Live Music Exchange Blog

Attitude is Everything – working in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry to improve access to live music – Suzanne Bull


Today’s guest post is by Suzanne Bull MBE – Chief Officer at Attitude is Everything – a project working towards improving access to live music for disabled people. Here she explains the origins of the project, the philosophy behind its continuing work with market leading festivals and venues,  the Charter system of best practice and the forthcoming State of Access report.

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In June 2013, much to my surprise and astonishment, I was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to music, the arts and disabled people.  It seemed a lifetime away from that moment where I was trapped by my neck at the main stage front barrier whilst trying to see my favourite band (The Cure) at a large music festival.  At the time, I thought “if I do get out of this alive, then I think there might be a better way for the live music industry to improve access for disabled people at festivals!”  Well I survived my ordeal and several other near-misses, which included falling under the stage at a London venue and feeling the heat from the under stage lighting (it was a bit like booking 5 minutes on a sunbed!), to create a way of supporting the music industry to become much more inclusive.

13 years ago, I started a project called “Attitude is Everything” to challenge the music industry to improve their access to Deaf and disabled customers.  It was based on a very simple method – the Charter of Best Practice which basically shows music venues and festivals practical ways in which they can improve their access, develop polices (for example, accessible ways of booking tickets) and make staff more aware of Deaf and disabled people’s requirements.  Broken down into three stages, Bronze, Silver and Gold, each level lays out a standard for improvements and advises on how to achieve them. Charter Venues and Festivals also have to create a realistic action plan for working through each level of the Charter and we support them to do this.  This is a great way for the live music to demonstrate their on-going commitment to improving access and to achieve Best Practice (and not just the minimum level that the Equality Law offers).

Added to the Charter, I then recruited some Deaf and disabled volunteers to act as “Mystery Shoppers” to test out access and staff attitude, and give me some feedback, as well as suggesting music venues and festivals that could join the Charter scheme.

It was only supposed to be a pilot project for a year, funded by the Arts Council England and the Department of Further Education and Employment’s “See the Person, not the Disability” campaign, but the response was massive and each year we achieved more funding (again from Arts Council England, Musicians Union, PRS Foundation, corporate donors Glastonbury and Festival Republic) until we became our own charity in April 2008 and became an Arts Council England organisation that gets regular funding for 3 to 4 years.  We have a staff team of 7 that includes a Project Manager for venues and one for Festivals, several freelancers and a Board of Trustees of 9 members.  The majority of us have both personal and professional experience of disability and our collective goal is to remove all barriers that prevent Deaf and disabled people from taking part in music.

Since starting Attitude is Everything, I overseen more than 70 venues and festivals signing up to a Charter of Best Practice, the recruitment of over 200 Deaf and disabled Mystery Shoppers, over 400 volunteer stewards and information workers, thousands trained in disability equality and a huge increase in the numbers of Deaf and disabled people accessing live music events – for example the increase in disabled customers buying tickets to Reading Festival this year when compared to the last is 100%.  100% – promoters and managers – take note!

My MBE award has made me reflect on all that has happened and how much progress has been made.  15 years ago it was the same two or three people on the viewing platform; nowadays you need to be at the main stage platform at the larger festivals and arenas by 2pm to reserve a space. The statistic from Reading Festival proves that the demand from Deaf and disabled customers is there; if you build access, they will come.

Attitude is Everything works with live industry leaders such as Festival Republic, Glastonbury, AEG, the O2 Arena, Mama Group, Wembley and Ticketmaster Academy Music Group and the National Arena Association, but we also work with many smaller “grassroots” venues and festivals; our support here is about finding ways to improve access with reduced finances and less staff.  It is challenging but it is possible; we wrote and provided all the case studies for ISAN’s (Independent Street Arts Network) Access Toolkit: Making Outdoor Arts Events Accessible to All, which was awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark.  This guidance is all about working with local disability groups in the community to develop access and a pool of volunteers, as well as to develop an audience and artist base, low cost access improvements and ways of training staff and volunteers on a low budget.  In 2010, the Local Authority of Tower Hamlets decided to use the Charter of Best Practice as an event standard for all festivals taking place on Victoria Park – namely Lovebox, Underage, Field Day, LED – London Electronic Dance and Tiesto all benefitted from our support, training and feedback from our Mystery Shoppers.   Compared to 2010, in 2011, Lovebox alone sold 50% more tickets to disabled customers.  Other local authorities are now considering the model of the Charter of Best Practice for all their tenders on their “green spaces”.

