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Wheelchair users underserved by theatres’ online booking options – report

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Wheelchair users are being seriously underserved when it comes to booking theatre tickets online, according to new data.

Recent figures from ticketing software provider Spektrix reveals only 15% of arts organisations sold one or more wheelchair accessible seats online last year.

This figure compares to 49% of arts organisations using the ticketing software in the US and Canada, where equal access to booking is required by law.

Spektrix said the low proportion of online sales for wheelchairs could be due to venues not having the booking option available online or not signposting the facility well enough.

The report states “there appears to be considerable unmet demand for wheelchair accessible seats available for online booking”.

It also found that, on average, in the UK and Ireland, only 4% of bookings for audience members needing wheelchair access occurred online, as opposed to over the phone or in person.

This is nearly five times lower than in the US, and “seriously lags behind” the proportion of online bookings across all audience members, which is 60%.

The Spektrix Insights Report 2019 analysed transaction data from 343 arts organisations across the UK, predominantly theatres, and more than 25 million items purchased across the system in 2018.

In its report, the organisation acknowledges that wheelchair users “represent only a fraction of users with access needs”.

Operations director at D/deaf and disabled theatre company Graeae, Kevin Walsh, said that simple changes to a venue’s theatre system can “transform the experience for all audiences”.

He told The Stage: “We’d hoped the figure would be higher, but we’re not that surprised. Time and again we have tried to make bookings online and failed, only to be told we have to go through a specialist ticket line. We always thought it was a necessary evil, but it looks like that assumption was wrong.”

A spokeswoman for UK Theatre said everyone with access needs “should be given the ability to book online easily”.

“Reports like this are important for encouraging industry conversations around improving accessible booking. Work is already being done and many theatres run accessible ticketing schemes that include the option for online booking,” she added.

Spektrix chief executive Michael Nabarro said “providing choice to audience members with access requirements” ensures theatres can achieve their aspirations of being “as accessible and welcoming as possible to everyone”.

Chichester Festival Theatre is hailed in the report as a positive example of an organisation that has improved the accessibility of online booking for disabled audience members.

The Spektrix report also found:
• 46% of online purchases were made using mobile phones
• Donations with ticket sales are six times more likely with online purchases
• Donations are on average worth nearly twice in value when made in person or on the phone
• Loyalty is a ‘real potential growth area’ for venues – with on average 56% of transactions made by new rather than returning customers

Theatres criticised for not displaying accessibility information online

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