Principles, Ethics and Rights

Access Rights for d/Deaf and Disabled People

Detailed Discussion

Commitment Statement

NAVA advocates for good practice policies and procedures ensuring inclusion and participation for d/Deaf and Disabled people across all aspects and operations of Australia’s contemporary arts – as creatives, arts workers, administrators, and audiences. Striving for equity and access involves a commitment to ongoing conversations with and learning from d/Deaf and Disabled people, and responsive and flexible practices. We encourage all those working in the arts to join us in this commitment.

Models of Disability

The Code follows the social model of disability, which describes disability as a social construct, and the result of interaction between people living with disability and an environment filled with physical, attitudinal, communication and social barriers. These barriers must change or be removed for people with disability to participate on an equal basis with others. NAVA also recognises the human rights model of disability, which acknowledges a person’s disability as a part of human diversity that must be respected and supported. 

How to Use This Section

This section of the Code presents information on access principles, ethics, and rights, as well as accessibility good practice. Accessibility information that is specific to an individual topic area is covered there. This section will not provide the in-depth resources and information that are provided by organisations working specifically in the disability space. See the Recommended Resources below for links to further resources.

A Note on Terminology

NAVA interchangeably uses person first (person with disability) and identity first (Disabled person) language, and acknowledges the complexities of these words and that each individual will have a preference. The term disability can also include people who are Deaf or hard of hearing (HoH). People from the Deaf community may not identify as having disability and may identify as part of a cultural and linguistic group with their first language being Auslan. Deaf (with a capital D) is used to describe people who identify as culturally Deaf. We note that terminology for d/Deaf and Disabled people often changes, and the current use is guided by d/Deaf and Disabled advisors, and may change, pending later advice from d/Deaf and Disabled advisors

For more information, see Accessible Arts

Current Conditions

Currently, in Australia, one in six people live with disability – 18% of the population. Disability can involve the physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological, immunologic, processing, learning and energy capacities of a person. Disability can also include physical difference and the presence in the body of disease-causing organisms (e.g. HIV). A person’s disability may be permanent or temporary (likely to last for at least six months), visible or ‘invisible’, and capacities may vary from day to day.

For more information, see the Australian Human Rights Commission Know Your Rights: Disability Discrimination resource.

d/Deaf and Disabled artists experience considerable barriers in employment, funding and participation in arts organisations. There is a history of siloing d/Deaf and Disabled arts within therapeutic community art centres or sheltered workshops, where they have faced economic and copyright exploitation as well as marginalisation and professional exclusion.

d/Deaf and Disabled people are as diverse a group as the general population, with varying backgrounds and life experiences. They may face overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalisation, such as race, gender and/or socio-economic marginalisation. First Nations communities experience Disability at more than twice the rates in non-First Nations communities. Overlapping forms of discrimination contribute to the isolation of d/Deaf and Disabled people, and reduces their capacity to articulate access needs.

NAVA acknowledges that d/Deaf and Disabled people may have conflicting access, and advises that good practice should be based on giving d/Deaf and Disabled people agency (choice, information) in how navigating their participation in/engagement in the visual arts.

Key Issues

Principles of Access and Inclusion

The common principles for access and inclusion are:

  • Participation: People have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Participation should be active, free, and meaningful, with attention to issues of access such as information in forms and language that can be understood.

  • Accountability: Accessibility and inclusion standards, including progress toward goals, should be regularly monitored and evaluated. Appropriate methods for providing feedback and addressing complaints should be put in place. 

  • Non-discrimination and equality: All forms of discrimination are to be eliminated and avoided. This includes recognising the increasing exclusion of those at the intersections of vulnerabilities and accounting for unconscious bias.

  • Empowerment: d/Deaf and Disabled people must be able to participate fully in the development of policies and practices which affect them. A simple guide is ‘nothing about us without us’.

  • Legality: Legal requirements recognise that inclusion and access are rights to which d/Deaf and Disabled people are entitled and that this is a shared responsibility.

