By Pamela Walker
Promoting the Access you provide
--State your facility’s level of access on the materials that you send to the general public. [If it is only partial wheelchair access (i.e. bathrooms are not accessible), be sure to indicate.]
--If you provide interpreting or audio description for
certain shows, state which ones.
--If you have assisted listening devices available, state how one obtains them.
--If you provide large print programs, let people know.
--Ask people to identify if they are wheelchair users on a reservation hotline, so that you will be prepared for seating them.
Especially small houses find that having removable seats works best, so that they can sell the seats to both non-wheelchair users and wheelchair users. Often this is in the front row with a level stage. In situations like this be sure to let the director and stage manager know that wheelchair users in the audience will likely protrude onto the stage area more than folks sitting in folding chairs; this way they can plan blocking and stage design accordingly. Also, remember that people who use wheelchairs have a right to sit with the people they came with, so a seating arrangement that allows this is important.
There are two different reasons that establishments provide discount tickets to people with disabilities and each one has a different rationale:
--If you offer low-income rates to seniors and students, it makes sense to offer it to low-income people with disabilities also. If you feel that this leaves room for abuse, you can ask to see proof of disability (i.e. Medicare card). If folks balk at this, be sure it is understood that these are low-income tickets and that Student I.D. or proof of age are required for the other low-income tickets.
--Sometimes there is no choice but front row for people with disabilities. Perhaps the theatre layout only has wheelchair seating in front, or perhaps a person has low vision, or perhaps a person is hard of hearing and needs to read lips or watch an interpreter. When a person with a disability needs to sit in the front row or a near-stage section and those tickets are more expensive than elsewhere, it is the right thing to do to provide those tickets at the price of the cheapest house tickets. At least one additional ticket at this price is usually offered for their companion.
For many reasons (transportation, for example) it is easiest for many people with disabilities to attend matinees. Please offer at least one.
If you plan to use any chemicals (i.e. hairspray), perfumes or incense during a production, please advertise this so that people who would have health reactions to these products will be warned. Likewise, if a strobe will be used, let people know, as it could trigger seizures for epileptics. It would be good to indicate these things on advertisement literature, on a sign at the entrance, and in a pre-show announcement.
Do not use air fresheners (i.e. as spray, in the toilet, or on the wall) in the bathrooms, because many people have reactions (i.e. migraines) to these products. Also, please do not allow smoking in the facility and be sure to locate any outdoor smoking area away from the main entrance or wheelchair entrance. A notice on promotional materials requesting people to not wear perfumes is a controversial issue, but more and more people are doing this. It is being realized that many “cold” and “flu” symptoms that people have (even non-disabled folk) are related to these types of products. People with physical disabilities, however, often have a lower tolerance to these toxins, due to such things as the overuse of antibiotics in their medical histories.
Large Print Programs
Have a few large print programs (a simple 18 font) available for those of us whose aged eyes aren’t what they used to be and for folks with low vision.
Upstairs from Theater
Many small theater venues have a second floor that is not wheelchair accessible. Often this is used as a gallery for visual arts. Until those floors can be made accessible, a person who can’t negotiate stairs may have no idea of what is influencing the people who go up and down those stairs. A photo exhibit of homeless people, for example, would put other theater goers in a very different frame of mind than an exhibit of pop art. One simple way to include the disabled person in on the upstairs experience is to have a photo albumn downstairs that shows the exhibit. This can be easily and cheaply done with a digital camera and a color printer.
Location & Transportation
If you have a permanent facility, there is not much you can do about your location. However, should you plan to relocate or for activities that utilize other locations, keep in mind that many people with disabilities do not drive. Many rely on public transportation for getting to and from events. Things to consider are that bus lines are not necessarily wheelchair accessible even if they say they are (i.e. what is their frequency of lift breakdown?) and that some services only run certain hours (i.e. a subway stop near a show means nothing regarding availability for a night show if it closes at 9PM). On the positive side, some cities have taxi services that can accommodate wheelchairs. Talk to people with disabilities in your area to check out what locations are easy for them to get to by transportation.
For all the above and other issues that will come up in providing access for people with disabilities, it works great to have an advisory committee of people with disabilities set up. Find artists in your community who have disabilities and who can think creatively about solutions to access issues. This not only helps to insure that you have expert opinions at your disposal, but it also creates paths for advertising your events to the disability community.
[NOTE: The Screen Actor's Guild's web site has answers to frequently asked questions regarding the ADA and the media industry. It also give useful information on working with performers with disabilities: http://www.sag.com/disabilityfaqs.html]
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