Disability arts organisations fear that possible government plans to set up a “vaccine passport” scheme could undermine the rights of disabled artists, workers and audiences.
Members of the #WeShallNotBeRemoved campaign warned this week that any such scheme could infringe disabled people’s rights and threaten their “visibility” within the creative sector.
They believe it could create a “troubling and ableist precedent which potentially undermines existing protections in equality and employment law”.
Among their concerns is that the scheme – which could see admission to venues only for those who can prove they have been vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 – could exclude disabled people who cannot have a vaccine because of a health condition.
They say it could also discriminate against those who do not have a mobile phone, if the passport is provided through an app.
Another fear is that the scheme could “coerce or penalise” disabled people who are homeless, undocumented migrants or cannot share health or personal information.
They also warned that a vaccine passport scheme could create “a false sense of security” among those attending events and make venues and workplaces more unsafe for those who are susceptible to the virus.
The #WeShallNotBeRemoved campaign has called on the government to ensure that any scheme that is introduced obeys seven key inclusive principles, including complying with the Equality Act and making reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people do not face discrimination.
They also say that it should follow the social model of disability and be co-produced with disabled people.
The campaign was responding to a short call for evidence from the Cabinet Office, which is reviewing whether so-called “COVID-status certification” could “play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety”.
There were reports this week that the government is considering applying the scheme to workplaces as well as cultural, leisure and arts venues.
Last month, Penny Mordaunt, the paymaster general and former minister for disabled people, said the review would look at “the ethical, privacy, legal and operational aspects of certification and their implications for those who are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated, the equalities implications… and the impact of certification on groups who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic”.
#WeShallNotBeRemoved members include hundreds of the country’s leading disabled creative practitioners, disability arts organisations and allies, including Graeae, Shape Arts, Disability Arts Online, Nabil Shaban, Jamie Beddard and Kim Tserkezie.
They also include cultural consultant and broadcaster Andrew Miller, a co-founder of the campaign, who yesterday (Wednesday) ended his stint as the government’s disability champion for the arts and culture sector.
Miller said: “Disabled people are deeply troubled by the integration of health data into cultural participation.
“We feel alarmed by the introduction of additional barriers and any shift in policy away from the social towards the medical model of disability.
“I cannot see how any COVID-status certification system can avoid being discriminatory and ableist.”
Jenny Sealey, Graeae’s artistic director and another co-founder of the campaign, added: “It is vital that the government and our sector understand the ethics of ‘vaccine passports’ and their potential to infringe human rights.
“Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people have fought hard for the last 40 years to be visible within the creative sector and that progress is now threatened.”
The #WeShallNotBeRemoved campaign was set up last spring as a reaction to the impact of the pandemic on disability arts.
The government has said that the review of the vaccine passport scheme will be finished before the implementation of step four of the four-stage lockdown easing plan, which will happen no earlier than 21 June.
But it is set to produce some initial findings of work on a potential scheme on 5 or 12 April.
The Cabinet Office declined to respond to the campaign’s concerns this week.
Meanwhile, the disability arts commissioning programme Unlimited has announced funding of more than £700,000 for 34 disabled artists.
Unlimited is funded by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland and the British Council, and delivered by the disabled-led arts organisation Shape Arts and the arts-producing organisation Artsadmin.
Among those commissioned are projects by musician John Kelly and artist-activist Dolly Sen, and Do I Look Okay To You?, a short, poetic moving image piece by Jameisha Prescod that explores the lives of black British people with long-term health conditions.
David Hevey, chief executive of Shape Arts, said the commissions would “push boundaries, challenge expectations and continue Unlimited’s legacy of innovative, exceptional work”.
Picture: (From left to right) Andrew Miller, Jenney Sealey and Kim Tserkezie
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