The cultural rights of disabled people are at last being recognised. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability (2008) is groundbreaking:
State Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to take part on an equal basis with others in cultural life … (article 30)
Already in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated:
Everyone has the right freely to enjoy the arts and the cultural life of the community… (article 27)
It took exactly sixty years to make explicit that disabled people have cultural rights.
Access “on an equal basis” is a great utopian aspiration. It motivates. It opens up space for unfolding the creative contribution of the cultural sector.
However, there will always be limitations to full access in museums, libraries and archives.
For example, it will never be possible for a blind person to touch all great works of art. Conservation requirements make this impossible.
Such limitations are customarily being used to deny disabled access to a shared cultural experience. Few minds are focused on charting the realms of what is possible.
Council of Europe Recommendation R(92)6, the clearest cultural rights policy to date, spells out the roadmap for change:
Government institutions, leisure and cultural organisations should develop comprehensive access policies and action programmes designed to bring about significant and lasting improvementsf or all people with disabilities (chapter VIII, section 8.5)
The strategic challenge set out by the Council of Europe in 1992 has not been met. It has barely been talked about. The United Nations Convention renews the challenge.
A strategic and systemic approach is needed to bring about “significant and lasting improvements”. This requires commitment to disability research, making access for disabled people a criterion for cultural funding and writing disability equality into the script of everything a museum, library or archive does.
What is “significant” in your collections, exhibitions and events? How can access to them be increased and made sustainable?
If you are a government department, what evidence do you have on which to base national strategic developments? How do you meet your commitments to international policy and your legal obligations?
A global and open society needs public discussion about these fundamental questions.
The Jodi Mattes Trust will foster dialogue and stimulate change.