As CEO of Attitude Is Everything, Suzanne Bull MBE has led the organisation to better deaf and disabled people’s live music experience. Over the course of 18 years, through a combination of tireless campaigning and working in close partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry, she has made huge waves, and not just in the UK.
“I’m a woman, I’m disabled, but I’m also in the box marked single parent family and I’m in the boxes marked punk and working class as well,” she explains of the personal experience she has been able to draw upon. “There are all different perspectives that make me who I am. I’m very proud to be disabled, it’s part of my identity. There’s no doubt that at times it can be slightly difficult, but it’s given me an interesting perspective on life.”
Here Music Week’s winner of the Campaigner Award reflects on some of her breakthroughs in the past year, and the challenges ahead...
How does it feel to win the Campaigner award?
“I’m overwhelmed in a lovely way – it’s unbelievable, really. But I have to stress that this is a team effort. I could never have done what I’ve done without people supporting me in the background, and also my friends and family. We’ve got a hard-working team that all contribute equally to the success of the organisation, people like Jacob Adams, Gideon Feldman, Rich Legate, Katie Ann Smith, and also Ailsa McWilliam.”
What doors did you knock on, or rather knock down, in your campaign work?
“I had to prove that disabled audiences wanted to go to see live music and that it was a growing market, and one with loyalty – so if the music industry did things right, they would build up a loyal customer base. Knowing that the music industry is very commercial, we made a compelling business case. Yes, of course, there’s the moral argument and legal argument, you have to use those cases as well, but really it was the commercial impact. Bringing it back to, ‘Disabled people do things with their lives – and this is what they choose to do.’”
What have you worked on since being inducted into the Roll Of Honour last year?
“I’ve been working really hard on my disability sector champion work, I’m one of 14 people from different sectors that represent the consumer issues of disabled people. We share models of best practice as a group and work towards raising issues with government, and to convince them and the music industry that Attitude Is Everything’s charge of best practice should be endorsed as standard to the live music event industry. With my colleague Jacob Adams, we’ve also been working on issues customers have with ticketing and what we can do through our new Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition and asking the government to support the initiatives on that. The growing international interest in what we do is another thing. Norway effectively licensed all the IP around our charter of best practice and training and made it legally and culturally bespoke and appropriate to Norway. It’s been an interesting year for that.”
What are the next big challenges for you?
“One is that we’re 20 years old in May 2020, so we’re going to be getting our music industry partners and all the deaf and disabled people we work with, and make a big splash about that anniversary. The second is that Attitude Is Everything understands all the issues that grassroots music venues in the UK have, and help them understand what they can do on a low budget, like arrange a personal assistant ticket, look at their signage, lighting, DIY captioning which is basically live subtitling of band’s lyrics using laptops and a TV screen, and arranging an accessible seating area. Another thing is for us to understand better what different communities of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions face, and for us to present that back in terms of resources and guidance for the music industry. The most exciting thing is our new artist development programme. Basically, it’s better supporting disabled artists or those who have a long-term health condition in developing their careers. It’s not about how they make their music, it’s about getting venues and promoters ready to receive them and [provide] better accessible and inclusive touring opportunities. There’s all sorts of stuff coming up, but we won’t know exactly what that programme involves until we get results from a survey that we’re doing.”
Finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to mount a successful campaign?
“[Laughs] Don’t be afraid to ask for help! There’s no shame in it. The people that aren’t going to help you – and believe me, there are some people like that – move away from them. Don’t focus on them. Gravitate towards people who are generous, supportive and see the value in you.”