Here Is The Toolkit
*Throughout the toolkit we will use BLV in place of Blind and Low-Vision for the sake of brevity and consistency.
Adjustments and additions to a patron services team can drastically increase accessible options in a theatre space for BLV patrons. Here are some examples of possible patron services additions and adjustments for your consideration.
Designated Point of Contact
Assigning a staff member as the ‘Designated Point of Contact’ for accessibility concerns offers a streamlined approach to decreasing individual access barriers. This individual should be clearly identified on digital communications (including emails and your organization’s website) with contact info available for any inquiries related to access. This individual should respond to concerns about how patrons will be able to access performances and have the ability to offer a variety of customizable solutions that suit relevant access needs and the performance’s specific barriers.
You can find Ontario-based consulting companies who specialize in accessibility in the live events sector on the Accessibility Consultants Association of Ontario website.
Upon arriving at the venue, navigating the space to find the box office, finding the correct aisle & seat, washrooms, concessions, etc. can be a challenge for blind and low-vision patrons. When standard signage does not present a viable solution, offering an usher to meet patrons during a designated window of time to escort them around the venue can assist in navigating a presentation space with dignity and confidence.
Accessing a concession stand can also be challenging during a brief intermission in a busy and unfamiliar lobby. Offering a menu online that is screen reader-friendly, as well as a physical menu written in braille can be helpful. Offering ushering services that escort patrons to a canteen is another suggestion that can ease access challenges for BLV patrons.
Programs can be a valuable tool for communicating relevant information to patrons prior to a performance. Digital programs available for download can be helpful, but only when they are screen reader-friendly. You can find relevant guidelines for screen-reader friendly PDFs here: https://kb.iu.edu/d/bfua.
Offering large-print programs can also help low vision patrons who struggle to read the small print.
A significant challenge for new BLV patrons can be navigating to a venue. Obstacles can include navigating a direct transit route and locating the correct entrance. These challenges are exacerbated when a piece is presented in a site-specific location, found space, or other unconventional performance space. Offering detailed guides for all types of transport is essential. Maintaining and updating this resource is imperative; changes to transit routes or road closures can be highly disruptive.
Suggestions for Presenting with Optimal Access
In the theatre, audio description can be used to transmit essential information about a play that may be unclear to BLV patrons. If you wish to provide these services, you would employ the services of an Audio Describer.
An Audio Describer should be on-site and providing description into a microphone that transmits to a patron’s receiver. An Audio Describer should be properly trained to identify the key elements necessary to the description of the performance in addition to providing commentary integrated with the dialogue presented onstage, so as not to interrupt the flow of the performance.
Touch tours can complement the performance and story-telling by engaging multiple senses. By providing props, scenery, costumes, and other tactile objects and materials for the audience to become familiar with, they may gain a better understanding of nuances presented onstage.
Many BLV patrons may prefer not to listen to an Audio Description service throughout an entire performance, for a variety of reasons. Patrons may prefer to sit with a companion throughout the performance and quietly clarify any questions they may have about the action onstage. If this is the case, having in-house ushers who are available when needed to provide friendly companionship throughout a performance can be helpful. Patrons may also prefer to be accompanied by their own friends and loved ones who can provide this type of description. Offering a designated seating section or Relaxed Performances where this type of description is offered and encouraged can be a simple way to provide a more enjoyable theatre experience to patrons with varying accessibility needs.
For information from a pioneer of the Relaxed Performance movement, Jess Thom, you can visit Relaxed Performances – The FAQs.
Online Performance & Theatre at Home
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a major transition to online offerings of theatre and performance as a result of social distancing laws in many countries. We would be remiss to not include information about how BLV patrons are affected by this digital transition.
Many platforms and websites for streaming audio and video offer similar challenges for Screen Reader users. Ensuring that the chat function and other text options will not distract the viewer via admin controls (when available) can be helpful. Opting out of unnecessary notifications and pop-ups will also support a more refined listening experience for BLV patrons.
More information on this topic can be found on the National Endowment for the Arts website: Resources to Help Ensure Accessibility of Your Virtual Events for People with Disabilities.