However, it is not only the music industry that has benefitted from our support.  At the same time as we created our Charter of Best Practice, we created Club Attitude.  This is an accessible and inclusive club night for both audiences and artists; it takes place in an accessible music venue and we pay attention to the creative aspects of access by having sign language interpreters translate the lyrics into British Sign Language for our Deaf audience.  The line-up is mixed with artists who are disabled and not disabled; the only criteria is that you have to bring an audience, match the particular genre of that particular night and blow the crowd away – and that’s no different from any promoter’s requirements!  Artists that have played Club Attitude include the Mystery Jets, Foals, Slow Club, Wave Machines, Drugstore, and Ghostpoet, and we have partnered with labels and promoters such as Transgressive and Eat Your Own Ears.  Thanks to generous support in kind from Continental Drifts, we have taken Club Attitude to Glastonbury and had three successive showcases in the Shangri-la area.  We started this in 2009, and by 2010, Stevie Wonder was also headlining and made a public announcement towards the end of the set how the world show embrace access and disabled people, and Staff Benda Billili were playing on The Other Stage – I think Attitude is Everything planted an important seed in the minds of the music industry that access isn’t just about providing for audiences, it is equally about enabling Deaf and disabled artists developing their careers, or Deaf and disabled people developing other sorts of careers in live music.  It is possible with a little bit of pre-planning and an opening of minds in regards to embracing diversity.  The next Club Attitude is March 2014 in central London, please see our website and Social Media pages for updates.

With support from Glastonbury, Festival Republic, Oxfam Stewards and SFM Security Consultants, we run a volunteer and stewarding programme for Deaf and disabled people at Glastonbury, Latitude, Reading, Leeds and Liberty Festivals each year.  Not only does it give Deaf and disabled people a valuable “taster” into working at large-scale live music events, Deaf and disabled customers on-site benefit from having volunteers and stewards who have an empathetic point of view plus the knowledge of how best they can be supported, and the volunteering and stewarding teams get to benefit from the “disabled”, personal experience by working alongside teams of Deaf and disabled people.  One cannot underestimate how this can positively change people’s perceptions about disability and access.  For example, the first time we ran the project in 2005, the particular festival we worked at had a major weather event.  An emergency call went out for stewards to assist and all of the Deaf and disabled stewards turned up, despite the harsh, physical conditions of the weather, as they knew how vital it was for the Deaf and disabled customers to get support and they knew they were the team with the know-how to provide this.

Despite significant improvements in accessibility over the past 13 years, I think there is still plenty left to achieve.  On the afternoon of 27th January 2014, we will be launching our 2nd “State of Access” Report at the Roundhouse, Camden.  Our report examines the findings of our Mystery Shoppers from 2011- 2013, identifying trends and recommending solutions to the music industry.  The focus of the State of Access Report this time around is on how to make ticketing accessible.  The live music experience starts with buying a tickets and if Deaf and disabled people still have issues buying and selecting accessible tickets, then they are prevented from enjoying live music in the first stage of the process.  However, I’m pleased to say that we have already got some key ticketing agencies on board who are ready to embrace our recommendations.  Again, please see our website and Social Media pages for announcements about the State of Access Report.

My ultimate goal is for Deaf and disabled people to be able to attend, work or perform at any event that they wish.  It’s a utopian view, I know, but this is genuinely because I don’t understand why there should be any barriers to this, attitudinal or physical.  I’m disabled myself, so some may regard this as having a bias or being selfish.  I say “so what!” because thousands of Deaf and disabled people have benefitted so far from improved access alongside me.

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Suzanne Bull MBE, Chief Executive Officer, Attitude is Everything.

To support Attitude is Everything, sign up to the Charter of Best Practice, or participate in one of our projects, please visit


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