Ausnew Home Care | Queensland arts and music scene becoming more accessible for people with disabilities

Queensland arts and music scene becoming more accessible for people with disabilities

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Emma-June Curik was initially very guarded about sharing her disability but has since turned her diagnosis journey into a cabaret performance.

In a one-woman show, the 36-year-old performer incorporates pop music and theatre classics to share her journey of being diagnosed with narcolepsy, which makes her feel constantly fatigued and sleepy.

"Imagine that you haven't slept for 48 hours, and that's the baseline that I'm generally operating on day-to-day," Ms Curik said.

The Gold Coast artist has been performing since she was five but swapped the stage for behind-the-scenes work due to her disability.

"As I continued to work through my reality as a disabled person, I decided I had another story to tell," she said.

woman wearing a blue dress in a wheelchair
Undercover Artist Festival director Madeleine Little says art should represent and reflect society.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

"The show is about the parallels between my journey to diagnosis with narcolepsy and my dating and romantic life."

Ms Curik made her return to performing at the disability-led event, Undercover Artist Festival in Brisbane this month.

It headlined 13 other artists from around the country and showcased musicians, dancers, comedians, actors, and poets who all have a disability.

YOUTUBEyt disability fest

Undercover Artist Festival director Madeleine Little, who is also disabled, said there were few "on the ground" opportunities for artists with a disability.

"We certainly don't have anywhere near as many as our non-disabled counterparts," Ms Little said.

"Sometimes we have to make our own opportunities, create shows based on our own lives and find brilliant stages to put them on."

'Refreshing' perspectives

Folk musician Aspy Jones, who is performing at the festival, uses his music to share his experience living with autism.

man singing on stage with a guitar and two supporting artists
Aspy Jones and his band performed at the Undercover Artist Festival.(Supplied)

"I genuinely do love writing in a different perspective," Mr Jones said.

"Thirty years ago, it probably wouldn't have been such a hot topic to talk about having a disability in the music industry."

The 25-year-old, who grew up in Gympie, said events like the Undercover Artist Festival were "refreshing" and showcased entirely new views on life.

Ms Little said the festival was also an opportunity to invite the broader arts industry to see what performers with a disability could do.

"Art should represent and reflect the society that we live in."

Mr Jones said sometimes when artists said they were an "artist with a disability", event organisers viewed them as "hard to work with".

"They want the opportunity just as much as other artists," he said.

Ms Little said there were also many ways the industry could improve for audience members with a disability.

"It is a lot easier than you think to make art accessible for artists and audiences," she said.

"You just have to be prepared to think about things differently."

Smart business play

The inaugural Sweet Relief festival held in Brisbane this month was designed to be inclusive for everyone.

Queensland Music Trails chief operating officer, Daryl Raven, said it was the right thing to do and a smart business play.

man smiling at camera in front of shipping container with art on it
Queensland Music Trails’ chief operating officer Daryl Raven says making festivals inclusive for people with disability is the right thing to do.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

"There's a large audience of people who have accessibility needs and they're also wanting to experience events like this," Mr Raven said. 

Sweet Relief had Auslan interpreters, a front-and-centre viewing platform and a tactile sensory silent disco to support neurodiverse or audio-sensitive people.

A raised, fenced stage
Queensland Music Trail’s Sweet Relief had a front-and-centre Accessible Viewing Platform for audience members with disability.

Festival goers could also access support from roaming social workers, counsellors, nurses, and mental health peers.

Spinal Life Australia senior access advisor, Dane Cross, helped provide awareness training and guidance on the site's design to the organisers behind the festival.

man smiles at camera in front of whiteboard
Spinal Life Australia senior access advisor Dane Cross says event organisers are slowly “catching on” that it is important to make festivals accessible for everyone.(ABC News: Amy Sheehan )

"These ideas have come from a greater understanding of who might want to come and visit a great festival," Mr Cross said.

He said, as someone who uses a wheelchair, he faced many barriers when attending festivals.

"Being surrounded by all these people who are standing up around you, you just can't see the stage," he said.

He said other event organisers were slowly "catching on" to improve accessibility.

dis festival sweet relief
Sweet Relief is expected to have accessibility features that will be the new standard for future events across the state.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

"Everyone loves music. Everyone loves a great music festival," Mr Cross said.

Mr Raven said Sweet Relief's accessibility features would be the new standard for future events across the state.

"We don't want those barriers to exist for any of our audience or talent," he said.

Exciting opportunities

woman dancing with headphones on
Queensland Music Trail’s Sweet Relief had sensory Silent Disco to support neurodiverse or audio sensitive audiences.(Supplied)

International singer Tony Doevendans, who has Spina Bifida, said the music scene was becoming more inclusive.

"People with disabilities are just as important in arts and music as they are in every other sphere of society," Mr Doevendans said.

The Brisbane-born star had his big break in a UK television advertisement for the 2016 Rio Paralympics Games after being approached "out of the blue" by a casting agent who had seen a YouTube video of him singing.

"The funny thing was that, at first my wife and I thought it might be a joke," Mr Doevendans, known as Tony Dee said.

man in wheelchair on stage
Tony Doevendans (aka Tony Dee) performed at the Undercover Artist Festival. (Supplied)

The 54-year-old said starring in the advertisement opened a "floodgate" of opportunities.

"People were approaching me to come and sing for them."

Ms Little said she was excited to see the industry evolve to include people with a disability to showcase their talent. 

"I think we're seeing more and more opportunities come up, but I'd still like to see a lot more," she said. 

"Art should represent and reflect the society that we live in."


Source: ABC

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