DaDaFest are teaming up with NSDF!

Disability and Deaf arts organisation, DaDaFest, have launched an initiative for young Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists in partnership with NSDF.

DaDaFest x NSDF is an opportunity to come together and create a piece of new and exciting work to be premiered at NSDF’s annual festival in April 2022.

NSDF is an iconic national festival for young people, which for 65 years has existed to help emerging theatre practitioners find their home in the arts.

They are looking for 12 artists aged 16 – 25 to form a company of creatives from all over the North West and West Yorkshire.

You can be an actor, writer, director, designer – set, digital, sound, lighting etc. Anyone with a passion for making new theatre work.
You will develop your creative skills through sessions with professional guest artists.
You will work with DaDaFest’s Joint Artistic Director & CEO, Nickie Miles-Wildin, to create this brand new piece of work.
You will attend NSDF, 9 – 16 April 2022, at Curve in Leicester where you will premiere your work, take part in workshops, panel discussions, watch other performances and enjoy the evening events. (If being there in person is not possible then you will take part in the digital festival)

The sessions will be from September 2021 – April 2022, Monday evenings with one Saturday per month. Sessions will be online with some in-person ones too.

The deadline is 6th July 2021 at 5pm. 

Find out how to apply here, and spread the word!:

Clore Leadership – Inclusive Cultures Programme

A six-month disabled led programme for cultural leaders wanting to challenge themselves to do better around inclusion and access in their organisations or practice. Inclusive Cultures is designed by Diverse City in association with Sarah Pickthall, and commissioned by Clore Leadership.

The aim is to create a safe space for leaders to  challenge themselves and take risks, build confidence, capacity and clarity, and make abstract inclusivity concepts real; to support participants to demonstrably lead – and succeed more coherently – in inclusive practice;  and to cascade this learning through their organisations and projects going forwards.

More information and apply here

Apply online by 3pm, Friday 14th May 2021

Everyone has a story to tell

This blog was based on a conversation that DJ had with Paul Morrow and Sarah Archdeacon.

Our conversations moved across a number of topics and demonstrated how passionate DJ is as a dancer, teacher and the Associate Artistic Director of Corali.

For DJ, dancing is a profound art, one where changes takes place. “Everyone has stories to tell”, DJ describes the power of dancing and how it enables him to tell stories. DJ speaks very poetically about how dancing makes him feel, describing how it allows him to become a “free spirit” but also how he uses dance to make connections. “I give my voice, my heart, who I am, I connect”

Hidden away

“Hidden away” is the way that DJ describes how some people feel who have disabilities, “hidden away from their bodies”.  DJ talks about that at Corali everyone is valued and that through dance a transformation takes place.  DJ comments that “I see a difference in them, everyone is somebody, and everyone’s got a life”.  The importance of dancing and how this can release people is clear. For DJ the act of dancing is liberating and that everyone has the “right to be happy and the right to be who they are”

At Corali DJ works alongside Sarah, together they have developed a very inclusive model of dance. There is real rapport between DJ and Sarah and this is evident in the way in which he talks about how they work together. DJ describes their partnership as one that is “ground breaking” and one where they “feed off each other” and that they are a “unit”. Sarah described how generous DJ was with his skills, and his ability to give.

DJ is a role model, but mindful of what the term means.  He discusses his practice as a journey, with a sense of purpose. DJ and Sarah spent time clarifying what a role model was, for DJ it is a “it’s a complex thing” and that, “it’s about confidence”. He talks about how he is “proud and confident” and that authenticity is key and that it’s “not about pretending” and he takes it very seriously as it is “power with responsibility”.

DJ is an activist, his teaching and his performance is creative, but there is a moral purpose to his work; “I would like to change people, respect and understand each other, connect people”.  Dance and its ability to connect people is made clear by DJ. That through his dance and his teaching DJ makes a “creative space for change”.

One thing is clear, that DJ is on a mission with his work at Corali where he says that he has a “passion to make a difference”, I’m sure that this is happening and will continue to happen as, in his own words, DJ is a “tough cookie and I won’t crumble”.

Adam Boddinson’s schools perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Adam Boddinson's school perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Adam, the Chief Executive of NASEN, presents perspectives from schools, highlighting research which showed that schools who already understood diversity and inclusion faired better during lockdowns than those who did not. Adam also discusses the importance and economic imperative of the arts, culture and heritage sectors in a world recovering from isolation experienced throughout the pandemic.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

Adam is the Chief Executive for nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs), the professional membership body for the SEND workforce. He is also the Chair of the Whole School SEND consortium, which is leading on the delivery of the government’s SEND Schools’ Workforce contract.

Adam is a National Leader of Governance, a Trustee at a large Multi-Academy Trust, a Trustee of the Potential Trust, a member of the National SEND Forum and a Fellow of the RSA.  Adam has previously held a number of senior education roles including Director of the Centre for Professional Education at the University of Warwick and Academic Principal for IGGY (a global educational social network for gifted teenagers).  He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Wolverhampton, a published author and a qualified clinical hypnotherapist.

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Adam Boddinson's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A man with dark hair faces the camera. He is wearing a navy blue suit and tie and light blue shirt. Behind him is a poster of a map of the world. Box files and letter trays are stacked behind him.


I am Chief Executive at NASEN, the National Association for Special Educational Needs. I also Chair the Whole School SEND Consortium which is one of those areas which Anita and I worked very closely on at the outset. And if you're not currently a member of NASEN, why not? It's free, so sign up today and you can do that on the website which is

In terms of today, what I wanted to do was to share a little bit about why cultural inclusion is important to me and why it's important to NASEN and why I think it should be important to everybody. And I suspect the fact that all of you are here at this event means that you're all converted already, so I don't need to convince you, but I think it is useful just to talk through some of those arguments because I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there around both inclusion and arts and culture and heritage and so on and how they interact, but equally the last 12 months has thrown up new forms of evidence in this area that we can point to which are really positive.

Just as a starting point, I was listening before to Anna talking about what's been happening with children during the pandemic and so on, and what's really interesting during this time, when we've had lots of people learning from home, some children with SEND obviously still in school, but not all of them and I talk to a number of teacher friends of mine to see what kind of access have children had to the arts in this past 12 months, has it all gone and it's been really focused on just Maths and English? Actually has this been an opportunity to broaden things out a bit? And I think it's really patchy, is the reality.

But if I could just share a couple of stories, I asked particularly about literature because reading seems to be something that's come up again and again over the last 12 months in terms of are we going to have a whole group of children who have struggled to learn to read or who have forgotten how to read and all these kinds of things.

A primary school teacher friend of mine, who also happens to be a drama specialist, talked about her year six class and she said there were children there who have particular types of needs where they really struggled with reading even before this. So much so that they didn't even engage with the topic but the fact that they've been at home, and she has thought 'what can I actually do remotely that's interactive?'

So she's started reading to them again like they might have done in Key Stage 1 and she talked to me about. She was reading The Five Children and It. I grew up with the Sammy Adams all of these types of things, if you don't remember those stories, but she was talking about the fact that these children were just absolutely engrossed in this to the point where one actually took his iPad to the loo which nearly resulted in a safeguarding disaster, but luckily that was averted in the nick of time.

