ConfiCo Riders; Introducing Access
An insight into our Case Study for Mind the Gap Theatre's 'Staging Change and Engage' project.
Since receiving funding to develop ConfiCo, our first professional training company, and the unprecedented amount of performances and events they undertook in their first year of training, we inadvertently found ourselves very quickly embedded in the disability arts sector. ConfiCo were engaging with lots of companies and involved in conversations about the challenges and victories within the sector, through our work with Mind the Gap Theatre, on their project Staging Change and Engage. We realised it had become a priority to talk with our artists directly about access and the importance of understanding one's own requirements and expectations in professional settings.
Confidance spoke at length to the MTG Team about this, and the staff working on Staging Change shared processes they had been developing with MTG artists, sharing practice and resources. Paul Wilshaw spoke to us about writing an Access Rider, something he’d found really beneficial professionally, and something he was trialling at Leeds Playhouse (who he was supporting) with the creation of an Access Rider being a task for the entire organisation to do, rather than those with the more overt access needs. This felt like exactly what we needed to complement our company ethos and ensure our artists were fully included in the whole process.
If you haven't come across them before, an Access Rider is a document made by an artist to describe what a venue or organisation might need to support them with, or what environment they might need, in order to have equal access to job opportunities.
“access documents are used by rock stars and divas all the time—they’re simply called riders and no one bats an eye. this is because they are helpful for everyone involved: the person can say what they need in order to do their thing, and the venue/institution knows exactly how to provide support for them to do their thing.”
— Johanna Hedva
We found out loads of brilliant information and resources (such as the quote above) from Access Docs For Artists.
How we approached our Access Rider project:
6 weeks of Artist Development sessions with ConfiCo, with the concrete end-point of developing their own Access Rider’s.
The Access Rider was to be used as an ongoing document, which could be adapted throughout the artists’ journey with ConfiCo (and beyond), to respond to new roles and responsibilities within the company, as well as any changes to access requirements.
Started by unpicking what “Access” means, what different forms it takes and how to best reflect upon and communicate our own access needs.
Categorized our Access Needs into Physical, Sensory, Learning, Medical Needs, and then explored ideas around preferred communication methods.
Worked initially with templates, which we then developed with each artist to best reflect themselves and their understanding of Access.
A snapshot of Confidance's presentation at MTG's "Changing the Scene" event.
Discoveries and Learning:
The Access Rider project has been empowering for our dancers and a great point of reflection for the wider Confidance team. From our first session with ConfiCo, we realised how much understanding around Access we had taken for granted, or expected from our dancers and those who support them. It came as a surprise to us, that actually even in very progressive SEND education, students are not always included in conversations about their access requirements. It seemed that, whilst students were always given choice about what they wished to engage with, their access requirements were often worked out for them, perhaps excluding them from participating independently.
Due to Confidance’s origin, coming from Jo’s sibling perspective and not from lived experience of learning disability, the focus was always about meeting people where they were at, and creating an environment and a practice which didn’t involve people’s labels. However, much like the earlier example of the school setting, when working with ConfiCo in professional settings (such as working in venues and at events), we found ourselves managing their access requirements for them, without including them in that conversation. This was of course allowing our artists to be included in such events, but not equipping them to have agency or understanding around their own experience and involvement.
As well as kick-starting reflections on how we as an organisation could start to address disability more explicitly with our artists at ConfiCo and more broadly our participants, this project also provided us with some more immediate changes.
The key takeaways that we have implemented since the project include
Sharing a daily schedule at the start of the day.
Sharing information and plans with as much advance notice as possible.
Ownership; Artists’ openly articulating their needs throughout a project, feeling safe to do so in an inclusive environment.
Being inclusive towards others; exploring the use of language and making time for conversations on how to best include others. This is in preparation for artists' development as Confidance Facilitators.
ConfiCo artists Brooke & Caitlin presenting at our latest event at Quarterhouse, Folkestone.
Our next step on this journey is to create a project in which we can explore the social model of disability, the disability arts sector, and disability activism more explicitly; through close consultation with the MTG team, we are keen to develop a safe space to have these conversations with ConfiCo, which will further empower them in their choices as artists.
Ultimately, we hope that this work will continue to shift the balance of power within Confidance, and allow for much deeper inclusion and representation of artists with learning disabilities within the organisation. This will also allow us to make a greater impact on the arts sector across the South East, and develop more robust opportunities for those with disabilities to be an integral part of the dance offer of Kent.
Here are some great resources we found along the way:
If you would like to know more about this project, please get in touch via our contact form. To see our reflections on Mind The Gap Theatre's closing event for the project, see our blog here.