Knowing whether a Broadway fan has access to wheelchair seating—let alone whether an audience member will be able to follow what actors are doing or saying onstage—has limited or even eliminated the options of theatrical entertainment in the past for those with hearing, vision or mobility challenges.
Broadway plays and musicals often occupy a leading role in a traveler’s New York City itinerary, and the disappointment of missing out can affect everyone in a group that wants to see a show that is not accessible. Enter Theatre Access NYC, launched just last year. Proclaiming itself the “official site for accessibility to Broadway,” this web-based service has quickly become a valuable resource for any patron wanting to know just what their theater choices really are.
The mission is to enable people with special needs to streamline the process of selecting—and enjoying—a barrier-free theatrical performance as much as possible. Theatre Access NYC is the result of a collaboration between two organizations: The Broadway League, a national trade association that represents theater owners and producers, and the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), a not-for-profit organization that supports the performing arts in many ways.
Through Theatre Access NYC’s website, theatergoers are able to find performances and venues that meet their accessibility needs in advance of a show. The site lets patrons search by service, as well as within a particular time frame. For example, a user can click on the symbol specifying wheelchair accessibility to find wheelchair-accessible shows. You can also click on a label reading “OC” for an open-captioned performance; an amplified ear symbol for access to assistive listening devices; a label reading “AD” for audio descriptions for blind patrons; and a puzzle piece for autism-friendly performances. Simply select your criteria (you can choose multiple services and even specify when you’d like to attend a performance) and a list of shows will appear—like any general-use ticketing website.
TDF is also in the seventh season of its Autism Theatre Initiative, where performances are adjusted to minimize the possibility of sensory overload by reducing elements such as jarring sounds and strobe lights. There will be an autism-friendly performance of Cats on July 16, 2017. Other shows in the series have been The Lion King, Aladdin and The Phantom of the Opera.
Although there continues to be progress, audio description for the blind and visually impaired, as well as sign language and open captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing, remains less frequently available than accommodations for wheelchair users and those with hearing loss. Nearly 40 different productions are presently accessible for the latter categories of theatergoers. Currently, performances of The Book of Mormon, Wicked, Hamilton, Aladdin and The Lion King feature audio description. Open captioning is offered for The Book of Mormon, Wicked, Hamilton and 12 other shows. And sign-language interpretation is available for The Price.
TDF also offers the TDF Accessibility Program (TAP). TAP is a free membership service open to people with vision, hearing or mobility impairments, and is charged with ensuring its members know about accessible theater and performance opportunities and obtaining seating for them. In essence, Theater Access NYC opens up TAP to visitors from all over the world who might not be members but who need the same accommodations to enjoy the City’s enormous trove of performing arts.
To browse shows, visit theatreaccess.nyc.