Ever since I started theatre blogging and my chronic illness-friendly reviews, I’ve had messages asking about how I book access theatre tickets and ensure my needs are met. It’s one of those things that I’ve been doing for so long now that it’s become second nature, so these questions really made me take a step back and think about how the process could seem to somebody new to the theatre scene.
I’d hate to think of anybody missing out simply due to not knowing where to start, so today, let’s talk about access tickets, the booking process, and what adjustments could potentially be made for disabled and chronically ill patrons…
Please note that my website is not an access ticket booking service – I cannot book show tickets for you. However, I hope the following info is helpful!
So, what are access tickets?
‘Access tickets’ is a general term for tickets that are for patrons who have additional requirements, to help ensure disabled theatregoers are treated more equally to their non-disabled peers. As a straightforward example, disabled and chronically ill people may require a companion with them when they’re out and about. In theory, however, that would mean for every show that a disabled patron wanted to see, they would have to purchase two tickets for two seats: one for themselves and one for a companion. As you can imagine, these unavoidable costs can quickly mount up, meaning patrons are being penalised because of their disability.
Access tickets, however, mean that disabled people don’t have to be disadvantaged financially by having to purchase two tickets. Instead, most regional and West End theatres offer schemes and discounted rates for those who need them, to avoid or lessen the impact of this issue.
In practice, this can vary between venues. Some theatres offer one free companion seat alongside one seat purchased at full price, others offer two seats with each being half price, others have a set price point for two seats for a disabled patron and companion, regardless of where the seats are located in the auditorium: stalls, boxes, dress circle and so on. If you’re seeing a West End Show, always enquire whether there is a set fee for access seats regardless of whereabouts they are: it’s saved me an absolute fortune over the years and ensured that my theatre experience has not been compromised as a result of my illness.
Essentially, access tickets ensure that disabled patrons are not discriminated against because of their condition, putting us on more equal footing with other audience members. So, how do we go about booking them and ensuring our needs are met?
How to book access tickets, in 5 steps:
- First, choose the show you’d like to see and your preferred performance dates and times. Make a note of these, and also make a note of some back-up performances, in case the seats for the first one are not available. If you’re a disabled patron who doesn’t require the pre-allocated wheelchair space, you can look at the theatre’s seat plan online for the select performance in advance and choose the most accessible placer to sit. For example, seats that can be accessed step-free may be most suitable for you, but if you might require speedy access to a bathroom, an aisle seat further back may be a better spot for you.
- Have a think about your personal requirements or any concerns about accessibility you may have, and make a note of these too. Some of these points may already have been addressed on the theatre’s website (often under ‘Your Visit’ or in the FAQs), but you’ll also have the opportunity to enquire about any others when speaking with staff. We’ll discuss some examples of potential needs and the adjustments that could be made shortly…
- Head to the website of your chosen venue and navigate to the Access page. This can often be found under ‘Your Visit’ or you can search directly using ‘disability’ or ‘access’ as the keyword. There you should find a process for booking access tickets: often, this is a phone number to call to proceed with booking. For those with disabilities that make using the phone difficult, there should also be textphone or email alternatives available. In my experience, although talking on the phone can sometimes be draining on my symptoms or energy levels, it tends to be the most efficient way of booking and ensuring your needs are met. Some venues may require you to complete a form or send medical evidence to the theatre, confirming your disability, before you can proceed with booking access tickets. I’m not a fan of this approach, especially given the extra admin and the implication that somebody else will assess whether or not you’re eligible for the adjustments you’re entitled to. However, at least you usually only have to complete this once before you’re on the theatre’s system for good, rather than having to do it each time you want to book tickets.
- Call the box office using the phone number you found, and explain that want to book access tickets, or disabled and companion tickets for *this specific performance*. The staff member will then take you through what options are available, and query whether you need the wheelchair space or any other adjustments. This is a good time to ask about any other requirements that haven’t already been addressed. They may also give you the option to set up an account for ease of booking next time.
- Your booking will be confirmed, and they’ll ask whether you would like your tickets to be posted to you (often for a small postage charge, similar to train tickets), whether you’d like to pick them up at the Box Office, or whether digital tickets accessed via email are okay. You’ll also receive a confirmation email, so carefully check this over after the call has been concluded to make sure everything is as it should be. And bish bash bosh… job’s a good’un and you’re off to the theatre!
What adjustments are actually available?
A few examples you could enquire about…
- Wheelchair spaces. Simple and straightforward. There’ll be a set number available per venue and per performance, so book as early as you can.
- Aisle seats. Booking an aisle seat at the end of the row can be better for those who need more leg-room, or who may need to stand up or enter and exit the auditorium throughout the show.
- Inclusive performances. Bigger productions with longer runs will often have accessible shows scheduled. These can include relaxed performances, captioned or BSL-interpreted performances, Audio Described (AD) performances (sometimes with bespoke Touch Tours), and even Dementia-Friendly performances.
- Assistance Dogs. You choose to take your assistance dog into the auditorium, or some theatres operate a ‘dog sitting’ service during the performance. Bowls of water for assistance dogs should be available on request. If you’re bringing an assistance animal, it’s important that you notify staff while booking so appropriate seating can be chosen and staff can be made aware. My pal Kate has recently taken advantage of this with her assistance dog Spencer, and I challenge you not to smile at those photos.
- For those with hearing impairments, complementary technology such as infra-red systems and headsets is increasingly becoming available. Liam O’Dell’s your guy if you’re interested in finding out more about this.
- When you have a physical or mental illness, visiting a new place can feel daunting and overwhelming. In some cases, it may be possible to arrange a visit to the theatre prior to the performance you’ve booked, to familiarise yourself with the environment at a quieter time. Sheffield Theatres are particularly good in this area: they even have a booklet full of in-depth information and descriptions of the surroundings to help people prepare for their visit, available upon request.
- Finally, if there’s something you’re concerned about that hasn’t been covered here, it’s always worth getting in touch with the theatre to discuss it. Many Front Of House teams are committed to providing a safe and inclusive experience for all, so there may well be somebody who can make your request happen.
I hope this post has given you a better understanding of access tickets and how to book them, and hopefully relieve any concerns you may have had about the process. And if you’ve booked tickets already, let me know what you’re planning on seeing next!
Please note that my website is not an access ticket booking service – I cannot book show tickets for you. However, I hope this info is helpful!
With that final point in mind, I’d love to know: what adjustments help you visit the theatre? Is there anything that currently holds you back?
If you found this post helpful, you may enjoy my chronic illness-friendly theatre reviews too!
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