A lack of online information is leaving many publicly funding arts venues inaccessible to deaf and disabled members of the public, a new VocalEyes report has warned.

Theatre Royal Brighton
Theatre Royal Brighton's website, however, was commended for its accessibility

Almost 30% of theatres in the UK fail to provide access information of any sort for deaf or disabled people on their websites, new research has concluded.

After analysing the websites of 659 professional theatres, the report by VocalEyes concludes “most venues can afford to do more than they do currently”.

“Many venues that are supported by public funding are not accessible for members of the public,” the authors write.

They note provision of access performances for deaf and disabled people across UK theatres is “encouraging, but inconsistent”, and this combined with patchy online information is leaving audiences “unsure just how and when their local theatres will be accessible to them”.

The authors add: “Even if a theatre provides no access services for performances, efforts should be made to provide information on step-free access, wheelchair spaces in the auditorium, disabled toilets, parking, and other information on how the theatre has removed barriers to access.”

The state of access

Published in collaboration with Stagetext and Include Arts, the State of Theatre Access report builds on the methodology used in a 2016 assessment of UK museum website access.

This report found a similar proportion of museums fail to provide online access information and warned that accessing a venue’s website is a “vital step” in the decision-making process for disabled people, who rely on pre-visit information.

Overall, the theatre report found 72% of theatres provide access information online; 25% mention they provide audio-described performances or touch tours; 21% include details about captioned performances; and 17% mention providing relaxed performances.

This varies across the UK, with 84% of theatres in the South East providing access information on their websites, compared with 56% of theatres in Northern Ireland.

The report authors continue: “We call on organisations to develop access policies that embed access at the heart of the venue; both in terms of staff support but also by publicly listing access and inclusion targets and statements that hold them accountable to their audiences, something we need to see more of if we want d/Deaf and disabled audiences to be regular arts attenders who have access to a range of performances and opportunities.”

‘Some detail’

Despite being found to provide the most access information, theatres in the South East received an overall score of 2.08 out of 4 for the access information and services they provide online, meaning they are classed as offering only ‘some detail’.

The report dismisses the idea that budgetary constraints are an obstacle to providing access information. The authors recommend access and audience development be “included within budgets from the start,” and claim strategic partnerships and creative solutions could help venues become more accessible.

Speaking about the research, Karen Townsend, Head of Access at Ambassador Theatre Group and a VocalEyes Trustee, said: “This report shows where the theatre industry is currently. It also gives a detailed insight into what each venue can do to improve in the future, to the benefit of all audiences who value an inclusive society.”

She continued: “Too few theatres recognise that to effectively market their provision, the message needs to be spread far and wide to all audience members ensuring they are aware that theatrical performances and the themes they explore are open to all.”

The report concludes with a checklist for online access information, and commits to a follow-up study of the same theatres in 2019.

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