On 14 December we hosted an online panel discussion ‘Creating Your Own Access Rider’ in partnership with The Ivors Academy.
The event was organised to share knowledge for both musicians and venues to learn more about access to work as a musician, specifically around using an access rider. The resulting discussion was rich with personal experience of using access riders from artists Ben Lunn and Rebekah Ubuntu, and insight from organisations such as Attitude is Everything, Unlimited, and Café OTO, who work on improving access both with venues and artists.
Chair of the discussion was Jo Thomas, a composer, performer, and Board Director of The Ivors Academy. You can find out more by reading the original event listing on Eventbrite.
When you’re just starting out, I think that [access] is make or break, because that determines whether you continue or you don’t - Rebekah Ubuntu
What is an access rider?
A rider is a document that states the requirements of an artist for a show or event. Celebrity riders are well known, if not for their practical uses, at least for the infamy of some alleged requests - such as puppies and kittens, or blue M&Ms.
Talking about accessibility at work can be difficult, and most of the time you also have to educate the people around you about what you need, but what if you could put your access needs on a rider?
An access rider is a document that outlines your disability or access needs to let people you work with know how to ensure you have equal access to work.
Artists Lizzy Rose, Leah Clements, and Alice Hattrick developed the idea of an access document during a residency at Wysing Arts Centre. Johanna Hedva says “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.”
Are promoters ready to receive access riders?
Fielding Hope, Senior Producer of Cafe OTO and co-curator of Counterflows Festival in Glasgow, would say yes, on the whole. Fielding believes that while promoters may not appear enthusiastic or willing, it is due to the need of more support and needing to speak more about access with artists, but there needs to be a way for promoters to learn about how to adequately respond to access requirements.
Fielding has been promoting shows for 13 years, and it’s because of conversations with disabled and neurodiverse artists that his awareness has improved.
He points out that a lot of access points are actually free, and can be done quite easily, such as printing a document with a larger font. He admits that his own learning has developed through ‘trial and error’, but that learning about access requirements is a constant process which involves having generative and empathetic conversations with people.
Tips for writing and using an access rider
For artist Rebekah Ubuntu, having a template email response ready for booking enquiries is essential. Their template includes checking if there are access provisions, costs, or related costs available. They find that having the template ready to use means that they aren’t having to re-write emails, and how effective the access template email is doesn’t depend on how they’re feeling on that particular day.
Isabella Tulloch Gallego, Program Manager at Shape Arts, points out that once you have an access rider you can continue to tweak it as you learn more about what your needs are. She also says that you should be able to give your access requirements without necessarily having to disclose any information that you wish to keep private.
When it comes to online work, people may think that access isn’t as much of an issue, however the panel pointed out that remote work has brought up a lot of access issues. Rebekah suggests setting realistic time limits and deadlines on things such as pre- and post-production.
How to communicate to a venue about using access riders
Rebekah Ubuntu finds that being upfront and direct about their access needs does help. “[my email template is] very concise, and bullet-pointed. It is very much ‘take it or leave it’, I am not begging you for anything, if you can’t provide it we can go our separate ways.”
Although, as raised during the discussion, people are afraid of losing work due to asking for access needs to be met, Rebekah’s experience has shown that people receiving the information have responded well, and they haven’t had any negative interactions from their direct approach.
Talking about access
Composer Ben Lunn believes that to push for better access, we need to make sure access riders become an industry standard through widespread use. He admits that the fear of losing work, and that the onus on starting these conversations regularly falls to musicians with access needs, makes this a difficult task. However implementation is the key to progressing conversations about access needs for musicians.
Isabella emphasised that the access rider is key to ensure discussions about access are opened up for artists in the workplace.
Rebekah has found that their access rider has been the best way to advocate for themselves at work: “I became aware that oh, there is a way to ensure that what I need when I’m performing is provided for.” They say that “having it written down on paper means you don’t have to repeat yourself. It also means that you can guarantee if something is not provided you have a place to go back to, a kind of accountability.”
Access riders and the wider music industry
Rich Legate, Attitude is Everything’s Artist Development Manager, says that access riders show that the industry should be expecting disabled people to also be artists. “It’s a great reminder to expect everyone to be in the pool of artists, contributing to culture.”
Rich’s work in artist development involves looking at where the barriers are for artists with access requirements, connecting them to opportunities and hearing about their experiences. It is these conversations that enable Rich to work collaboratively with the music industry to enable musicians with access needs to succeed and fail “at the same rate as everyone else.” Rich wants to see promoters asking for access requirements as they would dietary requirements.
Fielding re-iterates: “it’s extremely helpful for us to learn, it’s us that should be doing the work. Don’t worry about asking for [access requirements].”
Referencing the social model of disability, Isabella points out that disability is attitudinal and due to external barriers, “it’s not your fault and it shouldn’t be something that you have to take on completely on your own.”
A question from an audience member asked the panel if there is an ultimate aspiration to incorporate access into standard contracts. Rebekah felt that introducing requests for an artist’s access needs or access rider would help reduce the onus on the artist to bring up access every time.
“It would be great if people could be honest about disability in the music industry,” says the Chair, Jo Thomas. “It would be brilliant if disabled artists didn’t have to do so much legwork.”
Find out more about the MU’s Access Rider template and download your free copy now. Already using the access rider? Tweet us @WeAreTheMU and let us know how you've used it.