There's a re-engagement there and it didn't cost anything it wasn't complex that was at a real simple level, but actually those little things can be the spark, they can be the thing that lead to the thing that says 'actually I want to go to visit the local library now', 'I'm more interested in that', 'I want to go and see what other cultural institutions and heritage institutions there are out there because I'm interested in things now in the way that I might not have been before.'

I heard before this talk about remote and blended learning and what we might do going back in terms of employers, but also in terms of schools. And one of the things I am starting to hear from families is this idea that access to education by remote learning is not just a second best, in some cases, it's been a better way for some people to learn. And so there is an argument that it could be considered a reasonable adjustment going forward if it's enabled a better access.

I'll come back to this digital strand of what's been happening in the cultural sector as well, because I think this is a really important thing to look at going forward.

Some special schools, I know have started thinking about how the assistive technology that they've got, which was normally used to break down barriers in the physical environment, how that technology itself can be used in a more innovative way to provide access to areas outside the school in some of these institutions. Again, I'll come back to that later.

The Government talks a lot about catch up, and it was mentioned before, I don't hear about this in schools. When I go into schools all they're talking about his recovery, and it's really interesting, just the different discourse that's going on in different places.

What has the impact been of the pandemic on access to the arts? I did a little bit of research before coming today and there are quite a lot of publications in this space. The World Bank has published a number of things and in August last year they basically said there has been a huge impact on the Arts and culture sector around the world and they were talking about the fact that 90% of countries had actually closed their World Heritage properties.

Then you had UNESCO who published a report in May who were talking about museums and a particular impact on them and 90% have closed their doors during the pandemic and they went on to say that one in eight of them may never actually reopen again which is a really sad state of affairs.

Then in September the OECD published their own assessment of what the impact is and they said we hear a lot about the impact on tourism, that's always the first thing that comes up on the news, but probably at the same level as the impact on tourism is the impact on the kind of cultural and creative sectors and they made the point that social distancing and the disproportionate impact of Covid on minority groups has further skewed access to the arts for those who actually contributed to it so much, not just those who were receivers.

So, on the face of it it seems like a pretty dire situation, but those of you who know me well know that I tend to be a glass half full type of person and I think there are some reasons to be optimistic.

So, it was mentioned before this rapid innovation in terms of digitalization and so on and I think that's really important because the question raised by the Council of Europe was has this digital access to cultural institutions actually helped to break down some barriers and to get into some of those groups that we were perhaps struggling to get into before?

Because, Anita made the point before, about that experience when she was standing in the in the Rothko room, and it's quite exposing moment that isn't it, when you're there with everybody in the moment? One of the benefits of that kind of digital access is actually you have almost the privacy sometimes available to explore some of these things without necessarily opening yourself up to some of that exposure until you are ready for that. And that shouldn't be underestimated and having both could be really really important.

The phrase I kept hearing come up in the news over the last 12-months is 'The Perfect Storm.' The perfect storm of everything going wrong in the pandemic and everything else that's happening in the world and what we've got now, that storm isn't going away, but all these rays of optimism, you combine some of the storminess with the optimism maybe we'll get the perfect rainbow coming out of this
which is that if this digital access could actually remain, not in place of, but in addition to traditional programs that cultural institutions have got, I think that could help to sustain that reach. And there's something about a ladder of access, so maybe the staring point for some people is that digital access but actually we use that to hook them in to the whole immersive experience, and equally the other way.

There's a geographical challenge, if you're somebody who, for whatever reason, can't get out of your local community, certainly maybe can't get to certain parts of the world, does digital give us an opportunity to really open doors to things that just aren't otherwise available. So, I'm really excited about that.

The other thing I've noticed is this direct link between social, emotional mental health, in terms of schools, but also how the role of the arts and culture and heritage can actually be part of the solution to improving positive well-being and I think there's been a penny drop moment in many areas because we've kind of stopped, haven't we? As a society we've started recognising the importance of things like the environment, the importance of diversity, neurodiversity and cultural diversity but also the role that the arts have in terms of our own well-being. And I hope that doesn't get forgotten about when the world starts to switch back on again and into full speed again.

We did a bit of research last year with Bath Spa University, with Special Educational Needs Coordinators, and the big finding that came out of that was that there has been an amplification effect so where there was really good effective practice going on before around inclusion, that's really been amplified and sustained through this past 12 months, those relationships have really carried things through. But where it was sketchy, patchy, there wasn't the commitment there, it's been a disaster.

And I do wonder the extent to which those organisations, both schools who are already having a really broad curriculum and had thought about inclusion, but also those cultural organisations who are really well established outreach programmes and so on. Has that kind of amplification effect echoed into those organisations as well. I don't know the answer but I'm interested in hearing more about that.

A question for me is why should Government and policy makers, they got a huge pressure on the Treasury to put money into all kinds of things, and one of the questions is why should they fund culture, arts, heritage? Why should they? And there's a view amongst some, and not the right view my opinion, that this is a one way cost. We've just got to put money in to keep it going there's no return.

I think that's completely floored, and this is one of the areas where the World Bank have put some really interesting evidence forward and they actually talk about, in South Africa, the arts sector accounting for 1.6% of the country's GDP and they also talk about, in the US, I think it was 2015, they talked about 5 billion dollars of investment from public funds which actually generated $166 billion in terms of economic activity, so there is clearly a return on this investment.

It's not just a bottomless pit or a black hole where the money goes in an never has a financial or economic impact. So, I think that's important. They go on to talk about the fact that culture has a role in building social cohesion, which we know is going to be important, we've had this major period of isolation, so actually there is an argument for not just sustaining funding, but for actually increasing public funding into this area going forward, as part of social justice and a moral responsibility. Not just for those who are marginalised in society, who don't have access to the arts, but for all of us, I think it's going to be important.

Just to finish up I wanted to talk about cultural inclusion in the context of education, because for me it's about ensuring that all children and young people have access to the arts but particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities.

Some of those young people who I have met with SEND are some of the most creative people I have ever met. I was in a special school recently and there was one young person there, some of the schools have full PPE on, and they were doing charades. And this one child they had was fully masked up and he said to me 'who do you think I am?' I was thinking, 'I don't know, a doctor?' And he said 'no, I'm a ninja!' And isn't that great, the fact that children they see beyond what's immediately in front of them, they see past that. We need to capture that creativity and bottle it if we can, it's brilliant.

I just wanted to talk a little bit about NASEN and why NASEN supports cultural inclusion because for me diversity and difference is not something we should shy away from or be afraid of, it's something we should celebrate and really be proud of and I think schools have a really important role in this.

And the fact that we have this divide is really challenging in terms of access to the Arts and so we need to improve that because cultural inclusion as a catalyst for inclusion in its broadest sense and that is a big challenge facing the education sector at the moment.

