‘Minority stress’ and the problem with having a night out
A ramp and a wheelchair bathroom isn’t enough – arts venues need to do more
Louise Bruton: In a survey by Arts and Disability Ireland, 13% of people said that inadequate access stopped them from going out. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
When you casually go out for one drink, there’s always the mischievous possibility that that one drink could lead to more. Vows of “getting the last bus home” turn into a taxi home and the only downside is the next morning’s hangover.
When you live with a disability, the spontaneity of “just one drink” means that your carefully planned evening is thrown off-course. If you miss the last bus home – assuming you’re lucky enough to live on a reliable bus route – you have to wait for the rare unicorn that is an accessible taxi. Sometimes taxi drivers don’t stop for people with physical disabilities and if you’re using an app and requested an accessible car, prepare for a long wait.
Now, doesn’t that sound like a lot of hassle for a night out?
Arts and Disability Ireland (ADI) conducted The Going Out Survey in May 2017, a questionnaire that was sent to 523 people living with various disabilities in Ireland. (You can read the full survey at adiarts.ie.) We were asked how we like to socialise and how often we socialise. Do we like to go to the cinema? Do we like to go to restaurants? Do we partake in arts and crafts? Do we like going to concerts? Yes to all of the above.
When the results came in, to no one’s surprise, the most popular activities were social ones, with 60 per cent of us wanting to be entertained and 57 per cent doing so for emotional reasons, as a form of escapism or for the thrill of it all.
Thirteen per cent of people said that inadequate access stopped them from going out. When the access box is ticked by venues, it normally means that it’s wheelchair accessible and it rarely goes beyond that.
This year at Glastonbury I witnessed something I’ve never seen at a music festival. At every disabled viewing platform, they had a deaf zone. Each deaf zone had two sign language interpreters and they would perform and sign along, word-for-word, with Radiohead, Katy Perry and the hip-hop group Run the Jewels as they performed onstage. Whenever I sat on the platform, I saw at least 15 people in the deaf zone. These are 15 people who may have previously thought that a music festival was not for them. This was a free service that was part of the incredible access package that Glastonbury provided.
A quarter of people who took the survey said that they simply can’t afford to go out and when disabled people are twice as likely to experience discrimination at work or in recruitment, finances affect how we socialise. A ticket for a concert can cost up to and over €100 and, even if you are seated in the designated disabled viewing areas, your view can be blocked by people standing in front of you.
It’s incredibly frustrating to know that the money you have saved can be wasted because someone thought that providing an area was enough. It’s not.
Fifteen per cent of people who took the survey said that poor transport stopped them from going out. Poor transport doesn’t mean we’ll be a few minutes late; it can mean that we’re stranded at an unstaffed train station, wishing that we had just stayed home instead. Poor transport means that we have to add an extra 40 minutes to our drive so we can find an available disabled parking bay. I no longer drive into Dublin city centre because I’m sick of the time it takes and the effing and blinding that goes with trying to find a suitable parking spot as a driver that uses a wheelchair. The frustrations wear you down.
The arts community needs to understand that once-off adjustments and token gestures aren’t enough
“Minority stress” is a phrase that I’ve been newly introduced to. It means the stress experienced by minority groups, caused by poor social support and low socioeconomic status, discrimination and prejudice. If you regularly find yourself in physical environments that restrict you or if you find yourself surrounded by people that don’t know how to treat you, these knocks take their toll on your mental health.
If people talk over you rather than directly to you, a silent frustration can niggle away at you, which might prevent you from wanting to go out. While physical facilities may improve over time, it’s often the attitudes of other people that can have a bigger impact. No wonder 94 per cent of the 523 respondents said they have cut back on at least one of the listed social activities, compared to what we used to do five years ago. That means that only 31 people out of 523, ranging in ages from 16 to over 65, are doing today what they more or less did five years ago. That is not enough.
As we get older, we cut back on socialising for a number of reasons. Your priorities might swing to buying a house, instead of going to a new restaurant every month. If you feel like you are routinely excluded by the arts because of your disability, you might decide to save yourself the stress by not going at all. This is what happens when venues don’t promote the fact that they have a fully accessible bathroom. This is what happens when venues don’t consider adding audio described and captioned shows, loop systems, relaxed performances and touch tours to their programmes. People stop coming, if they were there in the first place.
External factors such as transport, building regulations or the availability of personal assistants can make the journey to the cinema or a comedy gig difficult, so the arts community needs to understand that once-off adjustments and token gestures aren’t enough. A wheelchair bathroom and a ramp does not mean that you get the all clear.
The Going Out Survey doesn’t present brand new information for people living with disabilities or for ADI. Its results are a reminder or a wake-up call to the people running venues, restaurants, festivals and events. The results show that our efforts are immediately diminished if you fail on the delivery of access.
In an ideal world, if we’re asked to go out for that one drink, we shouldn’t have to hesitate to say yes but that ideal world has been delayed time and time again and in another five years, where will that 94 per cent be?
Some 523 have said what they want and it’s time for those in the arts community to finally do something more than just tick a box.