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Theatres criticised for not displaying accessibility information online

Rosalie Craig and Samuel Barnett read an extract from Moira Buffini's Dinner as part of the Stagetext caption testing. Photo: Heather Judge Just 21% of theatres surveyed mentioned that they offered captioning for some productions. Photo: Heather Judge
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More than a quarter of theatres in the UK display no access information on their websites at all, according to a new report into support for disabled audiences.

The charity VocalEyes audited the websites of 659 professional theatres in the UK for its State of Theatre Access Report 2017, which provides an overview of how the sector addresses barriers faced by disabled people through the information they provide.

The report follows a similar study of the museum sector in 2016, which cited evidence that disabled people rely on pre-visit information far more than other visitors, and the absence of useful information can result in people feeling excluded from the target audience and can discourage disabled audiences from attending.

The research found that 72% of theatres surveyed had access information on their websites, but 28% do not.

This varied considerably by region: 84% of theatres in the South East displayed access information, compared with just 56% in Northern Ireland.

Karen Townsend, a trustee of VocalEyes who is also head of access at Ambassador Theatre Group, said: “Too few theatres recognise that, to market their provision effectively, the message needs to be spread far and wide to all audience members ensuring they are aware that theatrical performances and the themes they explore are open to all.”

The report, which is the result of a collaboration with Stagetext and Include Arts, said that even if a theatre offers no access services for performances, “efforts should be made to provide information on step-free access, wheelchair spaces in the auditorium, disabled toilets [and] parking”.

Access information includes details of a theatre’s facilities for disabled people, as well as services such as audio-described performances or touch tours, British Sign Language, captioned and relaxed performances.

The report said the access information provided on theatre websites ranged from a few lines of text to detailed information in a wide range of formats.

Of those surveyed, 25% of theatres mentioned audio description and touch tour services at their venues, with the same number giving details of BSL signing.

Just 21% of theatres surveyed mentioned that they offered captioning for some productions, and fewer still – 17% – said they offered relaxed performances.

The report calls on organisations to develop policies that embed access at the heart of venues, through staff support and by listing targets and statements that hold them accountable.

It also offers a checklist of access information that should be listed on a theatre’s websites.

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