by Jonathan Brown, Chief Executive, Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR)
In 2014, I reported in UK Theatre magazine on Attitude is Everything’s State of Access Report. This report highlighted that most venues weren’t enabling disabled people to book tickets online. Although the report was principally focused on the live music industry, the findings also translated to theatre. 75% of people researched wanted to be able to book tickets online, but only 2 out of 10 venues actually offered that facility to disabled people.
It’s a challenge that STAR readily took on; to encourage change throughout the industry and to improve the situation by the time Attitude is Everything revisit the topic. That time is soon approaching as it is likely that AiE’s next biennial report, to be published early next year, will include updated stats on the availability of online ticketing for disabled people.
We have held seminars and workshops over the past three years and have worked with other organisations to help increase awareness of the issues and encouraging those who are best placed – principally venues – to take action. It is, quite simply, an inequality that cannot continue. Reticence in putting the necessary changes in place often seems to be rooted in serving the needs of the provider rather than the customer.
Last June, working with Attitude is Everything and Nimbus Disability, STAR consolidated the work it has been doing by publishing its Accessible Ticketing Guide. This is a simple walk through the issues and concerns we have raised in the workshops held over the past year, together with suggestions about adjustments that can be made to help address inequalities in ticketing.
Of course, there are things that have to be considered before making this possible. It’s probably less of a problem for regional theatres than for major rock and pop events, but there are reasonable concerns about potential abuse of an open system. Also, some venues want to ensure that accessible positions only open up to those that actually need them. For that reason, we advocate the use of registration schemes, either in house or using a nationally recognised scheme such as the Access Card. Through the use of symbols relating to particular needs or necessary adjustments, the latter can also help provide even more useful information to venue managements to help them meet the needs of customers attending performances.
People sometimes confuse offering free companion tickets with accessible ticketing, rather than really understanding why such a ticket might be offered. If a disabled person can’t attend the theatre without assistance then offering a complimentary ticket is a way of making a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to address that difficulty for them.
Over the years, venues across the UK have gladly made adjustments by enhancing performances with captions, signing etc. as well as making physical adjustments to buildings to help remove barriers. So, why so slow in removing barriers from the online booking process, especially when most ticket sales now take place online?
Perhaps it’s because venues believe they can offer a better service if they talk to the customer directly. That’s laudable, but is it what disabled ticket buyers really want? We should just be ensuring that all customers can book in the same ways.
There is progress, with venues working to ensure online booking is available for people that need particular seating areas that are not general on sale, or the assistance of a companion. Some have already made that possible, others will get there soon, many more need to wake up and recognise this as being a necessity, not an option.
Penned by access expert Martin Austin, STAR’s Accessible Ticketing Guide aims to help ticket sellers and venues consider all the issues and work towards solutions that enable disabled people to be able to book online.
The guide was commissioned by STAR and sponsored by the Ambassador Theatre Group and JM Marketing, operators of Securemybooking.com. It can be downloaded, free of charge, from www.star.org.uk/bpg