The head of arts accessibility charity VocalEyes has called for an in-depth campaign to improve support for disabled audience members, after its latest report revealed that a quarter of theatres still display no access information online.
Matthew Cock, chief executive of the charity, which assists blind and partially sighted people engage with the arts, said more needs to be done to encourage the venues that fail to publish accessibility information on their websites to do so.
This includes details of step-free access, accessible facilities and hearing loops, a well as guidance on arriving at the theatre and who to contact about access requirements.
Cock said: “I think what is potentially needed is a broad campaign. I think the kinds of theatres that don’t have access information are not going to see articles online or see things on Twitter.”
He added that there was a division between these venues and those that are “plugged in” to the accessibility conversation, and “a more in-depth campaign” would be needed to fix this situation.
VocalEyes has collaborated with Stagetext, Leeds Playhouse and Touretteshero on the latest State of Theatre Access report 2019, which offers an overview of how the industry caters for disabled audiences through the information they display online and through the services they offer.
The 2019 report showed that 26% of the professional 629 theatres audited, which amounts to 161 individual venues, had no disability access information online at all. This compares to 28% when the report was last published in 2017.
When looking at services such as audio description, British Sign Language performances and captioned performances, 29% of the theatres monitored offered one or more types of access service for an upcoming production.
Cock said that while this figure had remained broadly similar to 2017, among the theatres that do offer access services the frequency with which they do so has increased.
Of the theatres profiled, 21% offered a BSL performance on their schedules, while 20% offered audio description and 19% had captioned performances listed.
All three figures have dipped slightly from 2017. However, the number of theatres hosting relaxed performances has increased, from 17% in 2017 to 20% this year.
The report also measured dementia-friendly performances for the first time, finding that 26 (4%) of the 629 had a performance specifically for audiences with dementia.
Cock said that in 2017, the number of venues offering this had not been large enough to include in the report. However, he acknowledged a significant change over the past two years.
Arts Council England’s most recent diversity monitoring report found there had been “little discernible change” in disabled representation among theatre’s workforce, with just 5% of national portfolio staff saying they had a disability.
Cock said the Arts Council’s figures and the findings of the State of Theatre Access report were “definitely all connected”.
“You’re more likely to want to work in a theatre if you go to the theatre when you’re younger and it is a theatre where you feel welcome. They are all aspects that need to progress together; on stage, off stage, in the audience and [people] leading companies. Those theatres that are doing it are really getting better at it but there is still a divide,” he said.