Theatre and Accessibility - Breaking down Barriers

I won’t say the usual things about how it’s been a crazy year, everything has changed, theatre is different, we are all online now. We all know that. Instead, I am going to focus on some of the positive aspects of this global experience, namely the normalization of accessibility. 

One of my first tasks as intern for GTF 2021 was to research how to make the current festival more accessible for those who have visual or hearing impairments. Since we already knew that the festival would be online this year on a variety of different platforms such as pre-recorded YouTube videos and interactive Zoom workshops, we wanted to find some ways to make these events accessible for all. 

As the events were to be online anyway, some may assume that our job of making the festival more accessible is done. What could be more accessible than something online? Yet there are still simple ways that we can make art available for all, even art occurring online. 

For instance, we have set up our accounts so that closed captioning is available for our Zoom webinars. We have so many interesting speakers this year, from Gavin Kostick of Fishamble talking about dramaturgy, to Louize Carroll talking about creativity and mental health, to Ezther Nemethi talking about audience interaction. All of these topics are so vital to theatre that we want everyone, whether they have hearing impairments or whether English may not be their first language, to have an opportunity to learn and participate. 

In addition, we are also including image descriptions to our pre-recorded shows that are premiering on YouTube. Image description is text that describes the visual look of a picture or a stage design which can be read by screen readers for those with visual impairments. This is especially important for shows which have more musical elements, like Embodying Glass featuring the ConTempo Quartet and Cuisle Productions and Dragon by Fizz & Chips Productions. These image descriptions allow everyone to imagine what the stage looks like and to fully participate in the experience. 

These two simple steps towards accessibility don’t just bring in new audiences to GTF, but they also help normalize accessibility in the digital space and in the theatre world. The GTF team is committed to also making future festivals, whether they be online or in person, accessible for all. To that end, the team at the end of May will receive training from Arts and Disability Ireland on ways to make our festival accessible. The more we normalize accessibility, the more we can truly bring about art for all. 

Blog post written by Laura Brincat, May 3rd, 2021.