14 December 2020

Removing barriers to Canberra’s culture

| Belco Arts
Penelope Pollard, IGNITE programs officer at Belco Arts.

Penelope Pollard, IGNITE programs officer at Belco Arts. Photo: Supplied.

Belco Arts IGNITE programs officer Penelope Pollard says she can’t count the number of times she has had to get someone to call or send emails to venues to ask about barriers she might encounter or if her access needs can be accommodated. Here she writes about her experiences and a new film focusing on the barriers faced by the blind and low-vision community:

I identify as a Deaf woman, and this process becomes very tiring. Often I don’t bother doing things. If you don’t know if barriers are going to be there, it stops you participating in culture, which adds to the existing isolation disabled and D/deaf people experience.

Penelope Pollard and Lindy Hou in The Pivot Gallery at Belco Arts.

Penelope Pollard and Lindy Hou OAM in The Pivot Gallery at Belco Arts. Photo: Supplied.

Living with a disability can be challenging, often not because of the diagnosis itself, but because of how inaccessible much of the world is. The social model of disability makes the conversation less about me and my disability and more about the limitations of our environment. I am disabled by the space so if those barriers are removed, I am no longer disabled.

A new film released by Belco Arts, The Life Accessible, complemented by the Access at Belco Arts guide, aims to take away some of those barriers. With a new theatre, it is the perfect time to ensure the community can access Belco Arts and all we have to offer, and ensure they know they will be welcomed.

Supported by a Disability Inclusion Grant from the ACT Office for Disability, the goal of the film is to show what the space looks and feels like before visitors come to the venue. We wanted to do it in a way that is fun and educational.

Lindy Hou and Comet the working dog walking to Belconnen Arts Centre.

Paralympic gold medallist Lindy Hou OAM and working dog Comet walking to Belconnen Arts Centre. Photo: Supplied.

One of the most important parts of the film is to heed the rallying cry of disabled communities: ‘nothing about us without us’. We wanted the whole project to be saturated with that philosophy.

Disabled and D/deaf artists earn 45 per cent less than their non-disabled peers so one of our main goals for the film was to employ people with disability. We hired Bus Stop Films, a Sydney-based inclusive and accessible filmmaking organisation, to work in collaboration with Paralympic gold medallist Lindy Hou OAM and I to develop the script, and shoot and edit the film, as well as Sharlene Payn, a culturally Deaf woman and Auslan teacher to provide Auslan translation.

A red bowl of water being given to working dog Comet.

Loyal working dog Comet with Lindy Hou OAM. Photo: Supplied.

Lindy says she manages life as a blind woman with a lot of humour, which she utilises in the film to discuss attitudes towards disability. Starring with her working dog, Comet, the film focuses on the barriers faced by the blind and low-vision community, but also speaks to broader accessibility and inclusion issues.

Many of the barriers disabled and D/deaf people face in society comes back to attitude. Society often has low expectations of, and negative attitudes towards, people with disability, and we wanted to show that Belco Arts is striving to change that.

We will continually work to improve access, foster diversity and redress the inequality of access. Arts and culture is for everyone and made by everyone, so disabled and D/deaf communities will always be upfront and centre in all we do to participate in and lead the conversations.

Visit Belco Arts to watch The Life Accessible and to learn more about access.

If you are a disabled or D/deaf artist and would like to get involved with Belco Arts’ IGNITE program or upcoming open exhibitions, visit here.

Original Article published by Belconnen Arts Centre on The RiotACT.

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