“A Wild West” theater ticket policies for guests with disabilities
There are huge inconsistencies in the availability and price of discount tickets and companion tickets for people who need a personal assistant or carer to support them, many people with disabilities say.
It comes after news of a free national arts access card for people with disabilities to use at theatres, concerts and festivals was delayed for two years.
Arts Council England (ACE), which is responsible for creating the map with the BFI, told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row that the pilots will not be operational until early 2024.
Andrew Miller, until recently the government’s first disability champion for arts and culture, championed the idea of the card after seeing how a similar scheme, Hynt, was working in Wales.
He told Front Row: “One of the main reasons I advocated a national arts access program was the lack of consistency in venues’ approach to companion tickets and access for people. disabilities.
“As I have experienced, over a lifetime of attending events as a wheelchair user, buying tickets for 40 years, this is the Wild West for consumers with disabilities.
“There is no consistency between the price of companion tickets. Some make them half price and the disabled person pays full price, others you get a free companion and the disabled person pays a reduced price. “
The National Arts Access Card was due to be launched in March 2022, according to the National Disability Strategy previously released by the government. The High Court later ruled the strategy unlawful due to insufficient consultation with people with disabilities – the government has sought leave to appeal – but the card is still being rolled out independently.
Therese Heath, art enthusiast and university lecturer, agrees that policies and prices vary from place to place. She says it’s not fair if a disabled person who needs a companion to attend ends up paying more.
“It’s discriminatory to expect someone to pay double to do something that a non-disabled person doesn’t have to pay double,” she said.
“Sometimes the events I’ve been to will say there’s a sound system [personal assistant] scheme, but it can be very difficult to reach anyone. At one event I went to, the so-called access helpline was also their ticketing helpline, so it was completely blocked and you couldn’t reach anyone.”
Recently, she wanted to buy tickets for a festival, but said she was surprised that there was no information.
“They didn’t have any access information on their website,” she recalls. “I was looking if they offered tickets to the AP. I was looking for information on whether I could bring my wheelchair to the site, if there was a disabled toilet. And unfortunately, at that time, there was absolutely nothing on their website.”
The Equality Act applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public, including theatres, cinemas, concert halls, comedy clubs and festivals.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has issued guidance on the responsibilities of entertainment venues to their customers,
“Reasonable adjustments do not just involve changes to physical characteristics or the addition of ancillary aids such as a hearing loop, although these may be important for some people with disabilities,” the report says.
“Consider providing information (such as programs and publicity material) in alternative formats and offering an additional ticket free of charge to a person with a disability who needs to bring an assistant.”
But Front Row’s research found that doesn’t always happen.
Stephanie Sirr, CEO of Nottingham Playhouse and co-chair of UK Theatre, has confirmed that the ‘big 12’ subsidized theaters are all offering free companion tickets, as are many other UK Theater members.
Hackney Empire and Belgrade Coventry offer disabled concessions as well as a free carer ticket for those in need.
The Tron in Glasgow no longer makes concessions, instead offering three price options to choose from. No one has to prove their eligibility for a concession. A companion ticket is free.
But the Mayflower Theater in Southampton has confirmed it is charging half the price for a companion ticket.
During the research, a number of theaters agreed that their websites were confusing.
The Bristol Old Vic has now updated its site, making it clear that Complimentary Companion Tickets are not only available for those with “impaired mobility”, but also for those who are hard of hearing, visually impaired or neuro-divergent.
The Mercury in Colchester, the Birmingham Rep and the Leeds Playhouse have all said that if people join their free access programs to book tickets, it overrides links that appear to incorrectly charge for companion seats. The Mercury added that barriers to the arts aren’t always price-related, and not everyone wants the free seat.
The Birmingham rep said being on the access list means they can be sure customers get the right seat for them, such as the end of a row, near the toilet or the best position to read subtitles.
The Leeds Playhouse said it was currently updating its website, but people with disabilities can book tickets online, in person or over the phone.
All of the sites emphasize that they work hard to ensure companion seats are protected for those who really need it, and say that abuse will not be tolerated.
Some require proof of eligibility, such as the Theater Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne, where recipients must receive PIP disability benefit, DLA, or Attendance Allowance, or a Certificate of Visual Impairment (CVI).
In addition to the Hynt Card in Wales, Nimbus Disability (formerly known as CredAbility) operates the Access Card, which is already accepted by companies such as Ticketmaster, Merlin Theme Parks, O2 Academies, the SSE arenas, Delfont Mackintosh and Ambassador Group Theaters (ATG).
Qualified experts have so far assessed 60,000 members, deciding what reasonable adjustments an individual needs. It is noted on the map and then universally accepted.
Starting this week, ATG is rolling out online booking for all access tickets. Its access and backup manager, Cate Gordon, says all 37 sites will be included.
“By registering with the Nimbus Access Card, customers will be able to log into our website and reserve their own accessible seats, as well as an essential companion ticket if required…at any time of day you wish. , the same way any able-bodied person could,” she said.
Miller, who is now a director of Bafta and the Royal Shakespeare Company, is confident the government-backed National Arts Card will eventually come to fruition.
“It may well build on what Hynt has established in Wales, what CredAbility Nimbus has done, and also what the British Cinema Card (CEA) does. me is that the card is made free for disabled users. To me this is a red line.
“When this program is rolled out, it will transform the lives of disabled audiences, make the arts and venues sector much more accessible, and radically change the approach to accessing all venues that join.”
Front Row airs at 7.15pm BST Monday to Thursday on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.