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Deaf and disabled audiences underserved by theatres – report

Wendy Hoose by Birds of Paradise in 2014. Photo: Eamonn McGoldrick Wendy Hoose by Birds of Paradise in 2014. Photo: Eamonn McGoldrick
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Theatres should make more work specifically for young disabled and deaf audiences so that they engage with theatre and performance, a new report has claimed.

The strategy to boost attendance by deaf and disabled people is one of five put forward by the Barriers to Access report, which also says theatre companies should reach out more to disabled and deaf communities.

Put together by Scotland-based disability-led theatre company Birds of Paradise and researcher Matson Lawrence, the Barriers to Access report asked 20 young deaf and/or disabled people in Scotland what prevented them from enjoying the arts.

Five main barriers were identified, including poor understanding of where to find suitable arts experiences and a lack of awareness by arts providers to disabled needs.

The other barriers for disabled people were found to be little access and support – including sign language interpretation – poor awareness of where to find a company’s access information, and difficulties with travel.

One young person interviewed, Ben, said he had to phone most venues to find out about disabled access because the information is not on their websites.

He continued: “I don’t do well with phones because of anxiety, so [there’s] this huge barrier. Because half of the time these people don’t check their emails for these places, so then how do I find out about accessibility to actually go for something?”

Foremost among the suggested “key strategies” to address the barriers is increasing arts provision that is specifically for deaf and disabled people.

Young people interviewed for the report said this would benefit them because of the possibility to experience “shared understanding”, “empathy” and “commonality of experience”.

Another recommendation is to build more connections with deaf and disabled communities as a way to increase awareness of the theatre and arts events available.

The report also calls for a centralised resource on arts opportunities for young deaf and disabled people.

Other strategies recommended better awareness training for arts organisations, as well as guidelines on full “front door to stage door” access for deaf and disabled people.

While the report acknowledges that it only interviewed 20 people, it claims to offer “concrete recommendations” for improving arts provision for disabled and deaf young people.

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