  • Equity and justice: The fair treatment of all people with disability for equitable opportunities and outcomes through systems and processes that support and sustain social justice.

In practice this mean that:

  • artists and organisations have a responsibility to consult, consider and advise on accessibility

  • artists and organisations advocate for provision of access supports

  • artists and organisations plan and budget for access provisions

For more information, see the Australian Human Rights Commission's Human Rights Based Approaches resource.

Social Inclusion and Universal Access

Social inclusion can be defined as people having the resources, opportunities, and capabilities to:

  • learn (participate in education and training)

  • work (paid or voluntary)

  • engage (connect with people and participate in civic, cultural, and social activities)

  • have a voice (participate in decision-making)

Social inclusion requires universal access, which means that regardless of their abilities, people can approach, enter and make use of an area and facilities in a manner that retains their dignity and independence, without having to disclose their Disability. Universal design is a way of thinking about environments and facilities that meet the needs of all members of the community. Access and inclusion should be planned together in consultation with d/Deaf and Disabled people, communicated clearly, and monitored. People need both access to, and to be included in environments with consideration to design, place, and people.

Social inclusion and universal access and design have particular relevance for d/Deaf and Disabled people, but also benefit the broader community. At some time in their lives, everyone will experience their abilities change or be impacted; physically, mentally, socially, environmentally or situationally, which may impact their ability to interact equitably in environments.

Although working towards social inclusion and universal access is important, it will not automatically achieve access for everyone. Individuals will have different and sometimes complex and even conflicting access needs depending on their circumstances. Clear communication about the accessibility and experience of a creative work or exhibition space, gives d/Deaf and Disabled people more choice in how they engage with the work. Access and inclusion involves constant learning and work, actively encouraging feedback about access requirements and inclusion experiences, being prepared to listen, and being flexible in adapting to different situations.

For more information and definitions of universal access, universal design and social inclusion, see Tweed Shire Council's Access and Inclusion Plan.

Legal Requirements

Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA) is the federal legislation making disability discrimination unlawful. The DDA also promotes equal rights, opportunity and access for d/Deaf and Disabled people. The Australian Human Rights Commission provides A Brief Guide to the Disability Discrimination Act. Each state and territory also has anti-discrimination legislation.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is an international human rights convention, of which Australia is a signatory, that outlines the fundamental human rights of people with disability. Australia’s Human Rights Commission provides a brief guide to the UNCRPD.

Each state and territory also has its own anti-discrimination legislation.

Recommended Processes

Ensure Online Accessibility

WCAG Principles

Online content should follow the principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for online and digital publications. These guidelines help ensure online content can be accessed and understood by all users.

Good practice guidelines on implementing the WCAG principles are available in the Australian Government’s Style Manual for Applying WCAG Accessibility Principles. The Australian Government's Digital Transformation Agency offers information on embedding accessibility in online design, and the Web Accessibility Initiative offers comprehensive WCAG Guidelines.

Accessible Design

Accessible online design might include:

  • alt-text descriptions on images including on social media

  • captioning and Auslan interpretation of video content including on social media

  • transcripts of audio content

  • capacity for contrast and font-size adjustment

  • using consistent structures that are compatible with screen readers

  • installing a widget on a website to allow for a variety of access adjustments

  • providing download content and documents in accessible formats

Good practice guidelines are available in the Australian Government’s style manual for Designing for Accessibility and Inclusion.

To ensure functionality, it is good practice for online accessibility functions to undergo testing with individuals who have a range of access requirements.

Identify Barriers to Access

An important first step when considering access is to identify and remove barriers that people may experience. These are often simple and cost-effective to remove. Barriers will exist in facilities, programs and processes that were established without consideration to access. Barriers can be easily identified by consulting with d/Deaf and Disabled advisors, or Disabled-led organisations.

