Transcript: The accident that made music accessible

This is transcript of The accident that made music accessible as first broadcast on 12 March. Presented by Niamh Hughes with Suzanne Bull from Attitude is Everything.

JINGLE - BBC Sounds, music, radio, podcasts.

SUZANNE - You get many people turned away from clubs because the security on the door are saying, well do you know what this night is mate. That's down to perception; it's not down to access.

[Music and cheering]

NIAMH - There's nothing quite like seeing your favourite artist live, but when you're deaf or disabled heading out to live music venues can be a nightmare, and accessibility hit the headlines several times in the last year. But there is someone fighting to combat these obstacles. I went to visit Suzanne Bull, MBE and CEO of Attitude is Everything. It's a charity that works to improve deaf and disabled people's access to live music. I'm Niamh Hughes, and Suzanne has kindly welcomed me into Attitude is Everything HQ to chat about her work and what it's like to be a disabled woman in the music industry.

But first how did Attitude is Everything get started?

SUZANNE - Well, I started Attitude is Everything because I'm a big music fan and I've played in loads of band, and I just knew a lot of people like me who were having similar experiences which weren't that great in live music venues and the few festivals that there were at the time. And I decided that I'd like to do something about it. Time Out in particular picked up the campaign and the Arts Council contacted me and said, would you like to do a project to see how we might be able to address some of these issues. And I was like yeah, I'll give that a go. So, that's what happened.

I also had some quite spectacular accidents as well in live music venues and festivals.

NIAMH - Yeah I was going to ask.

SUZANNE - Yeah, because of those accidents that's why I decided to do something as well. When I was younger I used to be able to stand for a while, and I'm the height of the barrier basically, the front crash barriers, and I got my head stuck on the barrier because the crowd were pushing really hard and I was sort of choking. And the guy next to me in the crowd he happened to look down and see what was happening and he got hold of me and stopped me from choking, and put me on his shoulders first, and then threw me into the pit over the barriers with the other security guards to kind of get me out of the way.

And that's the thing at that point: there was no access; there was no point of where I could be safe.

NIAMH - Yeah, but I suppose from the good nature of other people it didn't stop you as well from going to gigs and to enjoy live music?

SUZANNE - No. I certainly wasn't brought up that way at all. I was brought up to think that I could do everything that anyone else was doing. So, whenever I was prevented from doing something that's where the problems arose I think.

There's the social model of disability right there! [Laughter]

NIAMH - Did you always want a job or a career in the music industry in some capacity?

SUZANNE - I think I did always a job in the music industry. Really I wanted to be an artist but I'm really, really not good enough to really pursue that or do that. And the other thing I wanted to do was be a music journalist. Here are the two things that I feel passionate about: live music and how brilliant it is and then being passionate about being a disabled person and being free.

NIAMH - And in terms of the work that Attitude is Everything has done so far, because you guys have been going for nearly 20 years, right?


NIAMH - How have venues across the UK changed as a result of your work? What have they been doing?

SUZANNE - Well, venues and festivals have improved and that's because they've got a structure to work towards. So, you've got our charter of best practice, which is people work towards the different guidelines and levels within it. And venues and festivals and live event producers as well work towards bronze, then silver, then gold; so there are those improvements as well.

But I also think there's been an attitudinal change where the music industry expects disabled people to be there now and they expect disabled people certainly to be part of the audience. They haven't quite got there in terms of artists or employees yet; I think we're just starting on that journey really. But in terms of audience members last year at our charter venues and festivals 170,000 people visited those venues, and when we first measured it in 2013 I think it was something like 144,000, so you could see the numbers growing all the time. And they're just the ones that we know about; they're just the ones that are booked in through the access facilities. It's a growing number of people that have an economic impact as well.

NIAMH - Yeah.

SUZANNE - And I think the music industry they ask questions before somebody asks them a question, so they'll pre-empt the fact - which they're meant to do in the Equality Act anyway. But it wasn't like that when the Disability Discrimination Act first came out, they weren't pre-empting what was going on or addressing it. But there were reasons why they weren't doing it. There was an attitude that ooh, are you sure that this is what disabled people really want to do, get involved in big crowds and loads of noise and all that kind of stuff. Which of course disabled people are all people, they want to do what they want to do.

And the other thing is they didn't understand the Disability Discrimination Act, they had no idea, because there were no real guidelines apart from Part M and maybe a couple of things in British Standards at that time, that would guide you on how to practically implement this kind of stuff. And the guidelines and the resources and in fact the charter that we put out are all the things that have been identified by disabled people: the actors, we call them mystery shoppers, and they go and test venues and festivals for their access and customer service and awareness. And it's though that, it's by asking for the things to be put in place; it's really user-led in that way.

NIAMH - Yeah. What's been the biggest challenge do you think over the last 20 years for attitudes?

SUZANNE - The biggest challenge is actually a very practical one and that's to keep going. I was very lucky when Attitude is Everything began because there was funding available and it was a different climate. But in this difficult economic climate sustainability in the arts and cultural sectors is more challenging. And I would say that has been our biggest challenge: to want to grow and grow our staff team and to grow our board and to really reach the potential that we want to do and our ambition that we want can at times, although we try and not let it be, but inevitably sometimes be stifled by lack of funding that's out there.

