Theatre accessibility for disabled customers has come a long way, especially in more modern venues. However, I have heard some negative stories about wheelchair users in some of the older theatres along the way. 

In this blog, I’ll be sharing these problems and the ones that I have faced when visiting the theatre or trying to book tickets online as a visually impaired user.

Accessible Features Available at the Theatre for Disabled Customers

Theatres offer:

  • Audio-described performances.
  • BSL Accessible performances.
  • Open caption.
  • Relaxed performance.
  • Touch tour.

Although, these options are on limited performances, due to them being from live staff, whereas at the cinema, audio description is pre-recorded. 

For me as a blind visitor, I had not heard of a touch tour before. This feature allows a visually impaired patron to familiarise themselves with how the stage is set out, prior to a performance. Being someone who was previously sighted, I can picture the setting along with the performance and use audio description to enjoy the production.

A Funny Experience From the Use of Audio Description and Visualisation at the Theatre  

I went to see the opera performance, Tosca. There was no audio description of this show and I had just lost my sight earlier that year. 

I was listening to the show with my friend and it came to the end of act one and it seemed a long time before it was going to start again. I said to my friend, I suppose it will take some time to remove the props, as it sounded like a lot of activity was going on in the first act.

Their reply was “no, there was just one chair”. I laughed and, personally, I thought I had the better experience that I was picturing in my head with the full works. Lol.

I have another story, from a friend, who took the opportunity to use the Audio Description in a performance. Halfway through the production, he could hear police sirens – he said to his son “I didn’t think the show had police in it!” What he actually heard was from a police car outside of the house from the person describing the performance, who had their window open due to it being a hot summer’s day. Lol.

Theatre Accessibility Problems When Trying to Book

It is great that accessibility in theatres has come a long way, but it is no good if you can’t book the seats for the show.  

I have looked at a few theatres, both old and new and, as a screen reader user, I have not been able to book any of them.  I’m not sure if this experience is any better for other assistive technologies, such as keyboard only, or voice activation.

Website Accessibility Issues When Booking a Theatre Ticket

When trying to book a ticket through the theatre’s website, I could not locate the ‘apply’ filter options, which included the audio description showing.

I found that when I was selecting seats, it seemed to be either visual or mouse dependent. There were three sections of text stating either that seats were ‘fully booked’, had ‘limited booking’ or had ‘lots of places’. These availability options were displayed in different colours within a calendar. As it was all colour coded, I could not understand it and when I activated a random link to the date, nothing seemed to happen, so I could not go any further to book my trip to the theatre.

It is a shame, as booking a ticket to the theatre is normally online and there isn’t much chance of purchasing them from the desk on the day of the performance. Whereas at the Cinema there are a few options. 

The Problem With Phoning the Theatre to Book a Ticket

There is always the option, I suppose, of calling the theatre, but there is normally a cost and a limited answering service. This may result in being on the phone for a long time waiting. We would also need to call within the opening times that they state and not in our own time when it’s most convenient.

Another problem that we face when having to use the telephone to book tickets, is that we might miss out on top offers that may not be presented to us by not accessing the website – especially if some ticket sales are time-sensitive. 

For booking popular acts, we might miss out entirely, as tickets get booked up so fast online, and we may get put on hold for hours, battling it out amongst the general sales, to then find out not only all of the tickets are taken, but we have to pay a premium price for that privilege. 

Theatre Accessibility Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, the shows that the theatre offers, along with the improvements that they have made with accessibility, help me, along with lots of other people.  However, like a lot of entertainment, they fall short with an inaccessible website, which in my belief, is easier to fix than the physical ones.