In terms of what NASEN is doing to try and support this, well we are trying to support schools by helping them to look at their curriculum and make sure it's as broad and inclusive as it can be, but also we try and help cultural organisations with their outreach programmes to make sure that they are accessible to learners with complex needs and so on. So if that's something we could help you with then get in touch with me after today.

I just want to finish with a quote from Audrey Azoulay, who runs UNESCO and she says 'Culture has helped us out of this crisis, now we have to have culture and support the diversity to witch culture owes its strength.'

And that's a really good point to end on.


Guest Blog: Being an NQT with children with special educational needs

My name is Aoife and I am a newly qualified teacher in West London. I work with children and young people with special educational needs and I am passionate about ensuring that they have the same range of opportunities as their non-disabled peers both inside and outside of the classroom. I firmly believe that access to a high quality education is a basic human right.

While I’ve been working in SEND since 2015, across many Special Needs Schools in London, I have only just finished my teacher training. It involved completing two placements in different mainstream primary schools and it was during one of those that I experienced attitudes and behaviours towards disabled pupils that I found deeply troubling. The combination of discriminatory attitudes and problematic language was truly shocking. It was compounded by a complete lack of awareness of how such exclusionary behaviour impacted students with disabilities.

The school had a five-year-old boy in one class with very complex autism. A mainstream setting was very challenging for him but, as his parents were struggling to come to terms with his autism diagnoses, they wanted him to remain at the school. However, it soon became glaringly obvious that no one in the school had the necessary expertise or experience to support him. As a result, he was excluded in a separate room from his classmates with just an iPad for much of the day.

I found watching this child being failed on a daily basis deeply frustrating and upsetting. I was desperate to help in any way I could and drew on my experience of working in special needs settings to offer advice. It was incredibly disheartening to find that my help and advice were not always welcome. How could anything change for this child when teachers rejected assistance?

Sadly, I have come to realise that my experience was part of a much bigger problem. I have spoken to many colleagues who have previously worked in mainstream schools and found that all of them have stories that illustrate the ignorance around special educational needs in those settings. The thought that there are thousands of children like the boy I worked with across the country who are being denied a decent education is very distressing to me.

It has become clear to me that something needs to change. However, I don’t believe that targeting individual schools and teachers is the way to make that happen. It merely addresses the problem on a surface level when we really need to get to the root of it. When I spoke to a teacher at the mainstream school where I worked on placement, it became apparent that she had received ‘zero training’ on SEND during her three-year teacher training practice. This left her feeling ill-equipped to deal with the rising levels of disabled students in mainstream settings.

I believe that people chose to teach because they are passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and young people. However, it is clear that some are being failed by their training and, as a result, are failing the special needs pupils they want to support.

Training in special educational needs cannot be an optional part of teacher training. It must be mandatory. Teaching Standard 5.4 states that teachers should:

  • have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs; those of high ability; those with English as an additional language; those with disabilities; and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them.

In order to have a true understanding of special needs, I believe that all teachers should have to do a placement in a special needs school. At my current specialist school we get trainee nurses every year as they will inevitably encounter special needs in their practice.  I'm unsure why this requirement doesn't extend to teachers who will also encounter children with disabilities in whatever setting they work. Instead, as well as teachers in mainstream settings being ill-equipped to support disabled children, teachers with no experience or training in SEND can work in special needs schools. I think we urgently need to redress the balance.

This is why I am working with the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto to campaign for change. I want to give a voice to those children who are being failed, their families and the teachers who are desperately trying to support them.

Anna Hoddinott’s funder perspective to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Anna Hoddinott's funder perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Anna presents the work John Lyon's Charity has done to progress inclusion in arts and culture and highlights the active steps they have taken to do more in this space. Anna also provides an insight into how inclusive arts organisations have adapted their delivery approach over the last 12 months to respond to social distancing.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

Anna has been with John Lyon’s Charity for thirteen years and has been the Grants & Communications Manager since 2007. Her primary areas of expertise include arts and music projects, projects that provide opportunities for young people with special needs and/or disabilities and childcare initiatives. Anna is also responsible for the Charity’s marketing and communications including the website and Annual Report.

John Lyon’s Charity gives grants to benefit children and young people up to the age of 25 who live in nine boroughs in North and West London: Barnet, Brent, Camden, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Kensington & Chelsea and the

Cities of London and Westminster. The Charity distributes around £10 million in grants each year.

John Lyon’s Charity says about the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto: “The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto is, in part, a fantastic response to a report we commissioned and published in 2016, entitled ‘Perspectives’, and its accompanying conference which brought together music hubs, arts organisations and special schools from our Beneficial Area. ‘Perspectives’ aimed to support effective arts partnerships by sharing knowledge, understanding, and working practices to ensure that children and young people with special educational needs and varied abilities are able to access the best arts opportunities, to enhance their lives and learning. John Lyon’s Charity is committed to supporting high quality, accessible arts provision for disabled young people.”

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Anna Hoddinott's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A woman with long straight brown hair and wearing dark framed glasses faces the camera. Her head and shoulders are visible and she is wearing a black and white patterned jacket. Behind her is a cream wall with a chest of drawers with objects on top of it. There is a white door with a bag hanging from a hook.


For those of you that don't know John Lyon's Charity, we're a grant maker in North and West London and we've been awarding grants there for 30 years. We have an annual spend of around £12 million and a total spend, since 1991, of in the region of £143 million. So the nine Boroughs that we cover have had significant investment from the charity over that time.

The focus of our funding is on projects that support children and young people. We have a very varied and broad portfolio ranging from funding for youth clubs, arts activities or emotional well-being projects and, crucially for this, projects that support young people with disabilities. Inclusion and access has always been at the heart of what we do and I think that really stems from our ethos which is about opportunity rather than basic need so, we place opportunity for all children to reach their potential at the heart of our grantmaking policies and procedures.

Paul really nicely summarised the way that we work and the approach that we make. We see ourselves as a relational, responsible and reliable funder. Having that 30-year history in one specific area builds up a certain reputation. The way that we fund is we develop long-term relationships with the groups that we fund and the fact that we have a defined area, and a really strong focus on children and young people, helps develop those long-term links.

Also we trust the groups that we fund to do the work they feel is most valuable for their local communities and we listen to what they tell us about their needs, and that is across the board. From really hyper local organisations to organisations that work on more thematic levels. We don't ever take the approach that we know best, it's what do you need to make your work more possible.

This ethos has really informed the way that we responded to the sector during the covid-19 pandemic. We were really proud to be one of the few funders that kept our regular grant-making programmes open throughout, which proved to be a vital lifeline for organisations that really needed long-term stability and that funding pipeline to continue.

We did also offer emergency funding through the London Community Response Fund to respond to those needs that came very rapidly through that period and we pledged to walk along side our grantees and support them through this current crisis. We really do feel like we are a stakeholder in the beneficial area and in the sectors that we support.

A bit about our work on inclusion so far, from a grant-making perspective, I did a bit of number crunching just before this, and even though we do pride ourselves on trying to be inclusive and working, funding projects that support young people with disabilities to engage with arts, the spend on that kind of work within the total of the last 5-years is not that impressive. So we want to do more. To give you a bit of an understanding we've given about £7 million for arts projects since 2017 and only about £1 million on specific accessibility projects, so we know we can do more, so why are we not funding more?

