Pete Hunter, Apples and Snakes’ South East Producer, shares advice to help ensure your spoken word night is inclusive and accessible.
Spoken word is, or should be, for everyone. Whether an organiser or a performer, you have the responsibility of taking appropriate steps to make sure that the event is as accessible to as many people as possible.
As an organiser, when booking a poet, ask them if they have any specific accessibility needs.
If you are a poet with accessibility needs, inform the person who has booked you of your needs so that they are aware of the ways in which they can help make your performance run without a hitch.
Here’s a short list of what to look out for when either choosing a venue to host an event or if you have been booked to feature at an event.
Is the space physically accessible to all?
Steps and stairs can be a barrier to those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. All venues should have made reasonable efforts to accommodate those with mobility issues. For example, does the venue have ramps, stair lifts and/or a suitably sized lift for people to gain entry and to get to upper floors? Are the toilet facilities adapted to be used by people of all abilities?
Larger venues should have space for wheelchairs in their auditoria or performance areas, and many have staff in attendance who are trained to help if needed. Smaller venues should consider that chairs may have to be removed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Where do I begin?
I’m not in a prison most
People would associate
My wheelchair’s my incarcerated space
You just can’t go any place
I watch with envy as the able bodied pass me by
How free they are compared to me!’ I sigh
I have to cross roads where the curb drops
And don’t get me started on shops
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve wept and cried
As most are stepped and I can’t get to the merchandise inside!
It’s the same with pubs, cafes, theatres and clubs
Why should I be denied drink, fun, culture and grub?
I feel like a third class member of this so-called ‘inclusive society’
Which is tantamount to fascist hypocrisy.
– Olly Chester, disabled poet who uses Apples and Snakes
Is the event suitable for those with visual impairment?
Harsh lighting with sudden changes from light to dark can be disorienting to the visually impaired. Pathways should be clear and clearly marked (such as lighter strips delineating the edges of steps) as attendees may be liable to trip or hurt themselves on objects that they do not see. Larger venues should have staff in attendance who are trained to help if needed.
Is the event suitable for those with hearing impairment?
Ensure that performers and readers use the microphone provided to help those with partial hearing not struggle to understand what is being said. To accommodate those with more severe hearing issues, consider employing a BSL signer to convey the performers words. Larger theatres may be equipped with a hearing loop (an audio induction loop) for those with hearing aids. Perhaps consider a projection of the poem for audiences to read or, in some cases, performers themselves have included signing as part of their performance. For more information read this excellent blog on what you’re saying when you say ‘I don’t need a mic’.
By using a fully accessible building you are supporting and giving opportunity to artists and audiences who might otherwise not be able to experience spoken word.
Relaxed events are designed to be accessible to people who have sensory issues and find it difficult to filter out loud noises and sudden changes in lighting. Often warnings will be posted to alert attendees of theatrical effects such as strobe lighting, smoke or sudden bangs, but having a dedicated performance where the lighting and loud noises are toned down will mean people on the autistic spectrum may feel less stressed by your event. Relaxed events also allow for people to move around or leave if needs be and for the audience members to talk or make noise without affecting the performance. Some relaxed event venues even provide quiet spaces for people to relax in if they find the performance too stressful.
Spoken word is for everyone, so when taking part in, or organising a spoken word event, it is important to consider how everyone can enjoy it.
First published October 2018