Our history

Foundation (1998)

VocalEyes was established in 1998 through a National Lottery grant, awarded by Arts Council England to help theatre venues and producers meet the needs of blind and partially sighted audiences. Subsequent project funding has enabled VocalEyes to expand its work into other areas such as museums, galleries and heritage sites, architecture, contemporary dance, and audio description for young people.

Talking Images (2001-3)

Project and publication of ‘Talking Images: Museums, galleries and heritage sites: improving access for blind and partially sighted people’, in collaboration with RNIB. Funded by Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries and Arts Council England through its New Audiences Programme.

See a Voice Project (2006)

In 2006, VocalEyes was awarded a major grant to work with Stagetext to radically improve access to live theatre for blind and partially sighted people and for people who are deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing. This was the See a Voice project, a cost effective response to the objective of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and ACE (Arts Council England) to increase access to the arts for disabled people.

The programme was designed to enable theatres to more fully comply with the statutory requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 2006 by ‘making reasonable adjustments to the way they deliver their services so that disabled people can use them.’

See a Voice was funded through the Invest to Save Budget (ISB) and by Arts Council England (ACE) through Grants for the Arts. In total, £1.1m was invested from 2006 to 2010 to provide higher quality, sustainable, cost effective captioned and audio described performances through:

  • the creation of sub-regional venue networks (efficiency hubs)
  • the provision of captioning and audio description equipment for use by the hubs
  • the training of additional captioners and audio describers locally
  • support, advice and guidance for venues in marketing, box office, front of house, customer care and use of equipment

Over the four year period, See a Voice worked with 26 regional theatres and two touring theatre organisations to deliver substantial growth in the numbers of captioned and audio described performances in England. Theatre staff and management were provided with comprehensive training and support to achieve higher standards of access in theatres and raise the profile of assisted performances to new levels. Participating theatres worked collaboratively in hubs to share capital equipment and build partnerships for audience development and 45 captioners and describers were trained to meet the increase in demand for assisted performances. The project also included a national programme of advocacy, research and development.

The theatres involved in the project were:

Birmingham Hippodrome
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Bush Theatre (London)
Everyman/Playhouse Theatres (Liverpool)
Harrogate Theatre
Lighthouse (Poole)
Liverpool Empire
Live Theatre (Newcastle)
Lyric Hammersmith (London)
Mercury Theatre (Colchester)
New Wolsey Theatre (Ipswich)
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Northern Stage (Newcastle)
Norwich Theatre Royal
Old Vic (London)
Oval House (London)
Oxford Playhouse
Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Company (OTTC)
Soho Theatre (London)
The Gate Theatre (London)
Theatre by the Lake (Keswick)
Theatre Royal (Bury St Edmunds)
West Yorkshire Playhouse (Leeds)
York Theatre Royal
Young Vic (London)

Audio-described performances at some of these venues continue to be featured in our What’s on listings and newsletters.

See a Voice legacy

  1. The See a Voice website has been created as part of the project’s legacy, providing practical online resources for anyone who leads or contributes to building audiences for audio described and captioned performances.
  2. Online learning that represents See a Voice best practice and will ensure continuity of a quality service over time if venues use it. It is cost effective and requires limited maintenance to be kept up to date and relevant.
  3. Marketing toolkit: The See a Voice team worked closely with audience development and research consultant, Heather Maitland and with the participating See a Voice venues to develop these guidelines.

VocalEyes sets Guinness World Record (2008)

To celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2008 we set the Guinness World Record™ for the largest number of blind and partially sighted people attending an audio-described theatre performance. 168 blind and partially sighted record breakers attended the audio described performance of Les Misérables at the Queens Theatre in London’s West End on Saturday 8 October 2008. We presented the Guinness World Record Certificate to representatives from Cameron Mackintosh Ltd and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres on 8 September 2009 at the Queen’s Theatre, when there was another audio-described performance of Les Misérables.

VocalEyes would like to thank; Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, Superbreaks, The Persula Foundation, Tesco’s Charity Trust, everyone at The Queens Theatre, the Cast and Crew of Les Misérables and the 168 blind and partially sighted record-breakers.

London Beyond Sight (2012)

VocalEyes commissioned a resource audio-describing 40 of London’s landmarks for blind and partially sighted people, both visitors and Londoners alike. We invited 40 prominent Londoners to give their voice to and work with our professional describers to create a series of descriptions for landmarks and hidden gems in London.  The famous Londoners give their reasons for selecting their landmark and share some fascinating stories and personal memories. The project was awarded a Jodi Award for Access Planning and User Engagement, and Impact in 2013. The Jodi Awards are for best use of technology to widen access to information, learning, collections and creativity for disabled people in museums, libraries, archives and heritage.