This has been a question was have always asked ourselves and we wanted to know what we could do to try and encourage more applications, so through conversations with existing beneficiaries, through our own observations and our grant-making practice, we did notice a sort of disconnect between the Arts sector and special schools. And we know a lot of this work happens, and we also noticed huge variances in both the quantity and quality of activities that are on offer for young people with SEND.

So what can we do about it, so back in 2016 we commissioned one of our advisors, Jean Carter, to do a piece of work to understand the sector more, to talk to everybody involved, so Arts organisations, special schools, other funders, music services to really understand why is there not more arts activity available and what are the barriers to greater engagement? The resulting perspectives document brought together all these points of view and attempted to identify common themes and where solutions could be found.

We did a follow-up to this a couple of years later called Change of Perspectives and continued this conversation and this resulted in us drawing up a call to action which we called Stand up for SEND. The Stand up for SEND agenda brings together everything we've learnt from the conversations that we had with all those involved in cultural inclusion and I think what we wanted to do was to challenge the sector to do more collaboratively, particularly our colleagues in the funding world, to ensure that all opportunities are the best that they can be.

There are five key points in the Stand up for SEND call to action and that was created in very early 2020. One of the reasons we haven't been able to promote this as much as we wanted to is obviously, we got curtailed by a global pandemic. But we really stand by these and I think they are more relevant than ever since the pandemic, so the first thing:

Accept the cost. Projects with SEND children will be more expensive and this is only been exacerbated by the current Covid-19 situation, and I know that some of you have already mentioned funding and thinking holistically around all the different costs that would be involved in really making inclusive arts practice and inclusive arts activities possible.

We also know that there are going to be limits on outputs of funded projects the numbers of participants will go down because of social distancing, bubbles, etc. But, this doesn't decrease the cost of staffing or the need for PPE etc., so I think accepting the cost is really vital.

Already mentioned this morning is the second one, a whole family approach families need to really understand the value of, and be included in, art activities for SEND.

And I think we all know that lack of arts activities throughout the pandemic for all children and young people have been severely diminished, let alone for those of families with SEND children.

And I think until families truly value the benefits engaging with arts it will never really seen as a priority and I think one of the ways that this could be done is if arts was promoted as a viable career pathway for young people with SEND and I think parents need to be aware of this and the opportunities that this could bring.

And that brings us to the third point which is around building career pathways, there needs to be more progression and career opportunities for young people with SEND and again, employment prospects for young people generally over this period have been decimated and the picture for young people with SEND is even more bleak, so I think there needs to be a refocus on those tangible progression routes to reinforce the value of arts engagement and the projects that we will look to be funding should always consider the what next for participants, particularly those who really take arts under their wing.

Forth, inclusivity starts with you, we've also already spoken this morning about representation. Young people with SEND need to see people like them working in organisations and projects they engage with. More positive role models, prioritising and more diverse workforce.

We've already mentioned all those things this morning. And also recognising that each young person with SEND is different and they have a variety of ways that they need to be supported and organisations need to be aware of that.

And finally: find it, do it, share it. I think opportunities for SEND young people need more visibility from point of access to celebrating their work, so one way we could do this is to ensure that work of SEND young people is celebrated alongside the work of their mainstream peers.

However, I do think there are lots of reasons to be optimistic over the past 12 months. Having gone through a period of almost 12 months of delivery under pandemic, what's very clear is that all organisations that delivered face-to-face activities for young people have all had to rethink their offer since the pandemic began. Some have decided to close their doors, and ride out the storm using furlough to keep their finances alive, and therefore ceasing delivery to young people. Others however have chosen to adapt their delivery models to create new digital content, to see if they could continue to have that positive impact on children and young people.

And as a funder we have been quite privileged to see who is been able to adapt their core offer, who is doing it well, who is continuing to have the biggest impact on children and young people and who could really be described as leading the way and doing that best practice that we as a funder have a role to amplify and share those opportunities. I also think that it's true to say that some of the most inspiring and innovative and impactful changes in delivery models have been for young people with disabilities and particularly within the Arts and cultural sector and this has taken various different forms.

One example is Create Arts who you may know who really quickly innovated to adapt its offer and they were able to continue working with groups of children from special schools, live, taking into account all the various safeguarding needs necessary and they continue to work with them as a group, which had that element of continuity and normality about it.

Flute Theatre, which has already been mentioned, really relies on the sensory experience to engage with young people with autism and so being in the room as part their traditional delivery model is really important, but they have had amazing success in transferring to a digital offer and working with one autistic person at a time, and when you think they have a team of 8 actors creating a piece of theatre for one autistic young person, I think what they've done really well, and that's what I was saying about outputs potentially being lower, fewer young people benefitting, but actually the depth of engagement has been absolutely incredible.

Face Front Inclusive Theatre, they normally tour work in special schools and what they have been able to do is create a really state-of-the-art resource to use the medium of film rather than live drama to get their message across. So these are three different examples of ways that organisations have really adapted their offer had great success doing so.

We've also heard quite regularly that organisations tell us that using a virtual format has really had a positive benefit for participants, often those with disabilities finding it easier to engage with artists on screen rather than in the room.

That's obviously not the case for all young people but certainly that's been an added benefit in this way of working. We also hear that attendance at sessions is higher potentially sometimes than normal, and often parents and families are able to see more of what their children are doing, going back to wanting parents to value what arts can offer and feedback from that opportunity has been really positive.

We do feel that some of the lessons learnt over this period will be continued in day-to-day practice of organisations and I know that a lot of groups are looking to create blended offers for participants, and I think that's such a positive step which would ultimately result in giving schools and young people the choice in the way that they engage with the Arts, and surely that can only serve to boost participation, engagement and enjoyment.

I know we are all looking forward to the day that we can go back to the cinema, the theatre and galleries again and this day is going to come, but the message I want to say is that as funders we understand we do see you, we hear you and we know that families of young people with disabilities are under huge pressure and strain and we want to do more as a funder and to support you with the inclusion agenda, and I think when we emerge from this pandemic we will need the arts as a way of making sense of what happened to us, and we need to ensure all children young people have access to the arts, in particular the arts of the highest quality.

And we need to make sure that schools value the Arts over that catch up curriculum and use the Arts in that catch up curriculum to support them back into the normal way of life, to enjoy the rich tapestry that real life has to offer.

That's all I have to say, thank you.


Lisha Aquino Rooney’s parent perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Lisha Aquino Rooney's parent perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Lisha shares personal stories of her son, who is autistic, experiencing art and from this provides advice to museums and galleries on how to be more welcoming to people with autism.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

  • See Lisha's pre-conference blog here
  • See Lisha's Letter to the Editor of Disability Arts Online here
  • See the slides from this presentation here

Lisha is an artist and autistic rights advocate, particularly within the arts realm. She is CEO of WhatDo, a clothing company celebrating autistic individuals and neurodiversity; ambassador for Flute Theatre, a theatre company which performs the works of Shakespeare to audiences primarily composed of people who could not ordinarily access the performing arts, including autistic individuals and their families; and governor at Queensmill School, a school for autistic children rated Outstanding in all aspects by Ofsted.

