Published on 16 October 2023 in Career

Top tips for working with an Access Coordinator

Missed our workshop about working with an Access Coordinator? We share the top takeaways about how this vital role can make a positive difference to your production.

Our Career Development team recently welcomed founder of Bridge06 Sara Johnson and her colleague and partner Julie Fernandez plus director Neil Ben for an insightful session exploring the working relationship between cast, crew and Access Coordinator and the impact this role can have.

We are all aware of the importance of representing all members of society in the TV and film that we make. We also know that working with disabled talent and staff is vital to opening up access to our industry. However, this is something that is often not considered or even avoided due to it feeling too complicated.

Here, we briefly step through the production process, drawing on the advice shared by Julie and Sara during our recent workshop to look at how working with an Access Coordinator can support you in this.

Storyline Development

Let’s use the example of directing a long-running TV series - you want to introduce a new disabled character, in a way that is sensitive and accurately representative. How can an Access Coordinator help with this?

Sara and Julie advise that, if you’re working with an Access Coordinator who has experience and feels comfortable being part of the editorial process, they will be able to work with you to bring on board the right person to tell this story and ensure they have everything they need to build a strong working relationship with your writing team and have real agency in the creative process.

This can be anything from connecting you with groups of deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent (DDN) writers to give a realistic voice to new disabled characters, to finding out about access requirements for DDN and all staff and making sure that your workplace is accessible so that everyone can have the same experience in the writers room as everyone else.

An Access Coordinator will also guide and support you on suitable training for other staff members (such as deaf awareness training when working with anyone Deaf or hearing impaired), and help them ascertain everyone’s access requirements to create an inclusive working environment.

Sara and Julie touch on the fact that broadcasters are aware of the importance of making our industry accessible to everyone. Working with an Access Coordinator who can guide you in making adjustments for any requirements is a simple, effective step towards making this a reality; directors and producers should not shy away from inquiring about the possibility of additional budgets if they are needed to bring these vital staff on board.

Casting Deaf, Disabled and/or Neurodivergent Actors

Your next step is encouraging DDN actors to audition and casting talent from this community in your project; there is plenty an Access Coordinator can do to support this.

Encouraging DDN actors to attend an audition means making it possible for them to do so. Sara and Julie say that interrogating all processes with your Access Coordinator will encourage an Access First mindset and creating fully accessible auditions. Whether that means offering self-tape submissions, using an accessible location that is easy to reach for lots of different access requirements, or making sure your scripts are in an appropriate accessible format - small changes can help make a big difference.

When it comes to casting, an Access Coordinator can also help by signposting agents who work with DDN artists and advising on the most relevant advertising platforms to reach this specific network of actors and talent. They can even join you in interviews and auditions, guiding you on the best disabled-friendly language and inclusive wording to use in casting call notices and and best practice in the room.

Supporting DDN Staff and Crew

The film and TV industry regularly involves working across different locations and long working hours, which can result in tiring days. Having an Access Coordinator on board means that you have someone to guide you on the best way to ensure that all staff and crew can do great work without becoming physically exhausted or over-taxed whilst shooting.

In this scenario, an Access Coordinator would be responsible for finding out about everyone’s access requirements (as these will vary from person to person), and then work with you to put in place the most appropriate adjustments for your team. Julie touches on just a few examples of things that can make a workplace or set more inclusive and accessible, such as providing noise-cancelling headsets to make it easier to withdraw from loud environments during filming breaks, making sure there is a quiet space available for physical rest during the day, and looking at the best time of day to work with staff who might have certain needs or requirements when it comes to being most impacted by their specific disability.

Julie and Sara advise that most Access Coordinators are rarely full-time while this is an emergent role, so might only have a limited amount of time to work with you on your production. They are hugely effective and strategic, working with you to make the most of their expertise and support. For example, you will need your filming location to be accessible for everyone, cast and crew. Rather than sending your Access Coordinator out on any location recces, capturing and sharing photos and video that shows all possible shooting locations will allow them to quickly and efficiently assess and feedback on anything that might need to be adjusted to make sure the environment is inclusive and accessible.