I mean, we've got a good range of things and activities where we can raise some earned income; we've got some great supporters; we've got great fundraisers that do stuff for us. But still that ability to raise your own funds is actually a huge amount of pressure on a very small organisation. And the purse is getting tighter you know.

NIAMH - And in 2013 you were awarded an MBE. How did that feel? Did that feel like a pivotal moment for you?

SUZANNE - It did. It was certainly a surprise I would say.

NIAMH - Really?

SUZANNE - And a really, really nice one. Yeah, because obviously you don't know. And everyone says when you get the letter you don't open it because you think it's some sort of tax thing. But lots of people say that, and then you start reading these words saying: The Queen has requested that I write to you as Prime Minister to ask you… And you think, what, is someone having a laugh? And then you read on in the letter and it's overwhelming but in a really, really nice way actually. I knew nothing about it.

NIAMH - Did it feel like quite a poignant moment?

SUZANNE - It did because, you know, I'm not going to lie to you, I'm a working class girl from Essex who's been disabled all her life. According to some people my life was sort of quite mapped out for me, and my life has turned out completely differently than expected. To be honest I wasn't really in wider society meant to actually achieve or do that much with my life. Obviously my family and certainly my early primary school years, and secondary as well, they had a different road for me and were very, very supportive. But yeah, I suppose there was a point where I thought wow, all the self-doubts that I had and all the other people that did doubt me, I guess this is it: this is the moment where you turn round and go, well here I am, I guess I've arrived.

But it's a team effort, and that's the important thing to include here is that it's not about me. Getting an award and getting an honour like that is not about the person that gets the award. If it is and you think that yourself you actually need to have a word with yourself, because you can't get anywhere without acknowledging all the support and all the help that you've been given by lots of key people in your life. And Attitude is Everything is a total and utter team effort.

NIAMH - But in recent years you've also won a couple of extra accolades including the Music Week Women in Music role of honour. And for that you were recognised as kind of a music game changer it says.


NIAMH - Which I really like. And what's interesting about that and your Campaigner of the Year in the Women in Industry Awards was the fact that you're a game changer in the music industry but your disability is not mentioned. Was it interesting? Did it feel gratifying to be recognised as a woman in the music industry?

SUZANNE - Yeah, it did feel quite good because to be honest with you I've always been a woman working in the music industry, always been a woman working in the music industry, but that part of me had never been recognised or achieved because all the time people would naturally - and even me myself because it's such a strong part of me - would focus on the fact that I was a disabled person working in the industry. And it was like that other part of me had been forgotten.

But this is the thing about all of us, people call it intersectionality, don't they: there are many, many parts and different voices and perspectives within you that make up what's you. So, I'm not just a woman, I'm not just disabled, I'm working class, I'm in the box marked punk, I'm in the box marked single-parent family. I'm in all these different things and it's all these different diverse perspectives that make us what we are.

But it's been an interesting experience now having to think much more about talking about a woman's perspective, but also a disable woman's perspective, which is also a different angle to bring in as well.

NIAMHHave there been extra barriers that you've had to overcome within the industry as a disabled woman then?

SUZANNE - Yeah, there have been extra barriers because a couple of times when I've been asked to attend things or host things or perhaps even been nominated for other awards I've had to remind people about the fact they've asked me to come to a physically inaccessible venue, because I'm a wheelchair user, and sometimes that hasn't gone down very well. Really it's to remind people that my access requirements are requirements. They're not wishes. They're not a diva's list of what you'd get on a rider. Do you know what I mean?

NIAMH - I only want the blue M&Ms. [Laughter]

SUZANNE - Yeah. I do work in an industry where I realise some of that goes on. But this is really to enable me to, my access requirements are about me functioning as a human being really. And it's been a little eye-opening, yeah.


NIAMH - Because we've talked a little bit about disabled people as consumers of music going to the live music events.


NIAMH - What about the disabled musicians and the artists, the people that are putting on the shows, what kind of work do you do with them?

SUZANNE - Obviously we had the Club Attitude nights where we put on mixed bills of disabled people and non-disabled people as artists doing stuff. We had some great headliners. We had some great showcases with Continental Drifts in the Shangri-La area at Glastonbury. We did an Attitude is Everything tour in 2001. But it was getting very hard to maintain the talent pipeline for those club nights, but also to sustain it as a regular event. And we'd got down to kind of like an annual event, which was great. So, we've called it the Next Stage, but we're trying to do a mapping exercise on where disabled artists are now in their careers and what they want to do.

NIAMH- And I want to briefly move on to ticketing which is a huge issue amongst disabled people. On your About Us section of your website you proudly say that you are members of the Ticketing without Barriers coalition. What do you aim to achieve with this Ticketing Without Barriers?

