People with disabilities: performing arts
Performance venues have responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to make 'reasonable adjustments' for people with disabilities. These include signed or captioned performances, induction loops and audio description.
Under the DDA entertainment venues need to make 'reasonable adjustments' to make their premises accessible. For example, they may have to install accessible toilets, seating facilities and ramps.
Venues must also offer reasonable auxiliary aids and services to improve the accessibility of their facilities and services for people with disabilities. For example, it is not reasonable to have a permanent ramp into a venue, but it may be reasonable to have a portable ramp as and when needed. Some venues may have other entrances for wheelchair users.
Some older venues may be restricted in what they can do, especially if they have listed building status.
Access to everyday services
Seating arrangements for wheelchair users
There is likely to be a limit to the amount of wheelchair spaces in an auditorium. Sometimes venues ask that a non-disabled companion accompanies wheelchair users, with the possibility of a discounted or free ticket. You should contact the venue beforehand to check their facilities and the arrangements they have in place for wheelchair users.
Support and assistance dogs
If you have an assistance dog or support dog, contact the venue beforehand so that they can offer the most suitable seating for you. Occasionally, assistance dogs are not allowed in auditoriums, but your dog should be looked after in a suitable place during the performance.
If needed, front-of-house staff can help you to your seat and arrange a taxi at the end of the performance.
Signed and captioned performances
Many theatres and other venues offer performances that are sign language-interpreted or captioned. Venues will be able to let you know when they run these performances though their booking staff, website, brochures, recorded phone messages or alternative-format publicity material. Some venues have textphone - the process for this should be detailed in their booking procedures.
Many venues have induction loops - infrared, induction - or both. An induction loop is a system that helps you hear more clearly by cutting background noise. They can also be set up with a microphone to help hearing aid users hear performances easily. Some venues, such as larger concert halls, have amplified sound and/or headsets to issue if you ask.
Many theatres and other venues offer performances in audio description. This is a service where the action, scene changes and the actors' or performers' body language is described as well as the dialogue, and where you listen to live commentary through a headset.
Make sure that you ask for this service when making your booking. Venues will be able to let you know when they run performances with audio description via their booking staff, website, brochures or recorded phone message.
Information in alternative formats
Many large venues offer information to blind or visually impaired customers in alternative formats - such as large print programmes. At some venues description notes are available before the performance begins to 'set the scene'. These may be available on audiotape, in Braille and large print.
Some venues may offer other information in Braille, for example the layout of the venue or its bar menus. A venue might also have Braille signage or textured flooring around its building to guide users.
Information from venues
As well as contacting a venue directly, there are other ways to find out more information about facilities and supported performances. Most venues have websites with specific information for customers with disabilities, and seating plans are normally available.
Throughout Northern Ireland, there are arts organisations that work with people with disabilities. Some are run by people without a disability, others by people with a disability, and often by a combination of the two.
Performance organisations often work closely in education, visiting schools and running after-school and holiday clubs, as well as touring.
Most performing arts organisations are run locally. They may organise regular performances, workshops and training programmes for people of all abilities and from different backgrounds. Participants may be involved in the creation, production and direction of performances. Or, you might just want to go along to watch.