Exploring how activism can be made more accessible

Insights from the Accessible Activism event held as part of I Am Festival 2023.

1 August 2023

As part of I Am Festival 2023 and the Cultural Sector Masterclass series, on Tuesday 13 June 2023, we held a panel discussion exploring the question ‘What can the cultural sector do to make activism more accessible to Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent young people?’.

Led and facilitated by Lynne Brackley, we were privileged to be joined by:

  • Jodi-Alissa Bickerton (Creative Learning Director at Graeae Theatre Company)
  • Ayzah (one of Graeae’s Young Associates)
  • Miss Jacqui (Poet and songwriter)
  • Jo Noble (teacher at Sybil Elgar School)

“When you want to see change, you’re automatically an activist”.

Over the course of an hour, we had a rich conversation, digging into both what good practice looks like with regard to creative and inclusive activism, as well as what some of the barriers are to this work.

The importance of enabling and supporting disabled young people to have their voices heard and ensuring that they have autonomy over choices that impact their lives were key themes throughout the conversation. The Festival of Rights, performed by Graeae’s young company back in February, which Ayzah was part of, was highlighted as a brilliant example of disabled young people coming together to showcase their lived experience and have the space to express their goals, ambitions and what they want the world to look like.

As Miss Jacqui affirmed, activism doesn’t just have to be marching and protesting in the streets. “When you want to see change, you’re automatically an activist”. There’s not just one way to get your point across and no wrong way of making change. This is interesting to explore in the context of activism work and opens up activism to a creative process that can be accessible, inclusive and expressive, and create space for disabled young people to say what they want to say, in the way they want to say it.

However, a lack of empathy, the inaccessible nature of information and communications as well physical obstacles to coming together en masse, were recognised as barriers to this work. This alongside funding cuts, teacher capacity in schools, tokenism and limiting aspirations means that disabled young people aren’t always invited to the table or given the space to have their voices heard.

When creating spaces for young people to come together and make change, it is imperative that the cultural sector understands these barriers and how to avoid setting up these barriers in the first place. Use Easy Read documents to communicate; have a range of options for young people to engage in the work; ensure your events are fully accessible; be patient; be kind; give choice and listen.

It was brilliant to have such inspirational, creative and eloquent speakers join us for this conversation. The last note we ended on is to remember the joy in this work. Joy is a powerful thing – and joy for all should surely be the end goal.

Beth Robertson
Programmes Manager (Education and Culture)