Ever since I started theatre blogging and my chronic illness-friendly reviews, I’ve had messages asking about how I book my access 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…
So, what are access tickets?
‘Access tickets’ is a general term for tickets exclusively for patrons who may have additional requirements, to help ensure disabled theatregoers are treated equally to their non-disabled peers. As a straightforward example, disabled and chronically ill people may require a companion with them when 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. And as I’m sure you can imagine, the unavoidable costs can quickly mount up in this way, meaning patrons are essentially 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, various theatres may 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: stalls, boxes, dress circle and so on. These are the best deals in my opinion: you can sometimes get lucky and find yourselves in the best seats in the stalls for the price of the grand circle. If you’re seeing a West End Show, always, always enquire whether there is a blanket charge for access seats: 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, helping to put us on more equal footing with other audience members. So now that we’ve established that, how do we go about booking them, and ensuring any individual needs are met?
How to book access tickets, in 5 steps:
- First, choose your show 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, it may be worth looking at the theatre’s seat plan online for the select performance in advance and choosing where you would ideally like to sit. Does your condition mean that aisle seats, seats further away from the stage or those that are step-free would be more suitable?
- Sit down and 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. Here, there should be a process for booking access tickets: often, this is a phone number to call to proceed with booking. For those with conditions 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.
[Do bear in mind that some venues may require you to complete a form or send medical evidence to the theatre, confirming your disability, before you can proceed with phoning up and booking access tickets in the future. Personally I’m not a fan of this approach, what with the extra hassle or the somewhat-policing of who is entitled to access tickets. However, thankfully it’s often the case that this process only has to be completed once before you are on the theatre’s system for good, rather than being necessary each time you want to book tickets.]
- Time to make the phone call to the box office, and explain that you’re looking 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 you’ll be asked whether you would like your tickets to be posted to you (often for a small postage charge, similar to train tickets) or whether you’d like to pick them up at the Box Office instead. You’ll also receive a confirmation email, which is worth carefully checking over after the call has been concluded to check 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 particular number available per venue per performance, and as long as you ensure you disclose this when booking, one of them will be yours.
- Aisle seats: again, usually easy to accommodate. Booking seats on aisles at the end of rows can make more sense for those who may need more leg-room, or who may need to 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 in particularly accommodating theatres), and even Dementia-Friendly performances.
- Assistance dogs: it may be that 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 make this known whilst 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 in select venues, from Front of House staff. 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 surrounding to help people prepare for their visit, available upon request.
- And 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 a point of contact who can make your request happen.
I hope this post helps those of you booking access tickets for the first time to get started, and hopefully relieve any concerns you may have had about the process. And if you’ve booked access tickets already, let me know what you’re planning on seeing next!
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!