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Lisha Aquino Rooney's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A woman with long brown hair pushed back behind her ears is facing the camera with her head and shoulders visible. She is wearing a black blouse with small white buttons on the collar. Behind her is a plain grey wall. This presentation uses Power Point slides which are available on this web page.


So welcome everyone and thanks very much for joining today to discuss cultural inclusion. I'm going to jump right in because I have quite a lot to go through and hopefully we'll get through it all.

So, this is my background, and this is just a glimpse, and as far as the autistic rights advocate that's primarily within the Arts realm. You'll see as the presentation goes on that we're very big art fans. Being Ambassador of Flute theatre, again, I think you'll hear about them a bit later, maybe from John Lyon's. As an ambassador I aware of everything that they do and since the pandemic I think they've made about 350 performances and they're working with families who were the most affected, particularly during these Covid times, that includes ourselves. They've just received some funding from the UN for a project in Peru and it's affecting the most poverty-stricken ones that are autistic I think some down syndrome children as well and ones that have suffered again from Covid. And I'm a Governor at Queensmill School, of the most amazing schools in the World, not that I'm biased and I think you'll hear from Freddie who's the headteacher on the panel later. And finally CEO of What Do which is a clothing company, we are launching in April which actually celebrates diversity, celebrates neurodiversity, celebrates autism.

So this is about viewing and creating art and all the positive attributes that it brings. Particularly for autistic children and neurodiverse individuals. I think the most important things are expression. There aren't a lot of ways that they are able to express, especially non-verbal children like my autistic son who you see here, touching some art and also the visual learning.

I think people overlook how certain people learn and I think a lot of autistic individuals do tend to be visual learners. I'm a visual learner. I do need graphics. I do need colour, I do need some sort of detail besides just the verbal and the oral or I just can't comprehend.

And also the multiple interpretations, I think the beautiful thing about art is there is no single interpretation. So they're not going to get it wrong, if children are standing in front of a piece of are there is no right. There is no wrong. There's just their own interpretation.

(Slide showing photographs of a child interacting with art.) This is like the wedding videos that people show you, or the holiday videos that everyone gets bored with, but hopefully you won't get bored. These are all my son, Lumen. This is all over lockdown because the indoor art venues were closed we made a point to go outside and see some art. And we're avid art goers, my older son as well, he's 13, and I just want to tell you about my love of art and why I think it's so important to expose Lumen and to expose all neuro diverse individuals.

My love of art is really its ability to make us contemplate. It's a possibility. It's a recourse. It's a companion with an ability to affect change, and I've strived to make them aware that is one of the things that won't fail him. If nature fails him, if humans misunderstand him, judge him, for any differences, if they disappoint him. If there are no consolation, no relief in anything else that he can always have art. He can have the conversation that he wants on his terms without anyone inflicting their expectations, least of all cultural institutions.

And during our outdoor adventures I quickly learnt that we were having so many positive experiences, compared to those indoors that I thought some indoor venues can learn from this. (Slide showing an indoor art installation.) This is just an example, people may recognise this. This is within Tate Modern it's Cildo Meireles, his Babel Tower and I think the reason that Lumen likes this room is that it's quite dim, there are some sort of white noise coming from these old radios.

And we need to create something touchable. I think, in our experience going outside you can see that first image Lumen was able to touch things, we were walking through structures within garden squares. He could walk through them, he could touch them, and I think this is missing. Museums are missing a huge opportunity and not just museums all cultural institutions. Touch. There's a huge lack of focus on that sense within cultural institutions.

So, these are just suggestions, but maybe without - you know, I'm an art purist myself, I don't want anything that's going to ruin the actual installation, but just to have something like this on the side that they can actually touch. I think will be more engaging for them and will just make the experience so much better and not just neuro diverse or autistic individuals, but everyone.

(Slide showing an art work and an iPad.) This is just another example. There's a Hockney exhibition coming up at the Royal Academy, I think when museums and galleries open again, and he's created these pieces on an iPad and so what I thought the Royal Academy might do is include some iPads. I know a lot of students at Lumen's school are familiar with iPads. I know a lot of autistic friends that we have are familiar with their tablets. Just to have, again, something to touch on the side, another suggestion.

This was very important that we learnt during or outdoor art adventures. We were able to find alcoves, we were able to find quiet corners. We went to see Ai Weiwei, which was in Piccadilly Square, which is quite loud. Lots of traffic, lots of pedestrians. And we managed to sort of recess into own alcove, we could see the bright lights, we could see everything but we were safe, we were in our own safe space.

And I think this is a very important thing for cultural institutions to try and implement. Those that aren't now, they need to offer some sort of space where children can resort to, and adults can resort to. Where they're going to feel safe. They're going to feel like they're not amongst all the traffic or not amongst too many trying to climb through too many installations or work their way around places where they can't stay for too long.

(Slide showing a floor plan.) I think it's very important to offer this sort of space. So this is just a mock up. This is a Tate Modern map that's already available, but I've just put on there my suggestions for some safe spaces and they don't have to be fancy. They don't have to be a sensory room. It's just an unused room, a small even closet space, a corner of a cloakroom anything that will give them some respite. Just a chance to sit down, regroup and be away from everyone else. This is just an idea and also to indicate where the toilets are that have no hand dryers. And also where there might be, I think I'm being very very optimistic, but where there might be some ear defenders available at desks.

(Slide showing a sensory map) And this is just a brilliant example. This is one of the most brilliant safe space maps I've seen. This is the Royal Academy sensory map and in it they've included so many fantastic things that are relevant to parents and carers of autistic individuals and and artistic individuals themselves.

It shows the bright areas, the dark areas, the quiet spaces, the noisy spaces, lets you know where there are toilets accessible without the hand dryers, lets you know that there's a difference in the flooring, in the pattern, in the colour. It even tells you that in some of the toilets those metal that reflects light if that's going to bother you from a sensory perspective. Just perfect, and all the events that they offer that are geared towards neurodiverse families.

So this sticks in my craw because we've been kicked out of galleries and we've been told that we're not allowed to do this, not allowed to do that and it's extremely frustrating and I think that the education for cultural inclusion needs to start from the very very top and it needs to filter down.

I mean, as a Governor at Queensmill, Freddie Udu the headteacher is the most amazing human being because how he stands, he makes sure that everyone stands in the same place. Everyone has a similar understanding, everyone adopts similar codes of conduct and empathy and it just filters down and you can see it and absolutely no reason why a lot of these cultural institutions shouldn't be doing the same.

(Two videos showing a child reacting excitedly to art) These are actually videos.

These are just to show that I'd never apologise for my son's reaction to art and I never feel embarrassed. I always feel like it's part of normalising these sort of reactions and interpretations. And I know I'm his mother but every time I see these videos it just makes me very happy, it just makes me see him engaged and quite a sad thing is that when we have been in galleries, when the staff, particularly invigilators, have seen him react like this they either get scared or they get angry and I'm not understanding either of these reactions.

