2 Jun 2024

Making live events accessible for everyone

From Culture 101, 2:30 pm on 2 June 2024
BATS Theatre

BATS Theatre Photo: supplied

Live events are often where we come together as communities, sharing passions and considering the issues concerning us. It’s important they’re accessible to all. 

Except they’re not. Many people have impairments that can make it more difficult or impossible to attend live events. Deaf and disability advocates argue in fact it is the society that is creating the disability, not the person. 

A recent 2024 survey in the UK  for example found more than half of people with disabilities face problems while attending live events. 

The issues range from physical access to theatres, toilets, or bars to being able to hear, see, or even simply have time and assistance to get into a venue. 

BATS Theatre in Pōneke Wellington has already developed strong accessibility guidelines and a way to request help online. But thanks to recent funding from ANZ Staff Foundation it has a new programme to make things more accessible via live streaming, captioning and audio description for up to 10 theatre productions between May and July.

Accessibility is also about the work that is programmed. People need to see themselves on stage. This programme is also championing work made by and for deaf and disabled communities.

Jonty Hendry

Jonty Hendry Photo: supplied

"Theatre has the power to unite and uplift,” says BATS CEO Jonty Hendry. 

“It is our responsibility as artists to ensure that the live theatre experience is accessible to everyone.” 

Broadcasting theatre digitally in real time and on demand got a massive push when Covid hit, but it’s also something this programme is continuing to push. Depending on the production, live captions are also to be displayed on stage or via live streaming. 

Then there are the needs of the blind and low vision communities. BATS includes some audio-described performances. With these, the audio describer gives descriptions of the visual elements in between the dialogue or songs. They narrate what’s happening on stage like the costumes, the set design and where it’s set, as well as body language, facial expression, and movements on the stage by the performers. The audio describer’s narration is transmitted to wireless receivers and headsets worn by the audience members. It doesn’t impact the experience for other audience members.

Helen Vivienne Fletcher and her service dog Bindy

Helen Vivienne Fletcher and her service dog Bindy Photo: supplied

Helen Vivienne Fletcher is a writer, playwright, poet and theatre artist. She's been writing novels since she was 13 and now she has 18 books to her name, including work for children, young adults and adults.  

Fletcher’s production Confessions of a Sleepwalking Insomniac is on the BATS stage and live streamed from 5-9 June. This solo play that Fletcher has written and produced deals with the disabling effect of sleep disorders and her journey to getting an assistance dog. 

The show will not only have a New Zealand Sign Language Interpreter but also audio description, and captioning with the live stream. 

“The disability community is a close-knit group,” Fletcher says.

“As a disabled theatre practitioner, it can be really hard knowing that your production might exclude your friends. With tight budgets, you can end up having to choose which group to exclude, as you can only afford to provide for one type of access needs.”

While there is a long way to go, in Aotearoa New Zealand there’s been a lot of good work in this space in recent years. 

In March, Creative New Zealand launched their Tapatahi Accessibility Policy and Action Plan 2023–2028 working with a reference group of Deaf and disabled artists, policy and disability rights advocates. Arts Access Aotearoa have done significant work with arts producers nationally to improve access. Both Arts Access and playwrights agency Playmarket have published guides to assist the arts to increase accessibility in recent years.