State of Theatre Access 2017

Matthew Cock, Melanie Sharpe, and Kirsty Hoyle

There are 11.9 million disabled people in the UK. That’s around 19% of the population, nearly 1 in 5 people. There are also 11 million people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. Following the social model of disability, a person is disabled through the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal basis with others due to physical, sensory, intellectual, attitudinal or other barriers. Therefore access – in the theatre context – is the combined means by which the venue helps address such barriers, through information, access services, resources and alternative formats.

In 2016, VocalEyes published the State of Museum Access 2016 report presenting the results of an audit of 1700 UK museum websites: based on the premise that a lack of access information contributed significantly to lower attendance among disabled people. It cited evidence that disabled people rely on pre-visit information far more than non-disabled people; using a venue’s website is a vital step in the decision-making / planning process. The absence of useful access information lowers people’s confidence that barriers to access will be addressed at the venue itself, and they may change their mind about visiting, feeling excluded from the venue’s target audience.

This report applies the same principle and audit methodology, with our researchers visiting the websites of 659 professional theatres, all of which programme performing arts, auditing their access information, and any mention of access services or resources. We omitted from the survey amateur, school and college theatres, and those whose programming was predominantly live music, film or stand-up comedy.

We acknowledge that the survey does not represent the many theatre companies, projects, events or initiatives that produce inclusive and accessible theatre, but do not fall within one of the standard types of access performance. Many venues across the UK are increasing access to theatre through creative partnerships and programming and are making an enormous contribution to an inclusive arts sector.