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Clear strategy needed for meaningful inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream arts and culture

On 14th-15th October EASPD and its partners, Cope Foundation and the European Network for Cultural Centres (ENCC) co-hosted the international online conference: The Art of Inclusion - Disability and Diversity in Arts and Culture. Bringing together over 400 participants, the event addressed how we can promote the increased inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream arts and culture. The conference showcased the work of artists and performers from across the world while calling for a clear strategy to promote meaningful inclusion. 
Despite the intrinsic role arts and culture plays in our lives, persons with disabilities are often unable to fully access and enjoy the same opportunities. While Member States have committed themselves to the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) the fulfillment of  Article 30, which asserts the right persons with disabilities have to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport, has been largely neglected by State Parties.
Professor Gerard Quinn, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, praised the event as being ‘one of the first of its kind’ to address the real inclusion of persons with disabilities in the artistic and cultural sphere. With the conference taking place amid the COVID-19 pandemic Professor Quinn stressed the need for an inclusive recovery to build more inclusive societies, identifying opportunities for full self-expression and equal access to arts and culture as crucial pillars to achieve this.   
Equal access to culture should enable the ability to have personal self-expression, full access to existing culture as well as equal opportunities to produce culture. Importantly, art and culture should not just be viewed as form of therapy or recreation for persons with disabilities, but also as a professional practice in which they can drive the direction of mainstream culture.

The upcoming European Disability Strategy must address the increased inclusion of persons with disabilities in cultural life. This strategy should further enable the work of support service providers who often play a key role in facilitating access to art and culture for persons with disabilities.
The wider cultural sector also has a role to play in the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Looking to the role of policymakers in promoting inclusive arts and culture, Ben Evans, Head of Arts and Disability for the European Region at the British Council called for the EU to develop a cultural policy aimed at eliminating the cultural exclusion of persons with disabilities, highlighting that creating more inclusive spaces is a cultural, as well as a disability, issue.  
Eoin Nash, Chair of EASPD’s Member Forum on Arts and Culture, joined Mr Evans in his call for a clear strategy for meaningful inclusion in arts and culture. Speaking in the closing panel he added “there must to be greater awareness of disability issues within the cultural sector. Increased education and training opportunities for those working within the sector can enable it to better meet the needs of persons with disabilities and create more diverse and accessible artistic and cultural spaces.”
A clearer political commitment must be supported by much needed structural funding for the sector, which can enable cultural operators to develop long term strategies for systemic change. EU funding programmes, such as Creative Europe and Erasmus+ can complement these structural funding opportunities, further boosting innovation and inclusion in the sector. EASPD welcomes the news that both of these programmes will have increased budgets in the next long-term EU budget, but care must be taken to maximize their potential to promote diversity and inclusion in the cultural sector. In particular, as the main EU funding programme for cultural activities and creativity, the new Creative Europe Programme 2021-2027 should prioritise and facilitate the engagement of disabled artists and professionals in the cultural sector as a whole as well as promote the visibility of these artists and their work. 
Following the conference EASPD will continue to work with its members and partners including Cope Foundation and the ENCC to support meaningful inclusion and the full implementation of Article 30 of the UNCRPD.

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Note to editors

The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organization, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.

For more information please contact:

Rachel Vaughan
EASPD Operations Manager
+32 2 233  77 20