Barriers may be: 

  • Physical such as a step, inaccessible toilets or inaccessible transport

  • Environmental such as sounds, smells or lighting

  • Communication such as having limited methods of contact or delivering information

  • Digital such as an inaccessible social media feed

  • Structural such as short and rigid deadlines

Once barriers have started being removed or addressed, further access can be planned for and provided. This might include specific programming, additional resources, implementing new systems, or working on collaborative projects.

Improve Access

Below are some practical examples of ways access can be implemented and improved. It’s important to remember that accessibility will look different for each person, organisation, or project.

Further checklists for accessibility can be found on Accessible Arts NSW website.  


  • ensuring physical access to venues and facilities, events and programs

  • considering lighting, sounds and smells

  • considering health impacts of an environment

  • considering the immediate environment outside the venue

  • having quiet spaces, relaxed sessions, sessions with smaller capacity

  • having content warnings

  • welcoming service animals

  • having accessible transport options to the venue (including parking)

  • providing disability confidence and awareness training for staff, contractors and volunteers

Information and Communication

  • including ‘access information’ (including wayfinding and sensory maps) on websites and onsite in various formats and using universal access symbols

  • providing information and communicating in a clear and understandable way

  • providing multiple and flexible methods of communication

  • providing adequate information about the environment and artworks to allow people to make informed decisions

  • providing information in Easy English

  • providing audio description of visual information including artworks

  • providing Auslan interpretation of information and as a form of communication

  • captioning videos and transcribing audio

  • having clear signage in multiple formats including wayfinding information

  • providing social stories for important information and venues

  • using alt-text on images online

  • using formatting that is compatible with screen readers

  • having an accessibility widget on websites

Processes and Expectations

  • inviting people to communicate any access request or concern

  • responding positively to individual access requests

  • consulting with d/Deaf and/or Disabled advisors in planning and evaluation

  • regularly reviewing and adapting access based on feedback and experience

  • ensuring long lead-up times for projects and deadlines

  • planning for flexible deadlines

  • planning for last-minute change

  • adjusting responsibilities or social expectations

  • being flexible with the involvement of support workers as appropriate work support

  • having equitable application processes, see Equitable Application Processes

Responsibilities of Organisations

Develop a Disability Action Plan

A Disability Action Plan (DAP), or a similar holistic diversity plan, sets out an organisation’s strategy to identify and address practices, systems, and structures in the organisation that might result in (disability) discrimination. Organisations are encouraged to develop and externally publish action plans, as outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), with a recommended five-year review.

Guidance and examples of DAPs are available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website. DAPs should address inclusion and access requirements for all stakeholders – creatives, arts workers, administrators, committee or board members, and audience members.

When developing a DAP it is good practice to consider how intersectionality and lived experience can be incorporated for example through establishing advisory committees or reference groups.

Organisations should also consider and identify their motivation for developing a DAP and ensure that this is outlined and enacted through the plan.

Plan and Budget for Accessibility

Where access and inclusion are embedded within an organisation they become integral from the initial planning and budgeting stages of any process, including:

  • events/exhibitions

  • funding applications

  • program development and scheduling

  • commissioning

  • promotions and management of events/exhibitions

  • application processes

  • alterations to physical structures - permanent or temporary

Accessibility must be considered for creatives, arts workers, and audiences involved in a project. Organisations can apply for Employment Assistance Funding in order to ensure access provisions for d/Deaf and Disabled staff.

It is important to discuss access early in conversations with artists or arts workers so that access needs can be outlined and any costs planned for. Artists may provide an access rider to help communicate needs and boundaries. Planning must also consider ‘invisible’ disability such as neurodiversity or mental health conditions, allowing for longer lead and break times.

When budgeting for access costs, organisations must:

  • cover the costs of access for audiences

  • discuss any access costs with the artists or arts workers they are working with (where the person is comfortable doing so) to reach an agreement on who is paying for what costs. This must then be outlined in the contract

  • separate access costs from artist fees (artist fees must not be used to cover access costs)

When engaging artists it is good practice for organisations to cover all access costs where possible, particularly where access costs are related to the artist or arts worker attending meetings/events or working onsite as part of the project. An agreement may be reached for the organisation to cover specific access costs while the artist or arts worker will cover others. The organisation should not make assumptions about a person's access to National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funds or other external funding to cover access costs.

