Accessible Theatre

Following the post about BSL, I’ve been alerted to a site dedicated to advice on theatre access:
The See a Voice project was set up between October 2006 and March 2010 by the charities STAGETEXT and VocalEyes, who provide captioning and audio description respectively. The website is still live and has useful information.

So, what are captioned, audio described and BSL interpreted performances?

Captions are a bit like subtitles on television, allowing deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people to read every word the actors say or sing.

Audio described shows are for blind and visually impaired people, enabling them to hear live description of everything that can be seen on stage during pauses in dialogue.

BSL interpreted performances are for Deaf BSL (British Sign Language) users, enabling them to understand the play through the signs of a BSL interpreter, who stands on the stage.

Captioned, audio described and BSL interpreted performances are often grouped together and referred to as accessible or assisted performances.

There’s a very useful section on the use of language, which I reproduce here:

What you can do …

Be aware of the language choices available, those that are deemed to be most appropriate.

When you meet a group or individual for the first time, observe what terms they use themselves and, if possible, ask what terminology is preferred so that you can agree a common vocabulary.

Generally accepted …

  • Blind or partially sighted people
  • Visually impaired people
  • Registered blind
  • Guide dog owner
  • Audio description user or attender of audio described performances … are both positive terms as they place emphasis on the services required by someone rather than their impairment.
  • Has a visual impairment
  • Is visually impaired
  • Has a sight problem

Don’t use …

  • The blind
  • The partially sighted… avoid terms that lump people together
  • Many blind and partially sighted people, particular those with an age-related sight problem, do not view themselves as disabled so avoid using this term in association with information about audio described performances.
  • Suffers from …
  • Afflicted with …

How positive is your language?

  • Are ‘alternative formats available on request’ or are you ‘happy to provide alternative formats’?
  • Are guide dogs ‘allowed’ or ‘welcomed’?
  • Do you just ‘offer’ audio described performances or are you ‘pleased to be able to …’?
  • Is there a named person who is ‘keen to receive feedback’?

Social or medical?

The social model of disability is a useful tool in considering your policies and procedures, including language choices.

Disability Models provide a framework for communicating and understanding the way people with impairments view disability. The social model was developed by disabled people and draws an important distinction between ‘having an impairment’ and ‘being disabled’. The impairment, medical condition or individual’s body is not the barrier to inclusion. It is the way society is structured, operates or views the world that creates the barriers.

Applying this to communication means thinking about the barrier or the solution to that barrier rather than the individual ‘problem’. For example:

  • Do you have any specific access requirements?
  • Do you require information in a specific format?
  • Would an audio format or Braille be useful to you?
  • Are you here for the audio described performance? Will you be using the audio description?

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