The Disablism of Age Barriers in the Arts

At their heart, most age barriers in the arts are disableist. They create barriers that prevent disabled people having equity of access to opportunities. Their assumption that age is representative of life-stage, career-stage, or the point of development someone is at ignores the different experiences of disabled people.

Age is sometimes relevant. Sometimes we need to use age barriers in the arts as a proxy to redress a specific underrepresentation, or encourage specific groups. This might include awards for people who started their practice later in life, or to encourage teenagers to consider creative industries, but these are a minority.

Overall, however age barriers operate on the assumption that everyone has had access to similar opportunities at a similar age. Disabled people face a different life-cycle to the (white, middle-class, often male) one that these age barriers end up privileging. We may not enter the world of work, or we may do it late. Some of us have had limited access to mainstream education. We may not have had the option to build a creative practice between ages 18 and 25.

Disabled people often hear that we are “too old” for emerging awards – and yet not established enough for other awards. If your award wants to capture people early in their creative practice, why not ask about publication history, or years creating in that field? You can start your practice at any age, and awards should recognise this.

Awards talk about their role being in encouraging diversity, but then end up replicating the same dynamics; dynamics that assume everyone had the opportunity to access creative work, develop their career, and find the opportunity young. That’s bad for the individuals who missed out, but also for the entire creative industry. In this scenario, everybody loses out.

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