Our disabled access guide to live performances

Introducing our guide

Live performance brings immense joy to lots of people. How accessible is attending live performances if you are disabled?

This blog aims to empower you with essential information and valuable tips, to make the magic of watching performing arts as accessible as possible.

We’ll guide you through everything we think you need to know, from booking tickets to enjoying the performance itself. Additionally, we’ll share some fantastic extras that can enrich your experience even further.

Do your research

First and foremost, we recommend that you do your research. Depending on the type of performance, first things first, check to see if an accessible performance of the show you want to see is available. This information should be listed on the show’s page on the venue’s website, and also some venues have comprehensive lists of accessible performances, and newsletters that you can subscribe to, so that you can receive updates about upcoming accessible performances.

Accessible performances cater for a range of needs.

Types of accessible performance

The main types of accessible performance are audio described, BSL (British Sign Language interpreted), captioned, and relaxed.

When attending an accessible performance, it may be a good idea to plan ahead. Venues usually provide information about accessible performances on their websites, but it’s always worth contacting the venue if you have questions, for example to check exactly how you access audio description, as it differs from venue to venue.

Accessible performances are usually only on select dates the show is being performed, so check the dates as early as you can so you don’t miss out.

Investigate Accessible Tickets

Many venues offer free companion tickets for if you need assistance to attend events. This can be a lifeline for some people, however not all venues advertise or offer it, so it’s worth checking directly if you feel having a free companion ticket would benefit you.

Booking free companion tickets varies from venue to venue. A lot of venues will require you to join an access register, answering a few questions about your contact details and access needs. You may also need to provide proof of your disability, either through a benefit entitlement letter or medical confirmation such as a Certificate of Vision Impairment.

This may seem like a lot, but once you’re on a venue’s access register, booking companion tickets should be a smooth process going forward.

Venues should have information about access bookings on their website, usually on a dedicated accessibility page. It is worth checking this information because how you make an access booking can differ from how you make a standard booking.

Some venues will allow you to make access bookings online, however many venues only offer the option of booking accessible tickets by phone, and the number for accessible bookings isn’t always the same as the main box office number.

Attending the performance

When attending a performance, you’re going to want the experience to be as enjoyable as possible. We recommend that you arrive as early as you can, so you can prepare and get yourself comfortable.

If attending an audio described performance, arriving early will give you time to collect a headset if you need one, and enter the auditorium as early as possible to check it’s working.

Arriving early will give you time to locate your seat, or find one if the show doesn’t have reserved seating – arriving early means being able to do this before the area gets busy.

Some top tips

Below are some top tips to make discovering and attending accessible performances an even better experience:

Testimony: The importance of accessible performances

Alice, our Digital Communications Officer, who is totally blind and attends audio described performances of shows she is interested in, watched the audio described performance of the play Quiz at The Lowry in Salford on 28th October 2023; the performance was accompanied by a touch tour beforehand.

In Quiz, some of the actors played multiple characters, and it was set in multiple locations including a courtroom and television studio, so the audio description was essential for me to know where each scene was set and which characters were present.
During the touch tour, I got to handle many of the props used in the production, including an old-fashioned mobile phone and the make-shift fastest finger first machine, as well as being able to explore the furniture used in the show.
Audio description really makes it easier for me to follow performances like plays and musicals, as I know who’s speaking when and I’m aware of scene changes and visual cues.
Touch tours are a great way to get up close to the set, and I can then know the key details to listen out for during the audio description and dialogue.

Alice, Henshaws Digital Communications Officer, and regular theatre goer

How accessible are accessible offerings?

Accessible offerings definitely enhance the experience for disabled people when attending performances. However, how easy is it to access accessible performances, and what can be done to make the experience even better?

Below are some thoughts from Alice, who attends accessible performances as often as she can:

Final thoughts

Accessible offerings and performances play a pivotal role in ensuring that theatre and live events are accessible to more people, providing invaluable access for disabled attendees. While a lot is being done to make live performance accessible to disabled people, there is still room for improvement to make access even more accessible.

Disabled access opens up theatre and live performance to more people, but with some greater awareness and promotion, and more availability and flexibility, even more disabled people would gain access to the wonderful world of performing arts. Hopefully, disabled people attending these events will make it known how important accessibility is, and will encourage venues to make accessibility an even higher priority.

Related Hints & Tips

Find out more about living with sight loss with our hints and tips.

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