Assisted performances – what are they and who needs them?
The term ‘assisted performances’ refers in this section to Captioned and Audio Described performances. It’s worth mentioning, though, that Sign Language Interpreted performances may also be included in a more general definition of the term. Follow the links to find out more about each of these services.
One in six people in the UK have some level of deafness (according to Action on Hearing Loss – formerly RNID) and this is often something that is experienced as people get older: more than 70% of over 70-year-olds and 40% of over 50-year-olds have some form of hearing loss.
Data collected by Stagetext has demonstrated that an average of 5% of the total number of attenders are there for the captioning and have informed the box office that they will be making use of the service. However, when the whole audience is surveyed, 20 to 30% of the total number of attenders report that they “find the captions useful”. This may be because the acoustics in the theatre are difficult, the play is very text-heavy, the actors are speaking in dialect or because people are beginning to lose their hearing without being aware of the fact. In any case, it’s clear that many more people are benefiting from open captioning that is evident from box office data.
It is worth noting, too, that D/deaf people are often willing to travel significant distances for a social event and/or an inclusive cultural opportunity: you may well find that your usual catchment area is larger for D/deaf people.
Audio described performances give access to blind and partially sighted people. Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss, in other words, approximately one person in 30. Around 20% of people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss and 50% of people aged 90 and over. Approximately one in 12 people start to lose their sight after 60; people may be registered blind, once their sight becomes unusable, even with glasses. Common causes of blindness include macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Although it is most commonly found in older people, nonetheless approximately 80,000 people of working age are blind or partially sighted and 25,000 children are also registered blind. Most people who develop sight loss in later life do not learn to read Braille.
If the available figures for hearing and sight loss and propensity to attend theatre are extrapolated, it can be asserted that that around 3.9 million people in Britain are D/deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted and interested in going to the theatre.
The figures relating to hearing loss and sight loss are going to increase over the coming years so that, for example, by 2050 the number of people living with sight loss will double according to the RNIB.
As your audience members get older, they may appreciate access services which are seamlessly integrated into their theatre-going experience.
It is important to know that captioning, audio description and British Sign Language interpretation all have the potential to be good or bad; programming them is the first step, ensuring that the quality of these services is consistent with your theatre’s overall quality standards is the next step.
It can be argued that a service that is not inclusive cannot be considered a quality service.
 Access London Theatres: Project Findings, Society of London Theatres