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How the pandemic has changed accessibility

Karina Utomo performs in the 2019 Perth Festival production of Cat Hope’s Speechless, produced by Tura New Music. Credit: Toni Wilkinson.

COVID-19 Audience Outlook Monitor 2022, Australia Council of the Arts, 27 January 2023

How the pandemic has changed accessibility.

The Australia Council has been working with Patternmakers and WolfBrown since 2020 to understand changes in the behaviours and sentiments of arts-goers.

The Audience Outlook Monitor tracking study has provided the arts and cultural sector with crucial insights regarding behaviours and sentiments of arts audiences over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues to bring timely and essential data and trends on audience sentiment and trends to support planning and decision-making for arts and creative organisations.

The latest analysis focuses on accessibility needs of audiences, and key insights are outlined in a new PDF report: How the pandemic has changed accessibility.

The data suggests the pandemic and cost of living crisis are impacting audiences with access needs to a greater extent.

The pandemic has increased the visibility of audiences’ access needs and the conversation about accessibility continues to expand. However, sustaining digital events beyond the context of the pandemic will be challenging for some organisationsand there is a risk that advancements in accessibility brought about by digital alternatives could be lost as the sector returns its focus to in-person events. Online events can foster accessibility, but this does not negate the importance of prioritising accessibility in physical venues.

All data is available in the Audience Outlook Monitor dashboard, with results from over 95,500 respondents across phases 1–8, and the August 2022 ‘Pulse Check.

Key findings from accessibility report include:

  • Nationally, attendance levels among audiences with access needs are increasing but at a slower rate than average. In October 2022, 7 in 10 (69%) disabled audience members attended a cultural event – more than three times the level seen in July 2020 (19%). Readiness to attend by disabled audiences has increased by 32 percentage points between July 2020 (23%) and October 2022 (55%). But this is not as fast as the 45-percentage point increase among audiences without access needs.
  • The availability of digital events dramatically improved access for some audience segments but sustaining digital events remains a challenge for many organisations. In October, 47% of disabled audiences participated in an online event, compared to 39% of those without access needs, though some note a dramatic reduction in the availability of online events.
  • Facebook, websites and eNews are key awareness channels for audiences with access needs. Disabled audiences (27%) tend to rely on Facebook more than non-disabled audiences (22%). This is the same for immunocompromised audiences (24%, compared to 21% of non-immunocompromised audiences). 82% of audiences with access needs also cite using online channels, particularly direct emails from arts organisations (58%), websites (49%), and word of mouth (37%)
  • Audiences with access needs are more likely to pay for online arts experiences but the cost-of-living crisis is impacting disabled people to a greater extent than those without disability. Among those participating online, 42% of disabled audiences paid for an online activity in the fortnight before data collection. This is a higher proportion compared to 32% of non-disabled audiences.
  • Most audiences with access needs find a proactive approach to accessibility at in-person events to be a key. Effective communication and inclusive language is integral to a safe, welcoming, on-site experience for disabled audiences. Some respondents encouraged arts organisations to better communicate what to expect at cultural events; especially in a time of relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.

About the study

The Australia Council is working with Patternmakers and WolfBrown to understand changes in behaviours and sentiments of arts-goers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, to support decision-making and forward planning across the arts sector.  

Baseline data for the Audience Outlook Monitor tracking study was collected in May 2020 in a cross-sector collaborative survey process involving 159 arts and culture organisations, including museums, galleries, performing arts organisations and festivals.  

Launched in 2020, the Audience Outlook Monitor webinar series explores different topics within the data and digs deeper into the results with industry experts. Fact sheets on specific topics are available from 2020, 2021, March 2022  and October 2022.

The Audience Outlook Monitor tracking study was extended for a further three phases in 2022, with the first of these two occurring in March 2022 and August 2022. The final data for the Audience Outlook Monitor 2022 was collected between October 2022 and December 2022.

In 2022, three phases of data collection explored key topics including attendance and engagement outlook, digital participation and accessibility needs of audiences.