Disability and the Arts

People with a disability play an important role in the arts – as artists, as arts workers, as participants and as audiences – now and in the future.

On Monday 26th and 27th 2018, Arts Front held a Symposium in Brisbane together with 40 leading artists, policymakers, academics and rights advocates from across the country for the Arts Front Rights Symposium. Over two days at the Brisbane Powerhouse, the attendees worked together on the development of an Arts Front 2030 Visioning Framework. During the two days, the attendees considered a suite of international rights agreements to which Australia is a signatory, and unpacked what they mean in practical terms for the task of developing a framework for a shared vision for the future of arts and culture in Australia. During these two days, Veronica Pardo and Donna McDonald, who have been involved in Arts Front since its inception, had numerous conversations about the human rights conventions and frameworks that have been developed to support rights based policy development in a disability context. They shared with the Symposium their belief that this conversation needed to include many more voices from the arts and disability sector. They were very outspoken about their own obligations to go back and consult with their own communities before agreeing to any statements.

Veronica and Donna committed to communicating with you all about the Symposium, and connecting you directly to the conversation.

To that end, Veronica and Donna facilitated a conversation wanted to share with you some of the principles that emerged from our discussions over the two days, and invite your feedback. They have tried to capture the discussions in the moment, so they are not polished or word-smithed in any way.

Principles Nothing about us without us – people with disability should lead the conversation about their inclusion, including in the development of cultural policy. The arts sector needs to walk the talk regarding access and inclusion. We have plenty of policy; what we need is a commitment to accountability. We must hold each other to account, and expect more of organisations with capacity. Funded organisations have a responsibility to lead in relation to access and inclusion, beyond lip service. Policy development should also have a focus on intersectionality and building connections between social movements. We are rich in policy and we don’t need more – what we need is individuals and organisations to take responsibility for implementing policy. Support for artists with disability to engage without barriers in the arts and disability sector or mainstream arts sector as they desire

Recommended Actions Veronica and Donna facilitated a conversation about what actions might emerge from these principles. The participants considered what might be an appropriate way forward, given the importance of including voices from across the sector. The group decided that it would be worth confining the discussion to two questions: What are the actions of good allies? How might we hold each other to account?

Being good allies Invest in disability led practice and processes Develop a guide for allies to clarify what actions they may take to express solidarity Demonstrate a commitment to accessibility in its broadest sense towards equality Call out discrimination, taking personal and organisational responsibility for change Educate ourselves about disability and inclusion, in a way that respects the history of disability Acknowledge the intersectionality of our lived experience and applying these lenses to our work

Being accountable Be led by people with disability in planning for disability access and inclusion Develop a checklist on power and privilege to encourage self-reflexive practice amongst arts practitioners and workforce Tie funding to outcomes so that organisations are motivated to be more accountable Support quotas and targets for people with disability across all levels in organisations and across roles including makers, workers and audiences Allow dignity of risk, so that people with disability determine their desire for engagement with projects or organisations Create a network supporting leaders with disability

Recent updates:

  • Arts Front encourages submissions to the Meeting of Cultural Ministers’ consultation to renew the National Arts and Disability Strategy. Submissions are due by 5 pm (AEDT) on Monday 3 December 2018.


  • The Australia Council for the Arts announced $250,000 each year over three years to support two new national awards to celebrate the achievement of artists with disability and mentorships supporting artists with disability to further develop their artistic practice through a practice-based project or career development opportunity at Meeting Place, the national forum on arts and disability.


  • The Australia Council for the Arts published Creating Pathways: Insights on support for artists with disability which publishes results of the evaluation of the Sync Leadership program (2014–15) and the evaluation of the Arts and Disability funding initiative (2014–17).