SUZANNE - The Ticketing Without Barriers coalition is set up by us. And it's got 42 members, and those members are ticketing agencies, some of them international as well, big music promoters and small music promoters, larger music venues such as the O2 Wembley; people that have to process basically a volume of people that would book tickets. And what we're trying to do is come up with a way of resolving the issues that people have when they book tickets and they need to book an accessible ticket. And also resolve the ways in which people can book that ticket; so it's not just through a phone line but it can be online as well. Because many, many people wanted to book online and they don't have that option.

When you contact a venue directly for a ticket or if you are going through a ticket agency sometimes the way the phone lines or the way it's answered or addressed within the venue people won't know and understand where exactly you need to book that ticket. So, you'll get people who aren't wheelchair users for example being told they can't be on the viewing platform. They can in a lot of venues. So, there's a myriad of things to unpick.

And we started this process of trying to sort out ticketing in 2014. And to be fair the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, STAR, has done a lot of work on this already and co-produced with us and the access card people, Nimbus, best practice ticketing guide on how to resolve a lot of issues and some guidelines to follow. We're just trying to push that through to all of the industry so that there's a standard now and people know what to do and what procedures to follow, whether they're consumers or whether they're the people who are selling the tickets.

NIAMH - I was having a little read of some interviews with you over the past few weeks, and shortly after your Queen's honour you said your ultimate goal is for deaf or disabled people to be able to attend, work or perform at any event they wish - it's a utopian view I know. I wanted to know if you still feel like that might be a utopian view seeing as that was just over five years ago?


NIAMH - Do you feel like it's changed?

SUZANNE - It's still a utopian view. Things have moved on and changed but I think there will always be a need to push onto something else. Because the one thing we have been doing, and this is with a programme we've got called Breaking the Sound Barriers, this is about looking at different communities of disabled people, because not all disabled people want to have a facility like a viewing platform or an accessible toilet; there are different communities within us. And it's about looking at those different communities and saying well, perhaps what does a person with a learning disability need from a venue.

NIAMH - Yeah.

SUZANNE - And it's about focusing on that and pushing through all the different elements that are needed and shining a light on those different perspectives. For people with a learning disability it might be how you feel welcomed in a venue, because if the staff make you feel like they don't want you there then that's not going to make you go, no matter how physically accessible it is. You get many people with a learning disability turned away from clubs because the security on the door are saying, well do you know what this night is, mate - and them not comprehending. Again that's down to perception; it's not down to access.

NIAMH - And with the work that you're doing you are slowly but surely changing attitudes?

SUZANNE - Yeah, we are changing attitudes. As I say, people are coming to us rather than us knocking on doors.

NIAMH - That says quite a lot.

SUZANNE - I literally knocked on many doors over the years. In fact I was reminded by two team members that used to work at Attitude is Everything around about 2003, 2004, and one of them said, do you remember when we went to Liverpool and we had some downtime and we went literally knocking on different music venues' doors and presenting ourselves I suppose like door-to-door salesmen and talking to them about the charter. And that's still in the time when Attitude is Everything was only getting year-to-year funding, because you know it was only meant to be a one-year pilot programme.

NIAMH - Yeah.

SUZANNE - We didn't even have the status or the security of being our own charity yet.

NIAMH - And what can you tell us about Attitude is Everything has got coming up this year and maybe even beyond?

SUZANNE - 2019 is really exciting. In about a week and a half we host our Outstanding Attitude Awards, which is going to be absolutely fantastic. We're hosting it on the afternoon of 12th March. We've got lots of great guests coming; lots of great people presenting the awards but I'm not allowed to give anything away at this point. And then after that we've got festival season.

NIAMH - Yeah of course.

SUZANNE - So, we've got lots of activity in our volunteering programme where we have deaf and disabled stewards working at the main festivals across the UK of Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Download. And then beyond that we're really looking towards our 20th anniversary in 2020 and all sorts of exciting activity is planned around that so that should be good.

NIAMH - Okay, we'll have to watch this space.

SUZANNE - Yeah, definitely.

NIAMH - Now, my final question for you Suzanne is a wee bit philosophical, but is attitude everything?

SUZANNE - Oh do you know what, I've had quite a lot of feedback about why we gave Attitude is Everything the name that we did. But we didn't call it that for the benefit of the disability community. We actually gave it that name because of what we'd experienced from the music industry. And what we found was the first people that came on board their minds were very transparent and open and they were the key to the success of the first few years where no one had ever heard of us, or there were a few music promoters willing to put their backing behind this very small pilot project, be part of the steering group. It was about those people being open-minded enough to go, well yeah, we probably do have a problem, we're not very good at access, but if we open our minds and listen to what Suzanne and the small team, as it was then, are saying to us then maybe we can all embrace it and push things along.

NIAMH - A huge thank you to Suzanne Bull, MBE, for chatting to us. Do remember you can get in touch with us on all the usual platforms. We're @bbcouch on Twitter. You can search for BBC Ouch on Facebook. And on Instagram just search for bbc_ouch_disability. Or of course you can email us: ouch@bbc.co.uk.

We've got tons of lovely stuff coming up on the podcast, including our next talk show with stand-up comedian and star of BBC Three comedy Jerk Tim Renkow. I'm Niamh Hughes and I'll speak to you soon.