When in 2016 The Red Hot Chili Peppers performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago, the crowd was roaring. Towards the end of their setlist, the band played “Under the Bridge” from their 1992 album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. And while the crowd was enamored by lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis, their eyes were glued to Amber Galloway Gallego signing both the lyrics of the song and the music itself to members of the crowd who are deaf or hard hearing.
Gallego’s translation technique is one of many attempts that interpreters are entertaining to make music more accessible to individuals who are hard hearing. And while this has allowed individuals who are partially or completely deaf to enjoy live music, they aren’t always ensured this kind of treatment and accommodation at music venues across the world.
Attitude is Everything, a London-based charity, has been working since the 1990s to ensure that the hard hearing and differently abled have equal access to music and music venues as their able-bodied counterparts. We speak with Suzanne Bull, Chief Executive Officer of Attitude is Everything, to get a better understanding of how the organization is doing that in London and beyond.
‘Not political correctness….but representation’
In the United Kingdom, the Disability Discrimination Act wasn’t passed until 1995, five years after its U.S. counterpart, and eventually become absorbed by the more encompassing Equality Act of 2010. Under the Equality Act, British individuals cannot be discriminated against based on age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, or disability, among others, in the United Kingdom.
As groundbreaking as this was for the differently abled and other marginalized peoples in the 1990s, individuals who were differently abled still struggled to receive equal treatment.
In 1995, Suzanne Bull wrote a one-off column in Time Out magazine titled “Manifesto.” In her piece, Bull voiced her frustration with the music and arts scenes in London and their treatment of differently abled individuals. And although her piece was published more than five years after the Disability Discrimination Act came into effect in the United Kingdom, her frustration was grounded in her real life experiences.
“It’s time music journalists stopped displaying their ignorance when they write about the disabled,” she says in her “Manifesto.” For Bull, the differently abled were the public’s punching bag – useful only for a good laugh or reduced from fully capable individuals to simply being disabled.
She refers to a review of a newly released album at the time that said the album was “cooler than Stephen Hawking suddenly standing up, talking in a normal voice, and admitting he’s been having a bit of a laugh.” When Bull contacted the publication’s editor about the journalistic blunder, he said he didn’t have time to read everything that went into the publication.
For Suzanne Bull, and the thousands of others who are working to make their industries more accessible to the differently abled, this kind of mockery and disdain wasn’t a matter of political correctness, but, rather, of misrepresentation. As an individual who is differently abled herself, she was sick of the public misconstruing the differently abled as individuals less capable than able-bodied individuals, being used as a punch line of a joke, and their maltreatment at clubs and music venues.
Start of Something New
In 2000, Bull received a phone call from the Arts Council England who, after reading her article, wanted to help fund a one-year pilot project on the matter. 18 years later, the one-year pilot has grown into an independent charity organization that works to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music at venues, festivals, and events. Attitude is Everything is one of few organizations that is working to make culture more accessible in the world and in the United Kingdom.
“What we do is [work] with infrastructure; that means we can create the right conditions so that disabled audiences feel comfortable, included, and welcomed at venues without working about the access stuff that goes with it,” Bull tells us. “No one [else] does the whole thing as a whole.”
Attitude is Everything works directly with audiences, artists and other stakeholders music industry to try and make the industry itself and music venues more accessible and accommodating for differently abled individuals. Primarily, the organization designed a guide called the Charter of Best Practice to help venues and event organizers ensure that differently abled attendees are comfortable, accommodated, and enjoy the performances they attend.
There are a number of different charters that Attitude is Everything has developed over the years. Today, the organization offers a charter for venues and festivals and grassroots venues as well as a charter toolkit, which pools together a wealth of knowledge on making venues more accessible and accommodating for individuals who are differently abled.
The way these charters work is fairly simple. Musical venues can implement the charter work towards achieving three different ‘awards’ – bronze, silver, and gold – in recognition of the venue or festival’s accommodation of differently abled attendees.
“[The charter is there] to help make an action plan, [telling] the venue how to work with the festival or event they’re doing,” Bull tells us. While the venues work to get those awards, Attitude is Everything provides training for venue staff members. The organization also looks at policies and audience management at these venues to make sure they are appropriate for people of all abilities.
