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Accessible theatre - for everyone

Accessibility has long been an issue for theatres due to their structural limitations. The Old Vic, acknowledging that doing the bare minimum was no longer enough, undertook a large-scale renovation of their iconic venue and website as part of their ongoing mission to improve accessibility.

Setting the scene

Accessibility is both a fundamental need and a human rights issue. Disabled people often face barriers arising from a lack of accessibility that inhibit them from enjoying the quality of life that the non-disabled have. This can mean that everyday experiences such as travel, accessing information or leisure activities without accessibility features are less than ideal or wholly unavailable. 

For disabled theatre enthusiasts, challenges range from sub-standard entrances, limited access and seating inside to both wrong and poorly accessible information online.

The Old Vic wanted to make a change and in early 2020 set up a project to improve their venue and website to improve accessibility. They identified the need to talk to their audiences with access needs, in a way that was empathetic, helpful, and would support them in making the decision to visit. We were asked to help them with this journey, both digitally and physically, to create an even better, more exciting experience that can be enjoyed by everyone.

 

“We set out to make changes to The Old Vic that were reflective of the needs of today’s audiences and our local community.”

Olivia Highland Co‑Director of Development, The Old Vic

How we helped

Over a five week sprint, our team of visual, experience and service designers studied accessibility within the performing arts sector, beginning with an analysis of current exemplary theatre experiences and offerings. 

The team drew inspiration from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, with its wheelchair and transfer seats available at all shows and front row reserved for those with sight and hearing difficulties. Its availability of audio-described and signed performances, plus tailored shows for those with learning disabilities, on the autism spectrum and who experience dementia. But for The Old Vic, this was only a snapshot of what was to come.

We worked with individuals from our own Disability Awareness Network (DAWN) within PwC - all with varied, unique requirements, to gather insights to inform the project. We conducted in-depth interviews to truly understand their theatre-going experiences and identify different areas of need. 

We approached the subject of accessibility at The Old Vic holistically including optimisation of the website structure for people using assistive technologies. This involved improving the platform with features including:

  • Better colour contrasts and colour blindness options
  • Screenreader capabilities
  • The availability of video captions
  • Full width button and menu designs
  • Resizeable text

We also delivered a backlog of recommendations, with the help of our research participants, to further improve accessibility in the future. This includes ticket booking, physical assistance and catering.

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“We are delighted with the final film; it’s been such a pleasure to build on the success of our relationship with PwC to incorporate digital innovation to break down the barriers to accessing the arts and making The Old Vic and our work as open, accessible, unintimidating and inspiring as possible.”

Kate Varah, Executive Director, The Old Vic

Making a difference

To create awareness of the renovations, we developed the campaign ‘What's Inside’ which centred around an immersive and accessible 360° film. What’s Inside lets viewers experience the improvements to the theatre for themselves - from getting there to having a pre-show drink and taking your seats before the anticipated curtain-up. We partnered with VR agency East City Films, to create the film using our research and art direction to guide the production.

We wanted the film to reflect the diversity of the audience The Old Vic attracts, so we turned to their community outreach programmes to recruit the stars of our film.

Our commentators guide viewers through the theatre, providing audio-description in their own words. To enhance the visuals and provide a sound-alternative, we developed a system of graphic overlays - highlighting key information and points of interest.

Throughout the journey, our participants were the voice of positive change. Their feedback and honest insights informed the work we were developing to create a theatre experience without prejudice or barriers. Art is for everyone - accessibility is imperative when creating inclusive spaces and we’re proud of having been able to help a historic institution such as The Old Vic in furthering inclusion.

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Corporate Affairs, PwC United Kingdom

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