Disabled artists have said they feel "a great deal of anxiety" about being excluded when theatres reopen, as many may have to continue shielding until there is a Covid-19 vaccine.
Actor Mark Beer, who was one of the first disabled presenters on children’s TV, raised the issue with The Stage, urging the industry not to use the virus as an excuse to send disabled artists "back in the cupboard".
Beer told The Stage: "My main concern is that a lot of disabled people are going to be self-isolating, like myself, and there will be a concern whether they will be able to work if there’s no vaccine [...] and is it going to set the whole movement of changes backwards rather than forwards."
Beer added: "The faces and the voices of people with disabilities cannot get lost under the umbrella of: ’well they’re not very well anyway, so we’ll just leave them there to get better before we employ them again’.
"[The industry needs] to carry on with this whole plan of integrating disabled actors and black and Asian and any minority actors on their screens and stages like they promised at the beginning of 2020. This horrible virus cannot be used as an excuse to send us backwards, back in the cupboard."
Graeae theatre company’s associate director Nickie Miles-Wildin echoed these concerns.
She told The Stage: "With the announcement that indoor performances can begin to take place again, there comes a great deal of anxiety from disabled theatremakers that they are going to be left out.
"Many are shielding due to underlying health conditions, some are extremely nervous about leaving the safety of their own homes.
"Whatever happens, Deaf and disabled artists cannot - and must not - be forgotten."
Miles-Wildin said that disabled artists need to be given the option to participate in theatre via digital platforms, warning that the arts will otherwise "revert to being very white and non-disabled".
Colin Hambrook, who is the editor of Disability Arts Online, a platform set up to support disabled artists, added: "I concur wholeheartedly with Mark Beer’s concerns.
"Out of sight and out of mind seems to have been the general consensus from government and media in responding to the voices of those arts professionals and individuals generally who have been self-isolating and see no option but to continue to self-isolate with no end-date in sight.
"We have heard some horrendous stories of the impact of Covid on disabled artists we work with who have had the virus and are struggling to readjust to a new level of impairment issues."
Director for change at disabled theatre consortium Ramps on the Moon, Michèle Taylor, warned of a "two-tier reopening of theatre buildings".
"As a disabled woman under 65, I am 11.3 times more likely to die from Covid than a non-disabled woman of the same age," Taylor told The Stage.
"To put it bluntly, when it comes to going back into theatre buildings as an audience member or to make work, I am going to be thinking 11.3 times harder about what’s safe. You need to use some of the ingenuity we saw in abundance in lockdown to devise ways to ensure I can do my job."
Taylor said that an inclusive reopening of theatre buildings "is certainly not business as usual with added face coverings and hand sanitiser", urging the industry to be more creative in its solutions.
She added: "If you treat us like an add-on, rather than acknowledge that we are with you at theatre’s heart, then it will be devastating for disabled people, and devastating for the British theatre industry."
The government’s disability champion for arts and culture Andrew Miller has called for an extension of the government’s job retention and self-employment support schemes to protect the jobs of disabled artists who are still shielding.
In evidence submitted to DCMS as part of an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on the cultural sector, Miller said: "Disabled artists have been impacted by severe anxiety as a result of seeing livelihoods disappear, personal independence compromised, struggles to secure essentials such as food and appropriate care and now also the traumatic prospect of long-term shielding."
Miller added: "This leads to the risk of disabled creative practitioners being invisible from society for an extended period of time and once again becoming narratives of pity and vulnerability."
Earlier this month, more than 100 disabled artists and cultural leaders signed a letter urging culture secretary Oliver Dowden to ensure disability arts are protected as the industry emerges from the pandemic. The letter was organised by the recently formed disability alliance #WeShallNotBeRemoved.