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Disabled theatregoers to rate venues’ accessibility

Wednesday 26th January, 2011

the happy and sad theatre masks used by many london theatres

This from The Stage last week:

Disability charity Scope is launching a nationwide campaign to assess and improve disabled access in UK theatres.

As part of Scope’s Stage and Screen campaign, disabled people are being encouraged to post online reviews of theatres’ facilities, to inform other visitors about accessibility. Reviewers will also be able to email the chief executives of the UK’s five biggest theatre operators - the Ambassador Theatre Group, Delfont Mackintosh, Nimax Theatres, the Really Useful Group and Qdos’ HQ Theatres - if facilities are not up to standard.

The campaign is designed to encourage people to pass judgement on venues, using websites including national reviews site Yelp and social media sites such as Facebook. Scope’s head of campaigns Craig Ling insisted it was “not about trying to catch anyone out”. Speaking to The Stage, he added: “This is really about making sure disabled people have the information to be able to plan a trip to the cinema or the theatre, because what our members tell us is actually the biggest frustration is turning up at a venue and not understanding the facilities they have got. It is about clarity of information.

“If a theatre or cinema does something to really help you out, that’s great, let’s celebrate that and hopefully that will encourage other visitors to go there because of the quality of service.”

While the reviews themselves will not be hosted on Scope’s website, disabled people can use it to access an online form giving them a template letter to send to theatre chief executives, to which they can add their experiences of the venue.

Ling said the charity did not plan to compile a list of the best or worst theatres, and stressed that Scope understood that accessibility requirements were a greater challenge for some venues than others.

He said: “There are different adjustments that venues can make. We recognise, for example, if you are an out of town cinema, which is a new complex that has been built, it’s highly likely that your venue is going to have far better accessibility than, say, an old central London theatre. We are not asking for people to compare the two and demand the same level of service from both of those venues.”

Since the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act was amended in 2004 and the introduction of the Equality Act late in 2010, all businesses including theatres have had a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to their procedures for disabled people. Theatres such as the Orchard Theatre in Dartford have been threatened with legal action in the past under the terms of the DDA.

Ruth Scott, director of policy and campaigns at Scope, added: “This is not about forcing old buildings into unreasonable major works. This is about what small, creative changes venues can make to improve the experience of their customers.”

Research published in December by the Office for National Statistics revealed that 83% of adults with impairments experienced obstacles when seeking to take part in leisure, social and cultural activities.

Nica Burns, chief executive of Nimax Theatres who is also president of the Society of London Theatre, said: “Our staff work very hard to make coming to our theatres as pleasurable an experience as possible with the huge challenges, constraints and difficulties that our beautiful, listed, historic theatres pose.

“In some cases, the limitations of the buildings make it impossible to provide the disabled access that all theatre owners passionately aspire to.

“The most important thing that Scope could do to help their disabled constituency is to lobby the government for grants to aid listed buildings to take on such works. We have the will, but not the resources. In the meantime, our staff will do all we can, working within these limitations, to enable our disabled patrons to enjoy productions in our five small playhouses.”