More than 900,000 people in the UK are severely or profoundly deaf; under the Social Model of Disability, it is not a disabled person’s health condition or impairment, but society’s discrimination and lack of accessibility that disables them. Below, the Shape team share some simple advice for individuals and small organisations working in the arts on how not to exclude deaf people from events.

  • If you are organising an exhibition, art event, talk, workshop or performance, you need to provide opportunities for attendees to let you know if they have any access requirements when they’re RSVPing, buying tickets or just when you’re advertising or promoting the event. Stuck for wording? Just say “If you have any access requirements, please email … and let us know”.
  • Facebook is a good way to organise and promote accessible events for deaf people, with its balance of visual and  text communication. It also means that you can share your event directly in deaf community groups to let people know.
  • Where possible use clear, direct English free of jargon and complicated phrasing.  Consider also having simplified transcripts and texts available there for attendees who want them.
  • Many deaf people will need additional support so they can take part in your event. This could take the form of communication support (BSL interpreters, lip readers, note takers, etc), equipment (loop systems, etc) or additional material (transcription). Make sure interpreters wear a badge so that deaf attendees know who they are.
  • Some deaf people may like to bring their own personal assistant or communication support with them. If tickets need to be purchased, make sure that interpreters can accompany deaf people for free.
  • Lots of arts venues and galleries use an intercom for entry, which is inaccessible for deaf people. If you’re putting on a one-off, ticketed event, put someone on the door and keep it open; if it’s a longer-term, walk-in event, use a different venue that is accessible. If you run a venue with an intercom entry system, and if you really can’t leave the door open, then get a phone that visitors can text to, and put the number on the door.
  • Lots of companies rely heavily on telephone communication with their customers and people they work with. Fortunately, the arts is pretty email-based, but make sure that wherever you provide a telephone number an email address is provided alongside it. Try to offer as wide a range of means of contact as possible - minicom/ textphone, SMS and even fax machines all increase accessibility for deaf people.
  • Artworks: if you’re showing a video work with audio, make sure the video is subtitled, with a transcript if subtitles aren’t possible. If you’re showing an audio-only piece, provide a transcript and make sure there’s a sign somewhere stating that transcripts are available.
  • Make sure artist talks, poetry readings, spoken word performances, speeches and presentations are interpreted – hire a BSL interpreter and/or speech-to-text interpreter (palantypist).
  • If you’re putting on a performance, play or theatrical event, captioning is likely to be the best route to go down. Lots of theatre venues these days have their own captioning equipment but you can also hire them.
  • If it’s possible, having a quiet room at busy events is a really good idea – private views and opening nights can be incredibly noisy.
  • When you’re talking with a deaf person who is using a sign language interpreter, remember to look and speak directly to the person, not the interpreter.
  • Look directly at deaf people when you are speaking to them. If you’re putting on an event, ensure the lighting is good enough for everyone to see each other clearly. Speak clearly and try not to talk too quickly BUT don’t exaggerate it.
  • Remember to make it clear that your event is accessible for deaf people…! Unless you promote it as such,  many deaf people won’t see it as something they can participate in.

This list may seem daunting but once you start making your events accessible it’ll quickly become second nature. Even if you’re not putting on an exhibition or event but are just taking part it’d be great for you to flag these points with whoever’s organising it – art should be accessible for everyone. We’ve put some links to accessibility resources together below that should help and if you need any extra advice feel free to email us at [email protected].

Access Support

Association of Sign Language Interpreters:

Speech to Text (Palantypist): 

Electronic Notetakers:

Association of Lipspeakers:


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To contact the team or make a training enquiry please email [email protected] or call 0207 424 7330

Banner image: Andrew Cochrane, Shapes Arts Development Team and Access Training Coordinator