Unlimited Access

Tony Heaton CEO of Shape speaking in a meeting. He is looking away from the camera and wearing a blue shirt.
Image by Rachel Cherry for Unlimited.

We are used to requesting access when we are audience members at arts events (not that we always get our requirements met) but what does access mean for our team at Unlimited? Jo Verrent, Senior Producer, explores…


A recent guest blog complimented Unlimited on the fact that we run accessible meetings. This got me thinking – what do we do automatically to meet the access requirements of our staff? Here are our top ten…


  1. Physical access: I know it’s obvious, but it’s still important – every element of what we do has to be physically open to everyone involved. Yes, that includes the Christmas party, the after work drinks and the quick lunchtime staff pizza trip too.


  1. Access for deaf staff: we have a number of deaf people connected to Unlimited, and they all use different systems for meetings: BSL interpretation, lip speaking, palantype (someone live typing everything that is said so it appears on a computer or projected on a screen) and we have been known to have all three happening in one meeting. Not all deaf people are the same!


  1. Access for visually impaired people: we don’t currently have any staff with a visual impairment, but we do work with visually impaired people in our wider networks and so we are familiar with alt tagging digital images, audio description (including diagrams, spreadsheets and maps) and making provisions for assistance dogs.


  1. Good meeting etiquette: what’s that then? Strong chairing, clear agendas, good lighting, comfortable seating, self-control by all attending, lots of breaks (especially for interpreters) and allowance for lots of different ways to contribute. Above all, any meeting has to have a clear purpose – why else meet?


  1. Flexibility: access requirements change on a day to day basis, so we have to be able to respond to that too. Last week I had to hold a one to one meeting outdoors as I was feeling nauseous and couldn’t cope with indoor noise and heating. We have staff members with mental health needs that mean they might need to occasionally work from home, or rebalance their activities suddenly as their mood changes. It’s ok! You can work around a lot of this stuff with pre-planning and empathy. We are as flexible as we can be, when we can be.


  1. Plan for fatigue: If people experience fatigue as part of their impairment, then their work pattern might need adjustments. I try and do one or two days a week from home, which means I can stay in bed and work from there if I need to. With the internet it doesn’t really matter where you are as long as your Wi-Fi is strong!


  1. Working from home: aside from fatigue, if someone needs to concentrate without interruptions, if their commute to the workplace is very long or if they are working on something that is confidential it might be best for them to work from home.


  1. Share it and back it up: anyone can become ill at any time, not only disabled people, so ensuring that information is shared and backed up should be good practice for everyone. We use online solutions such as online diaries, Google Drive, Dropbox and Trello to ensure pretty much everything we are working on can be accessed by the right people.


  1. Checking in: people’s access needs change over time. Just because someone needed something 6 months ago, doesn’t mean that now they don’t need something else. We check in with staff every 6 months or so anyway and access is part of that. We want people to give us the best work they can – why wouldn’t we want to support them in the best way to do that?


  1. Our ethos: above all, the strongest way to meet access requirements at work is to ensure that it comes as a fundamental part of an organisation’s workings. We ensure that we have a lived commitment to creating a workplace that is accessible and open to all and so we’re able to share our approach with others who want to create a better way of working. If you put access at the forefront of your organisation, rather than having it as an afterthought, and remain mindful of it in all circumstances you’ll find it becomes second nature. If in doubt, always ask disabled people.


Do we get it right all the time – oh no, of course not. Often there are clashing needs, or something needs to happen in a hurry and so some of the ways we prefer to work get compromised. But I’d say we hit it maybe 70% of the time, which I think it’s a pretty good track record and yet still one we can improve on.


This September will see the Southbank Centre (London) and Tramway (Glasgow) Unlimited Festivals taking place – an intense period of time that will, over three weeks, test both our personal stamina and our working practices. Luckily, both venues will be offering good access – not just for the events, but for the rest of their programmes too. If you can’t find me at either event, I might just be having a nap on a bean bag in the quiet room.



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