02 April 2021

Improving the mobility of people with learning difficulties:

the Art + Power initiative in Bristol.

Art + Power is a membership organisation led by disabled artists who produce work in a range of media to inform, challenge and inspire. Along with South West Arts and Bristol City Council, Art + Power has commissioned Transport & Travel Research Ltd to examine transport options for the organisation’s members. The wider objective is that, once viable transport options have been established for the organisation and a pilot scheme has been implemented, the system will serve as a blueprint for accessible services throughout the city of Bristol.

Most of Art + Power’s members are artists with learning difficulties. Although a great deal of research has been carried out into improving the mobility of people who have a physical or sensory impairment, relatively little work has been done to investigate the barriers faced by people with learning difficulties. This may be because the lobby representing this group has had a lower profile than other disability lobby groups. It may also be because the problems that people with learning difficulties encounter are less easy to isolate and define. Whatever the reason, people with learning difficulties represent a substantial proportion of the population, and one which is particularly vulnerable to becoming socially and culturally excluded.

The research is in its early stages, but focus groups held with Art + Power’s artists have shown that they often face insurmountable obstacles when using public transport. For example some Art + Power members have little access to money or experience of using cash, others find information systems such as finding bus stops and identifying bus numbers confusing and off-putting. From the focus group work done as part of the research, it is clear that the organisation’s members find the public transport environment daunting and confusing. Many told of past experiences which had deterred them from travelling or restricted their travelling to certain locations at certain times of day.

The lack of flexible, affordable transport means that to enable artists to continue to access Art + Power the organisation itself must take on both the organisation and costs of transport to and from Art + Power for many of its members. This presents a financial burden on the Society and restricts Art + Power’s ability to take on new members. Rather than promoting empowerment this creates dependence on unwieldy aggregate solutions such as long bus runs.

The project seeks to find ways in which artists can gain the power to control their own transport requirements and hence improve their access to the arts, it hopes to achieve this through an innovative and creative approach involving disabled artists, transport providers and arts organisations as well as the lead organisations: South West Arts, Bristol City Council and Art + Power.

The potential benefits of the project are high as an efficient, affordable and accessible transport system would greatly increase the ability of Art + Power to facilitate participation in the arts by disabled people. It would also have great benefit for other disabled people and indeed for arts organisations as barriers to audiences and participation are reduced.

The project is being promoted through a programme of arts activity by art and power at Bristol City Council’s park and ride facilities.

The final research results are expected in the Spring of 2002.

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For further information, please contact:

Dr Philip Barham

Tel: 01543 416416.

Email: [email protected]