusion adjustments as they arise. It’s possible that the person may choose to use their own resources or have access to grants to purchase equipment. If the building you are using needs an adjustment that would benefit all users, you could speak to those who run it about how to request this or how you could come together with all user groups to raise funds. You could also apply to local community grants or run fundraising events if there’s a one-off purchase you want to make. Appeal to your community for help and remember: dealing with an inclusion barrier for one person can remove that barrier for many others.

Appeal to your community for help and remember: dealing with an inclusion barrier for one person can remove that barrier for many others.

8. Planning for change at committee level 

To become a more inclusive group, the actions you will take should be discussed at every stage of planning and review of all of your activity. 

If you haven’t already, have a discussion about access and inclusion at a committee meeting or general meeting. Discuss why it should be a priority and what your vision of inclusion is.

Give someone, or a group of people, the role of leading on improving access and inclusion. It could become part of the role of an existing committee member or might need a new committee member or sub-group. It can be useful if this is a person with lived experience of barriers, or someone with a close relationship to a person with lived experience, but not always necessary. Always ask for a volunteer rather than assigning a role. 

Make sure everyone in your group knows who to approach with access and inclusion challenges or ideas for improvement. Publish a generic email address to contact, introduce them at rehearsals and meetings and make opportunities for them to address the group to ask people to take action or give information. 

If you don’t have one, write an access and inclusion or equality, diversity and inclusion policy, strategy or plan. This is required by some funders. It could be very detailed, or a simple vision statement with some starting action points. 

Have access and inclusion as a standing agenda item at committee meetings and general meetings. Reports on progress can even be short, but including it as a permanent issue to address is important. 

Introduce an access and inclusion assessment of activity as you plan. Complete as and when you would use a risk assessment, when you are planning a concert, tour or social event. You can also assess your regular activity (or rehearsals) and review annually. This process could be very detailed, but even a short amount of time spent thinking about any activity with this perspective will help to spot obvious barriers.

For really significant change, adopt a person-centred approach to planning and designing activity. Engage your group in planning through formal or informal discussion, surveys and consultation events. You could reach out to other local groups with members who you could ask about what actions you could take to include them. 

Respond to any and all requests for adjustments. It may be that you cannot make the adjustment easily, but this should be discussed with the person requesting it. Even if you can’t find a solution together, pushing requests aside will lead to exclusion and discrimination. 

Involve the musical leader of your group - they are absolutely crucial to the creation of an inclusive environment. If they are not included in access and inclusion conversations at committee level, make another time to meet with them to discuss your approach and what actions they can take. 

Change making takes time and can be overwhelming, so remember to review and celebrate your successes. It might be helpful to separate actions you want to take into little steps and big steps, things you can do immediately and things that will take more time to achieve. Focus on making small changes if your group needs time to adjust. 

9. Getting everyone involved 

Change involves everyone. Even if you do appoint a lead or a sub-group, the adjustments you will need to make are likely to need other members of the group to do something new or different. People and groups can be resistant to change, or simply have so many other tasks to do that they may feel overloaded. To ease this issue you can:

  • talk to your whole group about access and inclusion regularly, for a short amount of time at meetings, on your website, in newsletters. Make sure people hear about the vision of being a wholly inclusive group and that you need everyone to help. 
  • assign a point of contact so anyone can pass on their own ideas on how to be more inclusive. Each person will have a unique perspective that is very useful. 
  • ask people to do small tasks in their own area of influence. A section leader can be responsible for welcoming a new member and introducing them by name to each member of the section. People at front of house at a concert can wear name badges. The choir leader could ask anyone speaking to the group to face the group from the front, so everyone can see their face. 

To change a group’s behaviour, it can help to have the person who would benefit from an adjustment explain what it is and why e.g. a person with a hearing impairment may choose to speak to the group about how to clearly communicate with them. For some people that is too exposing, but others may welcome the control this gives them. Don’t make this decision for someone without asking sensitively. Remember that sub-conscious behaviours are hard to shift. Asking people to do small practical tasks is simpler than expecting generally more inclusive behaviour and although change may be slow, it will come. 

10. Making a case for change 

Even if members of your group are generally on board with the vision of becoming more inclusive, some people will be resistant to change. It helps to encourage everyone to focus on the reasons for working on access and inclusion and the benefits that it will bring.

Responsibility - As a constituted organisation, you have a legal requirement to provide a service without discrimination. Spending time considering access and inclusion can be a good way to check that you are not discriminating against people with protected characteristics. 

Increasing membership – Groups with dwindling membership will find inclusion work can make real difference to attracting new people.

Finding new talent – Closing down access to your group means you may be turning away people with talent who are experiencing another barrier to taking part.

Removing barriers for everyone – By removing a barrier for one person you will undoubtedly benefit another, perhaps someone already in your group, or one of their friends or family. 

“Our MD changed our break time and has been careful about sticking to it, as she noticed that a couple of people weren’t able to use the toilet in the shorter time. I’ve noticed that when we start rehearsing again, I’m able to concentrate better after a longer break. Plus I get time to sell a few more raffle tickets!”

Addressing issues important to your members – There is a general climate of change in society at the moment that some of your members will want to be in step with.

Taking action to create the changes they would like to see in their wider community in your group environment will be of great value to them. 

Creating a diverse experience – A diversity of membership means a rich, creative environment for everyone. You may find new repertoire or introduce new social experiences that will bring colour and enjoyment for all.

 

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