An Accessible Amateur Theatre
There is need to improve the accessibility of scenic arts, performed at a professional as well as an amateur level. People with disabilities should be welcomed as visitors in the audience as well as actors on stage
Amateur theatre groups worldwide often have limited resources.
The aim of this ”brochure” has been to provide some simple general advice (page 1 of the brochure) and some local information about resources in a specific country (in this case Sweden).
Page 2 is deliberately not written in the form of guidelines, but it describes a suggested procedure. Hopefully the material can be used by amateur theatre groups as a basis for discussion with the aim to enhance awareness of the accessibility issues. This discussion should hopefully lead to some initiative to improve accessibility. One small step forward is better than no step at all.
Page 3-4 describes in a very condensed form some relevant facts for the country chosen (Sweden), e.g. legislation, resources, national guidelines etc. In order to be useful for amateur theatre groups in this specific country, it should be expanded to be more readable with the inclusion of some examples, links to resources, etc.
Other countries could, if there is an interest, compile information about facts, policies, and resources which are relevant in their own societies.
Chair of Kulturföreningen FRIA (The Culture Association FRIA)
An Accessible Amateur Theatre
This brochure has been prepared by us in the FRIA Cultural Association (Sweden) to inspire the amateur theatre to become more accessible to people with disabilities.
Accessibility applies to both the audience in the lounge and those who act on stage.
In seven sections, we show how amateur theatre groups with limited resources can proceed in order to increase accessibility of their performances. Through pre-visit efforts, during the visit and after the visit, accessibility can be improved.
The brochure also contains information about facts and resources that can be used for improved accessibility (in a specific country. Sweden has been chosen as an example).
Before the visit
- Select the play
Make a conscious choice. Can elderly people and people with disabilities participate in the performance?
- Tell the audience about your performance
What is your performance/show/play about?
The repertoire and individual performances can be described on your website, in advertisements, newsletters. Use text, images, symbols and sign language.
You can examine the possibility of making newsletters and application leaflets in sign language and other languages that the audience can understand.
- Describe your theatre venue
It makes it easier for visitors to get a description of your theatre premises beforehand. How do you get to the theatre? How does it look? Is there a barrier? Stairs? Elevators? Can the person with a disability enter the same entrance as the rest? Is there a possibility for a person in a wheelchair to see your performances? Is there a hearing loop? Are your performances smoke and perfume free? Tell the audience if there are any restrictions.
The information can be presented on your website. Visitors can call to get the information. You can make a movie that lets the visitor form an opinion about the theatre hall in advance.
During the visit
- Welcome greetings
It’s important how to meet your audience. Do not talk over the head of the person who has a functional disability.
- Show the show
In the lounge, the audience can get help to share the performance. You may order written interpretation through the local community. You
can investigate the possibility of arranging visual interpretation, closed captioned or sign language interpretation of some of your performances. All printed information material should have a good contrast and sufficiently large fonts.
- During the break
The intake you offer may contain something that suits those who cannot tolerate some foods (gluten and lactose-free is something that many want)
If you find out the audience’s needs, you can eventually respond better to the needs.
After the visit
- 7. After the performance
Some find it useful to get the performance summarised separately. It provides the opportunity to confirm and reflect on an experience.
You can give such a summary in place. If you prefer, the audience may call you afterwards.
Find out how the audience perceived the performance. Then you can constantly improve accessibility.
The advice is compiled by the FRIA Cultural Association, one of ATR’s member associations, Stockholm, Oct 2017
Facts and information
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was established in 2006 and was adopted by Sweden in 2007. It includes the right of disabled people to participate in cultural life on the same terms as others and to enable persons with disabilities to develop and use their creative, and artistic ability.
Legislation – lack of accessibility is a basis for discrimination (according to Swedish law).
Man has a rich and varied set of abilities. There are also a large number of different disabilities that can affect the ability to practice amateur theatre. Those who have a cognitive impairment may have difficulties in interpreting and processing information, and to understand. People with reading and writing difficulties have a reduced ability to handle written text. Those with visual impairment may have impaired vision or blindness. Hearing impairments can mean reduced hearing or deafness. Speech and language disorders can cause difficulties in expressing or comprehending languages. Reduced mobility can vary from difficulties climbing stairs to the need of using a wheelchair. Hypersensitivity to certain substances may mean that you cannot tolerate certain foods or certain smells. Mental impairments, concentration difficulties, social phobia can lead to difficulty in participating in an ensemble and to stand on stage.
Accessible information makes it easier for the audience to share the performances and the actors to follow a manuscript. The Braille alphabet is used by some persons with visual impairments. Sound recordings can also be useful. For deaf people who have sign language as their first language, written information may be difficult to access. By following the rules for an accessible web (according to WAI, Web Accessible Initiative) information is made accessible on the internet. “Plain language” (“Klarspråk”) is a Swedish regulatory framework for accessible texts. Symbolic images as Pictograms are used in addition to written text Closed captioned performances can be a support for those who find it difficult to hear speech.
There are (National Swedish) authorities with special responsibilities. Among these are the Swedish Agency for Participation (http://www.kulturradet.se/) and the Swedish Agency for Accessible Media (http://www.mfd.se/). The Swedish Arts Council (http://www.kulturradet.se/) requires all cultural actors who receive government grants to have websites and e-services that are adapted for accessibility.
Resource Centres – To order interpretation of a performance, turn to the Interpreter’s
Centre. This applies to both written and sign language interpretation.
Persons with disabilities may be accompanied by personal assistants provided by the county council or the municipality.
Many might benefit from assistive technology. Technical aids centres, as well as centres for visual and hearing aids have the responsibility of prescribing such aids.
A Hearing loop (audio induction loop) is sometimes installed in meeting rooms. A prerequisite for it´s usefulness is that the user is wearing hearing aids and that the speaker is talking to a microphone. Loudspeakers and microphones might also be helpful for the hard-of-hearing.
There are a number of accessibility consultants (in Sweden). A list of these is available on the Agency for Participation website.
The Focus Network is a network for accessibility in museums (in Sweden).
There are a large number of disability organizations that have the skills to provide feedback and advice.
With the help of service from accompanying persons and personal assistants, the interested theatre visitor can attend the theatre venue.
The municipality grants travel services to individuals who have difficulties in using public transport.
The Swedish Arts Council has published guidelines for accessible performing arts.
The so-called Accessibility Database (http://www.t-d.se/) shows how to proceed to describe an environment.
Good examples can be sought, both from areas in which professional performing arts are produced, as well as from the field of the amateur theatre. A few examples from major professional scenes in Stockholm/Sweden are listed here:
There are also interesting accessibility services in other parts of the world. One example from Australia is:
The information has been compiled by the Swedish FRIA Cultural Association, Oct 2017