There's nothing to be scared of someone jumping and flapping and spinning you should actually feel very happy that they're responding and at they're reacting in such a way. So when Lumen does this I never make any effort stop him, I in fact encourage any sort of reaction he has because I think it's beautiful.

So providing social stories for every single exhibition, and I know that Claire Madge from Autism in Museums is speaking later. And I'm absolutely sure that she's had a huge hand and all the museums that are now providing social stories. My son personally doesn't follow them, but we do pull out the images and show him what he may see and what he may see along the way, trees, dogs, people, taxis, buses, anything to familiarise himself with the route there and then when we get there.

This particular social story I love because it was created by - they're all verbal, young adults, they're all autistic and the project is called Social Story Spectrum Project. It brought together these individuals, I think they went to seven museums, they're able to practice their social skills and they actually wrote these so it's from their perspective which I think is extremely important rather than us trying to figure out what we think might be the issues that are most relevant to them. They did it themselves and shared it, so I think we can be doing more about here.

(Slide showing badges and ear defenders) Yes, so in our outdoor adventures I think that some indoor venues might be able to adopt some of these. Obviously we don't know what's going to happen with wearing masks, but I think it's important to offer some sort of badge or sticker because I know my son will get stares. I know other individuals will get stares if they don't have a mask on indoors, when they should and rather than people look at them and get upset, I think this is just a way of communicating taken straight from transport for London, their idea of writing a badge.

And then this is just a mocked up version of some ear defenders. These are £5 or less. I think all cultural institutions, there's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't be offering these and giving them away. Slapping their branding on and I think it's shameful, there are some cultural institutions that offer, maybe two, that they have behind a desk out of possibly visitors a day and it's not acceptable to me.

First of all I don't think that anyone knows they are available and if you give something like this I just think that the loyalty increases and also you're just showing empathy to visitors and in turn they are showing you that they appreciate it.

Yes, and this is my main point of contention, allowing more than a few hours, once a month for autistic visitors. When we were going outside we could go whenever we wanted and I knew the times when there would be less visitors. I knew the times it wouldn't be so bright outside, there wouldn't be a lot of traffic and so, we showed up during these times and just made it more relevant to me that we're not getting enough from indoor venues.

Early in the morning, 8am, is not the ideal time and it basically makes me feel like the squeezing us in before they have a chance to make money from the rest of the visitors and if they know anything about autism they know that there's a sleep deficit there are a lot of sleepless nights and having to show up at 8am just to have some quiet and just have less visitors isn't enough for us.

Last one because I know I'm running over. Yes, this is very important. I think that it's not a matter of shaming institutions, but it is a matter of letting them know if you're not being inclusive you're actively excluding and just ignoring inclusivity is not going to make it go away. It will always be here until the end of humanity and by not being inclusive you're telling individuals that they're just not worth it which, we all know, it's not fair and I don't think it's legal under some doctrines. There are always ways to re-budget there always ways to reallocate funds and resources, it's just a matter of getting creative and it can be done.

And, lastly a commercial perspective is not the only perspective.

So, thanks everyone and if there's any Q&As later I'll answer them. If not here are my details and you can message me privately.

Thank you.


Stephen Unwin at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Stephen Unwin's speech to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Stephen shares the joy of living with his severely learning disabled son and warns of the dangers of negative language surrounding disabilities and the impact this has on wider society.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

Stephen is a very experienced theatre and opera director, who has been Chief Executive and founding Artistic Director of two very successful theatre companies: English Touring Theatre (1993-2008) and the Rose Theatre Kingston (2008-2015).  Stephen has written eight books on theatre and drama and his first play, All Our Children, was performed in London and New York. Stephen has taught in universities and conservatoires in Britain and the US. He is the father of a profoundly disabled young man and is a passionate advocate for the rights of the disabled, especially people with learning disabilities. Since 2016 Stephen has been Chairman of KIDS, a national charity for disabled children. Stephen also identifies as disabled himself.

The manifesto referred to in Stephen's speech can be seen here: Writing about people with Learning Disabilities. A Manifesto. — Stephen Unwin

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Stephen Unwin's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A man with a full grey beard and bald head faces the camera. His head and shoulders are visible and he is wearing a black jumper and black framed glasses. Behind him is a large round wall clock and many framed photographs and artworks.


So, I'm Stephen Unwin and I've worked as a theatre director, run theatres and worked in Opera and written lots of books for about 40 years too long - grey beard, but I'm also the father of a young man with severe learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities. 24, has no speech. Is not autistic. So it's not that group. And I just wanted to tell you some stories and some thoughts I've been having.

But I'm going to start with Twitter. Now, as everyone who use it knows Twitter is a cesspit, it's a place to get shouted at by strangers, bark into the void, and fight off anonymous trolls. So you can imagine my surprise when a jokey little tweet of mine set off an enormous wave of love, pride and the best in humanity.

It was the afternoon of New Year's Day and I was lying on the sofa with my 24-year old and we were giggling at one of our routine jokes. I took a few quick selfies of us having a cuddle, was pleased with one of them and tweeted it out with the simple deeply ironic message "so terrible being the dad of a learning disabled young man."

I thought nothing more of it until I returned to my phone and saw a steady stream of notifications likes, comments, retweets and so on. But I was especially struck by the hundreds and hundreds of pictures pouring in of families with a learning disabled relative doing happy ordinary things - climbing mountains, walking on a beach, bouncing on trampolines, posing in Christmas pyjamas. Laughing, smiling and having fun.

And prompted by my original tweet each carried its own pithy little message of mock gloom. "Another day of misery", "Awful sadness", "Such dreadful hell", and so on. And I decided to reply to each one of them with mock sympathy, "Oh, how awful", "So grim", "Thoughts and prayers" and so on. And so for three frantic hours on Friday evening I could hardly keep up. And when I woke up on Saturday it was still going strong. By Monday morning I was on the Today programme talking about what had happened and what I thought it meant.

Now, while I don't put much store by Twitter likes and retweets it was clear that Joey and I had somehow struck a chord. And this is because families of learning disabled children, and disabled children, are so often made to feel that their situation is deeply tragic, that I think my tweet encouraged them to show that they don't just love their child to the moon and back, but more importantly perhaps their child has taught them more about life and love and laughter than other people might expect. And they wanted to express that in public.

These families, I think we're reacting to what is often called the tragedy model and I think it's hard wired in our culture and our Society and it starts early. The birth of a disabled child is so often regarded as a sadness. We even see it in the language surrounding pregnant who are women told of the risk of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome.

And when a disabled child is very young parents, perhaps mostly middle-class parents like me, are told to downgrade their expectations. Voices whisper in our ear about the dangers of denialism. There's even a piece of advice that we should think of it that we booked a holiday in Italy but found ourselves in Holland instead. It's a piece of advice I rather hate actually, and that we should enjoy the tulips and windmills instead of the Trevi Fountain or Mount Vesuvius. Well, being Joey's Dad has been a lot more like Mount Vesuvius, in all its splendour, than being in Holland.

