State of Theatre Access Report 2017

In 2016, VocalEyes published the State of Museum Access 2016 report presenting the results of an audit of 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.

Today, in collaboration with Stagetext and Include Arts, we are publishing State of Theatre Access Report 2017 V1.2, which applies the same principle and audit methodology to theatres across the UK. Our researchers visited 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 music, film or comedy.

Our key findings were:

  • 72% of theatres provide access information on their website
  • 25% mentioned that they provided audio-described performances and/or touch tours
  • 25% mentioned that they provided British Sign Language performances
  • 21% mentioned that they provided captioned performances
  • 17% mentioned that they provided relaxed performances

The report gives a breakdown of how these figures vary across the UK nations and regions, and provides an introduction to each type of access service, information about resources and alternative formats, a checklist for developing your theatre’s access information together with useful links.

‘Although many in the theatre sector deliver adequate provision too few deliver an exceptional service to the blind and partially sighted community. Everyone has the right to be able to experience performances with their friends, peers and family. It is that feeling of welcome in a venue, confidence their requirements will be met, ease of the customer booking journey, as well as the provision of audio description services. Too few theatres recognise that to effectively market their provision, the message needs to be spread far and wide to all audience members ensuring they are aware that theatrical performances and the themes they explore are open to all.

This report shows where the theatre industry is currently. It also gives a detailed insight into what each venue can do to improve in the future, to the benefit of all audiences who value an inclusive society”

Karen Townsend, Head of Access, Ambassador Theatre Group and VocalEyes Trustee


‘I’ve been going to theatre since I was 2, lost some of my hearing just a few years later, didn’t get hearing aids for another four decades, but it wasn’t until I discovered captioning that I realised quite how much I had been missing! As this report shows, access is improving, but it’s not improving fast enough and it’s not always shouted about loudly enough by the theatres.’

Jackie Elliman, Legal & Industrial Relations Manager at the Independent Theatre Council and Stagetext Trustee


‘Making sure that useful information about access is clearly available is a great indication that a venue takes this seriously, and that you’ll be welcome. It’s great to see that so many theatres are doing this. Let’s make sure that the figure is even higher in two years’ time, and that even more people are able to enjoy what theatre has to offer.’

Cassie Chadderton, Head of UK Theatre


Notes for editors

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.

The report was produced by VocalEyes together with Stagetext and Include Arts. For enquiries, please contact  Matthew Cock on [email protected] or 020 7375 1043.

14 November 2017: The report was updated to correct an omission. The Mercury Theatre, Colchester was added to the Access Showcase.