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Happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities! This observance has been promoted by the United Nations since 1992. Alongside being a joyful celebration, today aims to reinforce the importance of securing rights for people with disabilities, allowing them to participate fully, equally, and effectively in a society with no barriers to accessibility.
As a theatre leader, you may wonder how to observe this day properly. Why not start by looking at your own practices as they pertain to accessibility? You may think: “My theatre is ADA-compliant … What more do I need to do?” In reality, it’s time to rethink what it means to be truly accessible to all members of your community. On The Stage presents a few ways to make your theatre more inclusive for all.
One of the most important ways to improve accessibility is ensuring patrons can actually get to your theatre. If you have the budget, consider offering a shuttle service to your shows. This takes away the stress and burden for patrons to find a ride to and from your event.
Additionally, organize convenient, easily accessible parking options for those with disabilities. Clearly mark your handicapped spots, and make sure there aren’t any barriers/hiccups people could encounter when parking and walking in.
Many people may not have the capability of visiting your show in-person. That’s why having a robust digital platform is so important.
Take the time to truly streamline your digital offerings, and to perfect your streaming availability. Make sure you’re advertising this option when you begin selling tickets.
Not only does this open your work up to those who may be immunocompromised or have mobility issues, but also to those who live across the country… or the world!
While it’s not anyone else’s job to educate you on how to be more accessible and inclusive, it’s OK to ask for feedback.
Whether you create polls on your social media, send out e-blasts and marketing materials, make a few phone calls, or sit and talk with guests after a show, it’s always a good idea to listen to your patrons. After all, they are the people you’ll be directly impacting.
Getting situated in a crowded theatre can be stressful for just about anyone – especially those with mobility issues or any disability. To rectify that issue and to keep things safe and organized, consider offering timed seating, so guests enter the theatre in waves.
Additionally, you can open up the theatre earlier to those who may need extra time to find their seats and get situated. A small but thoughtful gesture, this choice will make the whole process less intense.
You can create an accessible physical space fairly easily, but it won’t mean much if your front-of-house staff isn’t trained on how to help properly.
Ensure your front-of-house team is prepared to escort visitors to their seats, answer questions, and provide additional support as needed. The keys here are patience, understanding, and proactivity. From visual awareness training to how best to communicate with patrons from all walks of life, you simply need to arm your staff with the tools to succeed.
Set up an accessible booking system to allow people with disabilities to purchase tickets to your show easily. Remember, not everyone can use a cell phone, see a computer screen, or enter their credit card numbers manually. Regardless, it’s important to have a process online that lets people do this themselves.
You may think that there aren’t many ways to accommodate those with visual or hearing impairments, but with a little creative thinking, you can make sure people of all abilities can enjoy your show.
For blind and visually impaired guests, consider audio descriptors – a narration of exactly what is going on, fed through headphones. Touch tours are also an excellent way to increase accessibility; these allow a blind or visually impaired person to go onto the stage before a performance to get a feel for the environment and touch the props and costumes. For those who are hard of hearing, having an interpreter at certain shows will ensure they can follow along with the plot.
Additionally, consider offering sensory-friendly performances on certain days and times. This will essentially be a less stimulating version of your show, with dimmer lighting, quieter sound, and more freedom of movement in your audience.
On your journey towards greater accessibility, it’s always a smart idea to turn to the experts for advice and guidance. Here are a few organizations to support:
abilityEntertainment, a non-profit, has built a bridge to connect authentic talent with disabilities to the entertainment industry. abilityE is free to performers/talent/actors. The site is built for performers/talent/actors with disabilities. Performers/talent/actors include categories like TV, film, comedy, speakers, and music. You can be union, non-union, represented, or not represented.
The National Theatre of the Deaf explores what it means to be Deaf in America through arts-focused initiatives and stories about us, by us, through us.
Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) is the only professional Off-Broadway theater organization dedicated to advancing artists, developing audiences of people with disabilities, and altering the misperceptions surrounding disability by proving, once and for all, that disability does not affect the quality or integrity of our art or artists. We began in 1979 and are currently celebrating our 43rd season!
Committed to innovation, collaboration, training, and activism, Deaf West is the artistic bridge between the Deaf and hearing worlds. Founded in Los Angeles in 1991, Deaf West engages artists and audiences in unparalleled theater and media experiences inspired by Deaf culture and the expressive power of sign language, weaving ASL with spoken English to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice.
Phamaly Theatre Company’s mission is to be a creative home for theatre artists with disabilities, to model a disability-affirmative theatrical process, and to upend conventional narratives by transforming individuals, audiences, and the world.