In a compelling live discussion, we explored the intersectionality of disability and the arts with insights from Jack Taylor from Pursuing Independent Paths (PiP) and creativity coach Rena Zenonos.
Our conversation explored the challenges often encountered by disabled people – whether as consumers, creators, or aspiring professionals in the industry – and highlighted strategies to dismantle these barriers. Our guests also shared their personal experiences of using art forms as a powerful tool for self-expression and solace.
What challenges do disabled people face in pursuing and participating in the arts?
- Challenges in physical accessibility not only within entertainment venues but also in the transportation networks facilitating access to these spaces.
- Existing support systems and caregivers often revolve around a rigid 9-5 schedule, posing barriers to participation in evening and weekend events.
- The arts industry is facing a funding crisis, leading to reductions in media and arts initiatives. Furthermore, there appears to be a diminishing emphasis on arts education in favour of more traditional subjects.
- Navigating employment opportunities in the fiercely competitive arts sector becomes even more challenging when contending with additional needs, placing individuals at a disadvantage from the outset.
- Contending with financial barriers in an industry notorious for inconsistent income and modest pay, when disabled households already face an average of £975 of monthly extra costs.
“The arts and individuals with disabilities can too often be seen as the ‘nice to have’s and when you have two ‘nice to have’s stacked upon each other then you get really into the territory where people get left behind. But fundamentally it is a problem and a significant one and one that’s only getting exacerbated”.
What can we do to address these challenges, and what resources are available?
- Advocating for industry-wide acknowledgement and understanding of the steps needed to achieve accessibility. Involving not only an admission of shortcomings but a commitment to rectify them.
- Outside In offers a digital platform where artists facing obstacles in accessing the art world due to health, disability, social circumstances, or isolation can exhibit and present their work.
- Pursuing Independent Paths works together with adults with learning disabilities and differences to achieve their ambitions, gain skills and opportunities for independence and live a life of their choice.
- Gig Buddies is a project that pairs up people with and without learning disabilities (and/or autism) to be friends and to go to events together.
- RenaZen provides body-orientated 1:1 coaching mentorships with a holistically driven framework.
- John Lyon’s Charity gives grants to benefit children and young people up to the age of 25 who live in nine boroughs in North and West London. The Charity’s mission is to promote the life chances of children and young people and has distributed over £186million to a range of services for young people, including youth clubs, arts projects, emotional wellbeing initiatives and more.
Self-expression and art
Rena shared how creativity became her refuge from a young age, providing an avenue for self-expression when she felt misunderstood. This fuelled her passionate advocacy for enabling everyone to express themselves freely—whether through voice, movement, painting, or other artistic forms. She believes this should be something we are all able to tap into quite easily but the process of growing from a child to an adult can put us more and more in our heads and less in our bodies.
Jack revealed his own journey as a non-verbal child, highlighting how art became his means of profound self-expression. He emphasised the benefit his students have also derived from expressing themselves through means other than verbal language. When they find a means they are comfortable with they are not only able to communicate effectively but also discover and showcase their unique creative strengths.
Rena Zenonos is a hidden disabilities and neurodiversity champion, creativity coach and fashion textile designer. With over two decades of experience, her career has taken diverse paths, including roles as a nursery nurse, primary school teacher, YogaBirth instructor, childbirth educator, doula, creative facilitator, and fashion and textiles designer. From this journey, Rena has developed a practical, sensorial ‘holistic’ framework armed with powerful tools to help her clients to manage everyday challenges and navigate the world in alignment with their purpose.
Jack Taylor works in the fundraising and partnerships team for a charity called Pursuing Independent Paths (PIP) which supports adults with learning disabilities to access the arts, employment and other pathways. And as part of that role brings his lived experience as someone who is autistic and has dyspraxia.