To follow up with the charter, Attitude is Everything has had a volunteer program since 2005. Today the program has 800 deaf and differently abled volunteers who check whether venues are accessible or equipped properly. “This kind of framework is good because it translates internationally, as well,” Bull tells us.
Attitude is Everything Goes Global
Currently, there are approximately 150 organizations and festival collectives who have adopted the Charter of Best Practice to some degree at one of the three award levels. Beyond the charter, Attitude is Everything also works closely with 350 organizations, most of which are not based in the United Kingdom. In fact, the organization has been working to expand on its Charter of Best Practice to export internationally.
Gideon Feldman, Head of Programmes and Business Development at Attitude is Everything, has been the forefront of adapting the charter to other countries. Feldman just finished a four-year partnership with the Norwegian Arts Council where they licensed the charter for Norway and adapted it to Norwegian law and their arts framework. The adapted charter addressed customer care and disability and strategy training, all of which Bull says has been very successful.
Since 2008, Attitude is Everything has been receiving a steady flow of funding from the Arts Council England. But because that funding only allows them to do work with organizations, individuals, or collectives in the United Kingdom, they had to procure funding from the Norwegian government to carry out the partnership between Attitude is Everything and Norway. Attitude is Everything, in partnership with Denmark’s multiple sclerosis society, also helped produce a charter in Danish six years ago.
After the sweeping success that was the Norwegian charter, Gideon attended a conference in Tunisia to introduce the idea there as well. “The Norway model was so successful,” Bull says to progrss. “It’s a model you can pick up and take and translate into many ideas internationally.” Earlier this month, Gideon travelled to the Arabian Gulf, looking for opportunities to foster partnerships there as well.
The organization is also in the process of translating a kind of DIY-guide for putting together shows and festivals on a tight budget into a number of other languages, including Arabic and French.
Future of the Differently Abled and the Music Industry
The work that Attitude is Everything is committed to is to make a drastic impact on how the differently abled experience music and the music industry. Gallego’s interpretation technique at the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in 2016 is one of many ways the larger community is trying to accommodate the differently abled.
At some venues and festivals, Hogmanay in Edinburgh, ‘rumbling paks,’ which you might be used to using in Nintendo or Playstation controllers, were made readily available while other venues have vibrating dance floors so as to enhance the experience of the differently abled at these performances.
Bull also shared with progrss Attitude is Everything’s upcoming partnership with Colston Hall in Bristol on the development of National Centre for Inclusive Excellence in the South West English city. Attitude is Everything has always worked with audiences and music venue owners, but they recently received a grant from Arts Council England to start a new kind of artist development program.
“The program will start in June or July and it’s working with artists, not in a musical education training sense, but it’s helping them promote themselves, get gigs, help get them on their first tour – especially if they’re disabled,” Bull says.
Attitude is Everything also recently received another grant that will enable them to experiment with a new version of the charter that will include different techniques for interpretation – perhaps similar to that of Gallego – and different ways to ensure accessibility.
In their fourth annual report, Attitude is Everything found that ticket reservations for music shows still remain unreasonably difficult for the majority of differently abled individuals. The report stated that 82 percent of deaf and disabled music performance attendees said they had difficulties reserving tickets for musical shows. To make matters worse, about 73 percent said they felt discriminated against and 11 percent considered taking legal action.
To address this, Attitude is Everything put together a guide called the State of Access Report 2018: Ticketing Without Barriers. The document suggests that venues and festival organizers make available what they called “access booking,” which allows differently abled attendees to book in advance and/or specify what accommodations they need. Attitude is Everything also proposes five adjustments to the existing ticketing system, among which is creating a universal ‘proof of disability’ system and establishing accurate and disability-aware information and customer service.
In the past, Attitude is Everything used to put on their own show called Club Attitude, where they would give disabled musicians the stage, in an attempt to give them more time under the spotlight. Over time, however, the format they were using was not providing differently abled artists with enough opportunities to perform.
Instead, the organization continues to work closely with institutions, governments, collectives, and everyone in between to ensure that differently abled musicians, music goers, and music lovers have the same opportunities to perform, listen, or experience music like anyone else who is able-bodied. For Bull, the work that Attitude is Everything does is about ensuring this kind of accessibility and inclusiveness for all.
An earlier version of this article included a scanned version of the Time Out article written by Suzanne Bull in 1995, which was removed at her request.