And then we find ourselves involved in years of struggle for a decent education, care if it's needed and housing. And we quickly discover that the only way of securing the support we need is by emphasising the negative. You have to say that your child is really really really bad at things before they get the human rights that everybody else deserves so readily. I even found myself saying to a bureaucrat that if Joey died of epilepsy, which was possible, she would be responsible because she hadn't taken the right action.

And it takes it out of you this stuff and of course all the time we are reminded of just how expensive our children are. And now in the middle of this pandemic in which young learning disabled people are 30 times as likely to die of Covid-19 as their non-disabled peers, we discover that do not resuscitate orders have been slapped on them. And we've all had to fight with whatever we've got for them to be vaccinated. And even in the fight for vaccination just now it was only the most negative language that seem to cut through and persuade the politicians to change their practices.

So it sometimes feels like we're having to fight for basic human rights for learning disabled people, especially those with disabilities like my Joey. I think all goes back to public attitudes and this is where culture comes in, but not just high culture, but everyday culture.

There's not a day goes by when I don't hear people using the vile language of abuse to indicate disagreement, so-and-so's a "moron", a "cretin", a "retard", an "imbecile", an "idiot". Now these were all words that I've been researching, that we use to segregate, depersonalised sterilise and even murder people who are thought to represent a danger of one kind or another because of their intellectual capacity, or lack of capacities.

When I object I've noticed that people get ready angry with me as if I'm denying their fundamental human rights to call people "idiots". All I know is that every time I hear that language a little part inside of me dies.

And what is so often forgotten is just how creative, enjoyable and anarchic sharing a life with a learning disabled person can be. And while I reject the pieties that special parents get special children or that god sends disabled children to make the parents better, I know that my Joey has had a hugely positive impact on me, and the rest of his family.

The point I want to make is that loving Joey and loving people like Joey is the easy bit, he's no tragedy. It's fighting for his future which hurts. The fact is that we live in a culture that privileges a very narrow notion of intellectual excellence as the single most desirable quality a human being can have.

The unexamined life is not worth living declared Socrates, what kind of argument is that? The English philosopher John Locke struggled with the idea of including those who can't speak among the human. And more recently liberal progressives Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf and so on were eager supporters of eugenics. Richard Dawkins tweets that if only we could get over our qualms eugenics should be useful today.

The fact is that every great moment of human progress has a dark side, and that's the place where the learning disabled have been shunted off and forgotten about.

So it's perhaps time that those of us who work in culture, and I've spent my life doing it, started to question this hierarchy of value, not by abandoning our own abilities but by insuring that they don't exclude people who are different, those people, who people like us, have so consistently frowned on.

And that seems to me pretty fundamental to the title of this conference. And so I think cultural representation really matters. And I was glad to hear that reference to representation just now from Paul. And it's in this spirit last year I drew up a manifesto for the representation of learning disabled people and it's been adopted I believe by Learning Disability England and struck a chord when I introduced at last year's conference.

So I hope you'll forgive me for wheeling it out again, but I think it's quite interesting and is perhaps quite useful, it's hardly comprehensive - and I'm nearly finished everybody, so don't worry - but this is what I want to see:

(One) I want to see stories with learning disabled characters who aren't defined only by their learning disability.
Two, stories in which, when a character's learning disabilities are mentioned, we see the social structures surrounding him or her.
Three, stories which recognise the challenges of a relative with learning disabilities, but don't show them simply as a tragedy.
Four, stories of learning disabled people which aren't simply examples of courage in the face of insuperable odds.
Five, stories in which learning disabled people aren't granted special powers or abilities.
Six, stories which don't expect learning disabled people to convey metaphorical meaning.
Seven, stories in which family members can be shown to be frustrated by their relatives learning disabilities, while loving them hugely at the same time.
Eight, stories which show that, while learning disabled people are sometimes the victims of abuse and cruelty, they often bring out the very best in the people who come into contact with them.
Nine, stories which show the funny side of some learning disabled behaviour, without falling to contempt or abuse.
Ten, stories in which the language of contempt and abuse towards learning disabled people is challenged.

In other words I want representations of learning disabled people which see them as human beings. Because the fact is that learning disabled people are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers. They are ourselves. We are them.

And I think it's time that culture found ways of working with, listening to and representing the defiantly human experience of this long neglected group.

That manifesto, if anybody's interested is on my website somewhere and I can share it with anybody who wants to look at it further.

Thanks very much for listening and I'm looking forward to the rest of this conference. Cheers.


Paul Morrow’s keynote to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Paul Morrow's keynote to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

The co-author of the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto welcomed delegates to the conference and set out some of the challenges for the months ahead with this keynote speech.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

See Paul's pre-conference blog here

Paul is the author of the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto which led to the Cultural Inclusion movement. He has spent 12 years working in SEND education, teaching art at Westminster Special schools. He has a MA in Art and Design in Education and a Diploma inSpecial and Inclusive Education from the Institute of Education. Paul has also worked as a consultant to the Royal Academy of Art and delivered workshops for the Arts and special Educational Needs and Disabilities Conference at the Museum of London. Paul is a practicing artist.

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Paul Morrow's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A man with light brown hair and goatee beard, wearing a blue shirt, faces the camera. His head and collar are visible.  Behind him is a grey wall with a few pictures that are just about visible at the top of the screen.


Good morning everyone and hello fellow inclusionists.

My name is Paul Morrow and I co-authored the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto, a manifesto that seeks to make real practical and sustainable change in the field of arts, culture and inclusion. By being here today you are supporting cultural inclusion.

I'd like to thank Marsha de Cordova, MP for that instruction to today's conference and it's great to hear that she will be raising the recommendations that are developed from today's conference in Parliament.

First of all I'd like to thank my colleagues Anita, Matt and Rachel who have helped organise this conference. There is no funding for the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto. This conference is made possible by the work and belief that there is value in bringing us all together to share knowledge and insights so that we can increase inclusion. And I'd like to thank all of those who have generously given their time today.

There is no more of an opportune moment to discuss cultural inclusion than now. The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto works across a broad space to support and enable inclusion in high-quality Arts and Culture. We work in a space to identify barriers, solutions and opportunities.

This is a participatory conference. You are all active participants, to be part of this conversation, to shape the conversation. A conversation that will move to actions. There will be a report published, with recommendations. One that has the attention of politicians, which we will share and promote.

We know that during the pandemic there have been innovations that have enabled meaningful access and inclusion. Some of these will be shared with you today. People who work in this space have continued to problem solve - as a signifier of inclusion. These adaptations have led to some profound results. We want to amplify these and share them so they can help and inform other organisations and inform practice in other places and spaces.

We have seen the home become a place of accessing learning, where families have become significant players within the dynamic. This shift means that new relationships have been formed and greater impact has been seen. We know that families are central to inclusion and this offers further opportunities that can be built upon to promote equality of opportunity for disabled children and young people. However, there are inequalities within Society which have become greater and more entrenched. Cracks have now become chasms.The digital divide is an illustration of this, and attempts are being made to meet this need.

