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Accessibility at Live Theatres

Under the Customer Service Standards of the AODA, service providers must make their goods, services, and facilities accessible to customers with disabilities. In an earlier article, we outlined accessible features for performance venues, such as movie and live theatres. In this article, we will focus on services that make live events, like plays and concerts, accessible. Accessible live theatre makes events more meaningful for people of all abilities.

Accessibility at Live Theatres

Service Animals, Support Persons, and Assistive Devices

Accessible live theatre policies should cover any rules they have relating to patrons with service animals, support persons, or assistive devices. For example, venues might ask service-animal-handlers to contact them and arrange seats with room for the animal. Likewise, venues waiving or reducing fees for support-person tickets might ask for proof of disability, such as:

Similarly, venues might ask patrons with large assistive devices to leave them in the lobby. In this case, venues should explain how they will meet these patrons’ accessibility needs. For instance, policies should state:

  • What devices count as “large”
  • Where devices will be stored
  • When staff will return devices

Performances

Furthermore, theatres can offer more services to make performances fully accessible. For instance, venues can provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation at select plays or concerts. In addition, they can have closed or open captioning at certain events. ASL interpretation and captions present the spoken parts of a performance, like dialogue or lyrics, in visual form. Likewise, venues can offer some plays with live description. Viewers hear descriptions of scenery, actions, and costumes through headsets during plays. Additionally, venues can offer touch tours, where viewers feel props and costumes before described performances. Furthermore, venues can offer relaxed performances for patrons who feel more comfortable in a laid-back audience environment. These performances allow some sound and movement from the audience and reduce startling visual or sound effects.

Equipment

Accessible live theatres should offer equipment or features on-site for patrons to use. For instance, theatres can offer:

  • Wheelchairs
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Programs in accessible formats, such as:
    • Braille
    • Large print
    • Online on accessible websites
    • Accessible Word or html files

Theatres may have a third party produce hard-copy Braille or large-print programs. Theatres can also provide magnifying sheets that enlarge print. In addition, theatre websites should follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Patrons can use their own accessible computers or phones to read programs. Likewise, patrons can browse performance offerings or order tickets online.

Moreover, theatre websites should explain how to access features, equipment, or services. For example:

  • Which performances will be ASL interpreted, captioned, described, or relaxed
  • Where to pick up and return wheelchairs, assistive listening devices, or programs
  • How to book touch tours or description headsets
  • Whether theatres can arrange additional interpreted, captioned, described, or relaxed performances for groups
  • How far in advance patrons should contact the theatre
  • What contact method(s) to use
  • Which seats provide clear views of:
    • Interpreters
    • Captions
    • The stage, for people with low vision

Staff should also be able to provide this information to patrons in person or remotely. For instance, someone with a visual impairment may want a front seat on the left side of the theatre. However, this patron may not be able to access the theatre’s online seating map. In this case, a staff member should assist this patron to book the seat they need.

Patrons of all abilities should be able to enjoy live theatre together. In addition, amateur and professional actors, directors, and crews of all abilities are a key part of accessible live theatre. Performance spaces that welcome amateur and professional theatre companies should seek out and host companies featuring members with disabilities.