‘The bare minimum is not enough’

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It’s Disabled Access Day and as part of the day, we asked Disability, Lifestyle & Theatre Blogger and Disability Activist Shona Louise to tell us a bit about her experiences with access in theatre and what she’d like to see change in future.

I inherited my love of theatre, musicals in particular, from my mum and my first show was quite the baptism: the iconic Les Misérables. I knew I loved theatre before then but there is nothing like sitting in a theatre, feeling the music go right through you, to get hooked and coming back for more. It wasn’t long after that though that my health put a stop to the theatre trips and it wasn’t until a year ago that I found myself being able to enjoy theatre again, but this time as a wheelchair user. When I saw Les Mis I was already struggling with my mobility but not enough that I really had to give much thought to my trips other than choosing a seat with as few stairs as possible, but I’ve found that being a wheelchair user throws up even more barriers and often requires extensive planning.

I’ve never really been able to hear of a great show and immediately book it with not much thought other than my budget. For me a theatre trip involves researching a theatre’s access, finding accurate information about my likely restricted view and ringing up the access booking line to buy my ticket, often not getting through the first time. Rarely can I book online like everyone else! Although recently I’m seeing more theatres make the effort to have an online booking system for access tickets, it’s something I’d like to see encouraged more as it makes the process a lot easier.

It would be easy to assume that, since it is 2019, access is not a problem anymore but unfortunately this is not the case. There are still theatres that I cannot access at all and in those that I can access, often I can only get to my seat and the accessible toilet and a lot of the time the view I’m offered from the wheelchair space is a restricted one. I don’t get the same choice of seat that others do; I simply must sit wherever the theatre’s wheelchair space is. I do feel like I miss out on the full theatre experience sometimes because of this.

So, it makes me so happy to see theatres like The Old Vic recognise that the bare minimum is not enough to offer. Sub-standard entrances, limited access inside the theatre and lack of seating choice are things that I am used to but The Old Vic are saying this isn’t an acceptable experience to offer disabled patrons and so, as I’m sure you’re aware, they are doing a substantial amount of work to the building this year to make mine and many others’ experience more equal. I would like to see other theatres follow in their footsteps and invest in accessibility. The spending power of disabled people and their families in the UK is in the region of £249 billion so it’s certainly an investment worth making.

 If you’d like to read more of Shona’s writing including her theatre reviews, you can visit her blog here.

We are excited to be in the process of making our theatre a better place for all our visitors – thank you to everyone who has generously supported us with donations so far.

We are still taking donations, which are all gratefully received. You can find out more about the project and how you can help here.