Keep increased accessibility

An Cailín Rua

BLENDING WORLDS Dublin’s The Abbey Theatre has committed offering a blended experience that includes the streaming of events online. Pic: bjaglin/cc-by-sa2.0

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Emerging from the pandemic (we hope), the awfulness of isolation will eventually become a bad memory for most of us. But for all the sadness and trauma, Covid did initiate a few small positive developments, among them better access to events.
We might be fed up with online meetings, but at the same time, they were pretty convenient. Once the preserve of corporate boardrooms, their widespread adoption now gives us options. The option not to take the car out, not to lose hours driving to meetings, to be more efficient in general.
When we have the freedom and technology, why can’t we have the choice of both? Alas, it looks like we may be regressing.  
Take Fáilte Ireland, for example. The national tourism development authority had scheduled two important industry briefing events to take place online in early February, both likely to contain some welcome good news for an industry starved of it. With two weeks to go, these were rescheduled to in-person events in Dublin.
Now, it’s both understandable and commendable that Fáilte Ireland is seizing the chance to convene the people of the tourism industry after two long years apart; there is an appetite to reconnect face-to-face, so it’s a good decision. But what about those of us who simply don’t have the time or resources to drop everything and spend nearly seven hours travelling to and from the capital for a five-hour event, but would really love to hear the news as it is imparted, or even participate in a Q&A in real time, from afar? The technology is there, so why not offer both options?  
Similarly, the GAA – rarely one to forego an opportunity – is missing a serious trick by not live-streaming non-televised National Leagues on a pay-per-view basis. We were spoiled with access to GAA GO during lockdown; why not make that technology available in Ireland all the time?
Post-pandemic (or at least the stricter restrictions it imposed), we are living in a new world. A world where we are becoming more conscious of our emission-heavy travel habits and our environment, a world in which we realise there is life outside the Pale, and a world in which we should now know just how important, and beneficial, accessibility is.
While live-streaming of events during lockdowns was a forced necessity, it also presented a great opportunity. Many of us were able to attend countless events we just wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise, due to time or other constraints. Now that most of the restrictions have disappeared (sadly many of our health-care settings are still affected), are we just going to revert to the way we did things before? Ignoring the technology that can continue to make these events available to far more people in real time?
However, not being able to attend events is a minor inconvenience when it’s just a case of time or resources. A significant proportion of the population could never access events in the first place due to real accessibility issues – people with disabilities, mobility issues or other access issues. More often than we would like to think, many people are excluded from social events, concerts, plays, conversations because of physical barriers to access.
During the pandemic, plays, concerts and performances previously restricted to theatres were beamed into all our living rooms, ensuring access for all. Why would we now stop doing that again, particularly when people with disabilities are often more medically vulnerable, and are less likely to stop taking precautions while Covid remains among us?
Accessibility is so often an afterthought, but why should some people lose out because the rest of us are too selfish to consider their needs?
If we adapt quickly to facilitate the population at large, why can’t we keep doing it now for the people who need it most? We could follow the example of the Abbey Theatre, which has committed to offering a blended experience that includes the streaming of events online.
And while we’re at it, we could and should make resources available to make events and entertainment more accessible in general, for people with hearing, sight, speech or sensory issues.
We found a way to be better, even if we had to be forced. Let’s not just abandon it all now.