New report reveals huge knowledge gaps on disability across Europe’s cultural sector


The British Council and Europe Beyond Access have launched the preliminary findings of a report titled ‘Time to Act: How lack of knowledge in the cultural sector creates barriers for disabled artists and audiences’.

A female disabled and non-disabled dancer duet. The statistic reads 87% of venues and festival don't involve disabled people in selection panels or the commissioning process.

This major new study has been conducted by On the Move, the international cultural mobility network. Its initial findings span research from more than 40 countries. Sources used include relevant literature, semi-structured interviews with representatives of 12 European and international networks and platforms, and responses to an online survey (July – October 2020). The survey was addressed to a broad array of cultural actors in the performing arts, split into four groups: venues and festivals, arts and culture professionals, funders, and others. Overall, it gathered answers from 298 respondents.

How many programmers are actively seeking work by disabled artists? Do cultural venues have adequate engagement strategies to reach disabled people in their communities? These are some of the questions that the Time to Act report has posed in order to assess the knowledge (and lack of knowledge) amongst performing arts managers across Europe. Core preliminary research findings are presented in the following areas:

  • The depth of knowledge around the creative work and practices of professional disabled artists.
  • How to make cultural programmes accessible to disabled artists.
  • How to make cultural programmes accessible to disabled audiences.

An infographic: 52% of performing arts professionals rates their knowledge of work by disabled artists as either poor or very poor.

Some of the findings show shocking gaps in knowledge, provision and access across Europe’s performing arts sector. For example:

  • Only 28% of venues and festivals regularly present or support work by disabled artists.
  • 31% of all arts organisations do not look for new work by disabled artists.
  • 87% of venues and festivals don’t involve disabled people in selection panels or in the commissioning process.
  • 87% of venues and festivals don’t provide accessible marketing materials.
  • 88% of venues and festivals don’t offer an accessible booking process.
  • 81% of venues and festivals don’t have an accessible website.

Ben Evans, Project Director, Europe Beyond Access / Head of Arts & Disability EU Region, the British Council said:

“This study was designed as the first part of the evaluation strategy for Europe Beyond Access, our collaborative project celebrating a remarkable generation of disabled dance and theatre artists.

However, some of the initial statistics are shocking, and they reveal the institutional marginalisation of disabled people in our European cultural sector. We have chosen to publish these initial findings now as an important contribution to the growing movement towards greater cultural access for disabled people across Europe.”

The launch of the findings was marked by a digital event attended by arts professionals, representatives of cultural ministries, arts councils and policymakers from across Europe. Speaking at the event, Tanja Erhart disabled dance artist and cultural anthropologist, said:

“Going through these preliminary findings, and all the negative results over 80% I think shows the need for government- and institutional-level change, very clearly. I suggest quota regulations for the number of employed disabled people and programming work by and with disabled artists.

All of what we discuss here should be and is a process, not a remote box-ticking exercise but principles over form. As in, differentiated funding for different forms of access; virtual and analog networks; centering access and care needs and desires in the processes and practices of cultural agencies.”

Throughout the year, more research and follow up case studies will be produced alongside a series of events in which speakers in countries across Europe will respond and reflect on the findings.

The Time to Act preliminary report is available here.

Co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, Europe Beyond Access supports disabled artists to break the glass ceilings of the contemporary theatre and dance sectors.

The core partners of the project are British Council (operating for this project in the UK and Poland), Onassis Stegi (Greece), Holland Dance Festival (The Netherlands), Kampnagel (Germany), Per.Art (Serbia), Skånes Dansteater (Sweden), and Oriente Occidente (Italy).