Anyone who provides a service directly to the general public – including theatres and other performing arts venues are termed service providers.
They have responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to premises, policies and procedures to make them accessible to disabled people.
For example, allowing support or assistance dogs, ensuring physical access to an auditorium or providing an induction loop for a hearing impaired theatre-goer.
Facilities for disabled customers
Many venues and performing companies run schemes for disabled customers. Companions or carers, if you have one, may get reduced, or free, admission.
At certain venues, this may be limited to particular performances.
Most venues have to limit the amount of individual facilities on offer. For example, the number of wheelchair spaces in the auditorium or induction loops available. Always check with the venue and book in advance.
Many places run special performances at certain times – for example, a play translated live into British Sign Language.
Performing arts for mobility-impaired people
Performance venues vary greatly across the UK. Smaller venues have responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act but would not necessarily be expected to make the same level and types of ‘reasonable adjustments’ that larger venues can.
Since 1 October 2004, places are required by the law to make their premises accessible.
This includes, for example, having accessible toilets, seating facilities and ramps. Some venues may have alternative entrances for wheelchair users.
Some older venues are restricted in what they can do, especially if they have the status as a listed building.
Venues must provide an area for wheelchair users. Most venues have to limit the amount of individual facilities on offer – and this includes the number of wheelchair spaces in an auditorium.
Sometimes venues insist that an able-bodied companion accompanies wheelchair users.
This may be necessary if, for example, you need assistance to transfer from your wheelchair into a seat at the venue.
Some venues have low-level counters at the box office. It’s always a good idea to contact the venue in advance to check their facilities.
Many theatres and other venues offer performances in audio description for peope with visual impairments.
This is a service where the action, scene changes and the actors’ or performers’ body language is described in addition to the dialogue. You listen to live commentary through a headset.
Make sure that you reserve this when making your booking. Venues will be able to let you know via their booking staff, website, brochures or recorded phone message – when they run performances with audio description.
Information in alternative formats
At some venues, description notes are available before the performance begins to ‘set the scene’ and perhaps details the performers’ background. These may be available on audiotape, in Braille and large print. Signs which are easy to read are being introduced all the time.
Some places may also have the layout of the venue or complex in Braille as well as other information such as bar menus.
Occasionally, a venue may have textured floors to assist you in finding your way around.
Signed and captioned performances
Many theatres and other venues offer performances that are British Sign Language-interpreted or captioned.
Venues will be able to let you know via their booking staff, website, brochures or recorded phone message when they run performances which are signed or captioned.
Some venues allow customers to book by Textphone.
Most venues have induction loops – either infrared, induction or both. Make sure that you check whether they have this facility when you book.
An induction loop is a system that helps you hear more clearly by reducing background noise. They can also be set up with a microphone to help hearing aid users hear conversations more easily – especially in noisy places.
Since 1 October 2004, places of entertainment and leisure are required by the law to make sure that the induction loop or infrared system is in working order and that staff know how to use it.
Some venues, especially larger concert halls, have amplified sound and/or headsets to borrow.
Support and assistance dogs
If you have an assistance or support dog, contact the venue in advance so that they can allocate the most appropriate seating for you.
Occasionally, assistance dogs are not allowed in auditoriums, but your dog should be looked after in a suitable place during the performance.
If needed, front-of-house staff can help you to your seat and arrange a taxi at the end of the performance.