Disability Friendly Guide To Going To The Theatre

 London is an absolute must-see for all theater-loving tourists. The West End is home to some of the most impressive live performances anywhere in the world. Every theatre lover can find something to suit their tastes in the capital. West End theaters, however, are not always accessible. Most of these beautiful structures date back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras, long before accessibility rules and the current culture of inclusion were established. The act of listing many of them recognizes their historical significance and provides legal protection against their change. However, this also prevents owners from permanently altering the structure in any way (by demolishing it or installing elevators, for example). Those who need special access requirements to enjoy a night at the theatre in London will find this challenging.

Thankfully, innovators in the theatre world are hard at work crafting solutions to overcome inaccessible architecture. Accessibility features such as infrared sound systems, lower counters, portable ramps, and designated entrances are now standard in the West End. Captioned, BSL-interpreted, and “relaxed” renditions of most shows are also available. Most theatres have the resources to accommodate patrons with disabilities, including touch tours, Visual Stories, and trained personnel.

 The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) maintains a wealth of information about the accessibility of several of London’s most prominent theaters. Information on accessible restrooms, bars, sound systems, guide dog policies, transportation, parking, and discounted theater tickets should be made available. The many London-based assisted performances are also documented on SOLT. This includes performances that have been relaxed, captioned, interpreted into sign language, or otherwise adapted so that they can be enjoyed by people with a wide range of disabilities. AccessAble is another great tool for learning about accessible entertainment options in your area. It’s a comprehensive database of accessible locations across the country. Their thorough audits of local businesses let them compile detailed access data on London’s entertainment hotspots.

 What adjustments are actually available at theatres to assist disabled patrons?

A few examples you could enquire about are…

 Wheelchair Spaces

For each venue there are generally only a specific number of wheelchair accessible spaces, so the key is to book as early as you can.

 Aisle Seats

Those in need of greater legroom, or who anticipate getting up and down from their seats frequently during the performance, may benefit from selecting an aisle seat at the row’s end.

 Assistance Dogs

You may bring your service dog into the theater with you, or you may make use of the “dog sitting” option offered by some venues. When asked for, bowls of water for service animals should be made available. When making a reservation, let the staff know whether you’ll be traveling with an assistance animal so that they can accommodate your needs in terms of seats and personnel.

 Audio-described Theatre Performances

Attend an audio-described performance to hear a live narration of the action taking place onstage. Characters, facial expressions, actions, clothes, and environments are all described in detail using audio description, which is heard through individual headphones. It takes place discretely between the lines to provide those in the audience who are visually impaired a chance to enjoy the show. Those with visual impairments may also enjoy the option of a touch tour. These take place before a show so that spectators can become acquainted with the stage, the set and their contents.

 Captioned Theatre Performances

Attend a captioned performance and follow along with the text. In these shows, the actors’ words are projected onto a screen at the same time that they are being sung or spoken. In a manner analogous to subtitling, this aids hearing-impaired viewers in understanding on-screen speech and other sound effects.

 British Sign Language-interpreted

Shows that are interpreted into British Sign Language (BSL) for the deaf and hard of hearing feature a BSL theatre interpreter who signs the dialogue and musical numbers for the audience. The interpreter is on stage during the show, standing inconspicuously but in full view of the spectators.

 Relaxed Theatre Performances

Shows with a “relaxed” atmosphere are tailored to the needs of those on the autism spectrum, those with learning challenges, and anybody else who might feel uncomfortable in a traditional theater setting. In these settings, the lights stay on, the volume is turned down, and the audience is encouraged to chatter. Additional information is usually accessible before the performance, and there are quiet rooms for those who need a rest. Relaxed performances have previously been held for shows like The Lion King and Wicked, and in theaters like the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe.

 All of these assistance options are a great way to make theatre going more accessible to everyone, but there is one major stumbling point for many disabled people that restricts their attendance at the shows they want to see and that is cost! Often a person with a disability may need a carer to assist them during their outing, which means the cost of attending their chosen performance is doubled. BUT, there is a way around this that not everyone is aware of…

 Access Tickets

Tickets for patrons with special needs, sometimes known as “access tickets,” are available to  level the playing field for impaired theater-goers with their able-bodied counterparts. To give a simple example, those who are disabled or chronically ill may need to have a companion with them at all times. Theoretically, they have to pay for two seats, one for themselves and one for a partner, for every show they want to see. Customers with disabilities face discrimination because of these inescapable expenses, which can add up quickly. However, thanks to access tickets, people with disabilities aren’t put at a financial disadvantage by having to buy two tickets. Most regional and West End theaters have discount programs and schemes in place to help those on tight budgets see shows. In reality, this can change depending on the location. Some theatres provide a free companion seat with the purchase of a full-priced ticket for a disabled patron; others provide two seats at half price; and still others charge the same price for two seats in any section of the auditorium (stalls, boxes, dress circle, etc.) for a disabled patron and a companion. Ask whether there is a flat rate for access seats in any section of the theater when going to a show on London’s West End.

Now that you are aware of the facilities available to help you enjoy a trip to the theatre, there is only one thing left to do – choose a show!

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