As a member of a senior leadership team in a school it is one of the challenges that we met through fundraising and also highlights the complexity of inclusion, that access to resources is needed before meaningful participation can take place. This also demonstrates that access to IT has become a signifier of the divisions present in Society. Not only access to devices but also access to Wi-Fi, which is a reoccurring theme that nearly a year into the pandemic has yet to get the strategic attention from government that it so badly needs.

The threshold for support means that great swathes of learners are missing out. This connectivity is not only vital to education and culture, it is also the connection to community and support. It demonstrates that inclusion is more than just delivering. It's holistic delivery. It's been mindful of barriers like the digital divide and the practicalities of inclusion.

We know that as a result of isolation and the lack of connectivity there is a mental health tsunami growing that will hit post pandemic. We know that mental health matters. We can support those affected and healing can happen. Arts and culture offer a space where an acknowledgement of this can take place. Stories can be told and shared and creativity can help shape our understanding of this time. It is through these shared cultural experiences that we are seen, that we are valued and where we build community.

That leads me to the inclusive recovery. A theme that I know you will hear echoed across the conference today. We need to place inclusion central to this recovery. It needs to be two things, (1) it needs to be structural - and that is a effectively supported financially so that it is sustainable and it needs to be cultural. (2) Driven by policy and a requirement, not an additionality. We cannot afford to lose where we were prior to the pandemic, where we knew that we needed to do more, but this also presents an opportunity to further inclusion and make it central to recovery. A recovery for all.

This leads me on to representation and value. Again, a theme that you will hear echoed across the presentations today. We need to be very clear on the importance of representation. It not only allows disabled young people to see themselves in the spaces and life becomes rich and bigger, but there are defined career pathways and role models. Representation also has far reaching implications. Representations that correspond with the value that Society holds for us and there is more work to be done here.

This is a relaxed conference. It is participatory. It asks you to be actively engaged, to make comment, to question and give suggestion.

This conference is the start of a conversation. We have participants today who span this space. We have the voice of DJ, a young man who speaks beautifully about the power of dance and he'll also be leading a short activity. We have parents speaking from perspective of the home. We have an advisor to the National Lottery heritage fund. We have a parent activist, the wonderful Portraits of Grit. We have schools and we have the perspective of NASEN, the National Association for Special Educational Needs.

We are also very lucky to have the voice of a funder who works in this space, the John Lyon's Charity. A charity I know very well and one who listens. One who is flexible and one who places co-production central to their work and is possibly the most progressive funder I know of. A funder who wants to support the delivery of high quality arts and culture that is inclusive, but also supports needs as they arise and actively promotes cultural change for its work and cultural inclusion. A funder who is looking at launching some new funding opportunities into this place, so do keep an eye out.

And finally, I'm very lucky to be writing a book for NASEN and Professor Adam Boddison of NASEN is here speaking today. This conference will also help to inform the writing of this book, capturing the voices and the solutions to increase inclusion across the space, so I thank you for that.

So listen, comment, question and give suggestions in the chat. Be an active participant and be involved.


Portraits of Grit at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

April Li presents Portraits of Grit to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

This is the second video from the conference to be released.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

April is a mum, advocate and the creator of Portraits of Grit (a human library of stories and lived experiences of disability on Instagram). She also works as a lawyer at a business development bank and is the interim chairman of icandance, a charity that supports children and young people with disabilities through dance and movement.”

Portraits Of Grit (@portraitsofgrit) Instagram Page

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of April Li's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A woman with long straight black hair wearing a plum jumper. She is sitting facing the camera with head and shoulders visible. Behind her is a large green and blue painting. At one minute and forty-five seconds, for approximately 30 seconds, the screen shows the Portraits of Grit Instagram page, before returning to the woman.


Hi everybody. My name is April.

I'm sorry I can't be with you today, but Paul and Anita have kindly invited me to tell you a little bit about Portraits of Grit.

First I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself and how I came to create Portraits of Grit and I'm going to end with a call to arms.

So I think we can all agree that the last year has been one of great turmoil. I think the whole world has had the taste of what isolation feels like.

Portraits of grit was founded a few years ago after that feeling of isolation. It's sadly something that families living with disability have felt long before this pandemic came along. I'm the parent of two wonderful girls. One of whom has complex needs. So I've experienced first hand what that isolation can feel like.

I was inspired to create Portraits of Grit because I realised that when I chatted to fellow parents, with kids with different needs, that I found a real connection each and every single time regardless of how little we may have in common.

Whether it was age or gender or race or background, regardless of how different our kids needs might've been. And not only was there connection but simply hearing about other people's stories made me feel so empowered and better able to face my own challenges. Also those amazing people didn't even realize how much they were helping me by sharing their experiences.

So I went about creating this platform on Instagram to feature stories of lived experiences of disability in the hope of raising disability awareness and connecting the disability community, breaking down isolation.

Here's some pictures of the feed on my account, through it I've had the privilege of meeting some incredible humans and I hope you will take some time to look at some of the stories captured to date.

They include stories from those living with disability themselves, to parents and siblings and they range from stories of joy to stories of loss, domestic abuse, bullying, struggling with public perceptions of disability as well as one's own struggles with coming to terms with the diagnosis.

But honestly every time I've walked away from an interview I've felt overwhelmed and astounded and humbled by the depth and strength of the human spirit.

I feel there's also been a shift in the last year in the diversity movement. I think now more than ever a light has been shone on the importance of listening to people whose lived experiences don't match our own, to not be fearful to ask questions on the importance of representation and media, in culture, in the corporate world, in leadership.

To me disability is simply another form of difference. And if you believe, as research has evidenced, that there's value in bringing together people with different lived experiences, different brains, different outlooks and perspectives, then I don't think you can truly say you're embracing diversity unless you also include the disability community in that conversation.

And that's where I hope Portraits of Grit can do its little bit to make a difference because I think there is no doubt that people with disabilities need more exposure. And if you don't have any exposure to a person with lived experiences of disability then you can't really understand it. You might think you do, but you can't rid yourself of any conscious or unconscious bias if you're thinking about it on your own.

The statistics around how this pandemic has affected disabled people and in particular those with learning difficulties like my daughter, is frankly horrifying, and it demonstrates that we are nowhere near even good enough in shifting public perceptions around disability.

Having said that I'm a cup half full type person and speaking with all the families I think good has also come out with the crisis and that it's given a lot of people access to things that they might've been excluded from or not been able to participate in for whatever reason before, from culture to work to school.

It's been noted lately that after the Spanish flu came the roaring twenties. Well, I say if there's going to be another roaring 2020s, let's work together to ensure that disabled people are not only not left behind but positively thought about and included in the conversation.

Let's not wait for another pandemic to realise that disability is just another form of difference and that people with the difference have more to give than they take. I think my Mia has so much more to give than people give her credit for.

Let's welcome the differences, learn from them and celebrate them. Last but not least a heartfelt thank you from my family, and I'm sure from all families out there living with disability, for the work that you do, it really matters. It's very important and we really appreciate it.

Thank you for listening.