DDN cast and crew members can sometimes be reluctant to disclose their access requirements. There might also be non-disabled staff who are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing in case they accidentally cause offence. Working with an Access Coordinator helps create a working environment where everyone feels safe and supported; they can facilitate delicate, tricky conversations to find out what everyone needs to be able to do their best work, helping you put the right tools and support systems in place before production starts.

Julie and Sara touch on the fact that the Access Coordinators who work with Bridge06 are DDN themselves, meaning they can draw on their lived experience when guiding you on simple, effective changes that you can make to your workplace or set to make a big difference for everyone, whether they are deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent or not and whatever your budget might be.

Working with an Access Coordinator on a Shoot

Communication and preparation are key. An Access Coordinator will liaise with everyone ahead of filming to encourage disclosure and then support you in accommodating these requirements so that when you’re on set, everyone can do their best work and that the production runs efficiently for all. They will also be able to provide supporting materials and documents to keep everyone informed of the different requirements amongst the team, so that your Heads of Department or Production Secretary can share these as necessary. These documents will also cover appropriate disability language and etiquette, to help foster an inclusive working environment from the get-go.

Liaising with cast and crew to confirm individual access requirements extends to the shoot itself. For example, if plans need to change unexpectedly due to bad weather or a last-minute change of location, an Access Coordinator can support you by discreetly checking in with everyone, allowing you time and space to focus on finding solutions that work for everyone.

Sara and Julie touch on the fact that currently there are several Access Coordinators working within the film and TV industry, working across multiple productions at once. They encourage anyone with production experience and a lived experience of being DDN to consider whether they are interested in training as a freelance Access Coordinator to expand the pool of people doing vital work to make the industry more accessible and inclusive.

Post-production and the edit process

Moving into the post-production process, an Access Coordinator will liaise with the post-production and editing team to find out everyone’s access requirements and support you in finding a suitably accessible workplace for their various needs. This could be anything from booking a wheelchair-friendly editing suite, to making sure everything is in place for hybrid working staff to be able to access the editing process remotely.

The key focus for the Access Coordinator will be making sure that everyone working is given a choice about how they would prefer to work and that, as far as possible, everything takes place in an accessible workplace to allow anyone who wants to be in the room to be present.

When it comes to thinking about your audience, it’s important to bear in mind that not all Access Coordinators have training or experience in applying post-production accessibility. However, they can signpost and guide you in the different ways in which you can make your programme or film as accessible as possible so that everyone can enjoy what you have made. This can be anything from thinking about how your audio description can heighten and enhance the audience’s experience, to investigating closed captions or BSL interpreters and advising as you source accessible spaces for premieres and screenings.

Bridge06’s support extends to marketing and promoting your project if you’re working with disabled talent, too. They can help facilitate conversations with the actor to determine appropriate and preferred language when talking to press and media, and then ensure that this language is included in briefing notes for press junkets and promotional interviews as well as in press and PR materials.

Promoting projects in an accessible way extends to marketing a project, and an Access Coordinator can help support your team in the best ways to do this, such as adding captions to social media content, using Alt Text on promotional images and making sure additional music on marketing videos doesn’t obstruct any dialogue or important messaging.

The most important thing to remember when working with an Access Coordinator and members of the DDN community is to ask questions. Talking will also help us all understand different experiences and better educate ourselves about issues around accessibility and inclusion in our industry.

Working with an Access Coordinator can massively help production crew and Heads of Department feel confident in working with members of the DDN community. It provides a strong support network for DDN staff, allowing them to directly and discretely discuss their access requirements and creating an inclusive environment. In turn, it provides you with an understanding of what your cast and crew need to do the best job possible so that you ensure this is in place throughout the production process.

Find out more about Bridge06 and how they are bringing an Access First Approach to the media and entertainment industries and beyond.

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