Seek Expert Advice 

Organisations should seek advice from experts and individuals with lived experience when making their spaces and programs accessible. An open and ongoing conversation about access is an important part of building and maintaining positive relationships with artists and audiences. 

It is good practice to develop and engage a range of individuals and experts that are respected and representative of the community over time. Consultants should be paid for the knowledge, advice and networks they are providing access to.

It is important to note that lived experience provides valuable and necessary insight to improving access but it does not necessarily mean an individual is an expert on access for the whole d/Deaf and Disabled community or that they will know the solution to solving an access barrier.

For information on advisory groups, see NAVA’s Advisory Groups guide.

Responsibilities of Artists

When Making Work

Inclusion and access should be considered during the planning and development stages of artwork creation. Consideration of accessibility at this stage provides greater scope for creating an accessible experience that does not deviate from or impact the intentions of the artist. It is good practice for artists to be included in the decision-making process of making their work accessible. 

Access can be integrated into a work or developed alongside a work, as appropriate, and can be created by the individual artist or in partnership with trained professionals such as audio describers. Effectively designed access will not distract from an artwork or its meaning but rather compliment it and enable engagement by an expanded audience.

When an artist is planning accessibility they need to think beyond physical access and also consider the psychological impact of their work. There may be information about the work that needs to be provided to the presenting organisation and/or audiences such as access/trigger warnings for content, lights, sounds, smells.

When Working with Organisations

Where artists are commissioned by or working with organisations to produce and/or present a work, they should review contracts, partnerships, and programs to ensure accessibility is provided for in budgets and schedules. Artists and organisations may collaborate on the planning, resources and budget involved in making physical and digital work accessible. When collaborating, the responsibilities, expectations and timelines for each party should be made clear at the beginning of the relationship. Where an artist is to arrange for accessibility costs this must be itemised separately from their artist and materials fees.

When Presenting Work Independently

Where artists are producing and presenting their work independently, accessibility is the artist’s responsibility. This includes the artist’s website and social media. Resources are often restricted when producing and presenting work independently but it is good practice to consider and plan for accessibility with the resources available. 

Cost-effective ways of providing access may include:

  • providing information and communicating in a clear and understandable way

  • providing information about the environment and artworks to allow people to make informed decisions

  • making accessible pathways through an exhibition space

  • using alt-text on images online and other web accessibility guidelines

  • planning for flexible deadlines

See Detailed Discussion for more ways to remove barriers and improve access.

Where an artist is receiving grant funding for the production or presentation of work, accessibility costs should be factored into the funding request and itemised separately.

d/Deaf and Disabled Artists

d/Deaf and Disabled artists take responsibility for:

  • clearly outlining their own needs and boundaries, particularly concerning access, communication, and time considerations in the production and delivery of work (this may be through an access rider document)

  • engaging in discussion regarding their access costs with organisations they are working with to help organisations budget to pay for these costs

  • including access costs (e.g. for support workers, travel) as a separate budget item from artists’ fees when creating their budgets

  • investigating the inclusion of a creative producer with project budgets or as a support through NDIS via community access

Payment Rates

d/Deaf or Disabled artists and arts workers must be paid in line with industry standards. This includes payment for any consultation services provided.

For more information, see Payment Standards.

The cost of any accessibility provisions required by a d/Deaf or Disabled artist or arts worker must be separated from their artist fee. Assumptions should not be made about a person's access to National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funds to cover access costs. 

Evaluation and Monitoring

Disability Action Plans and other access and inclusion strategies should be actively used with practical actions embedded throughout an organisation, event or program. Plans and strategies should be regularly monitored and evaluated (by d/Deaf and/or Disabled advisors) to determine if they have been effective in increasing accessibility.